October 26, 2011
Child Labour

You could certainly claim that entrepreneurship "runs" in the family, so maybe it won't surprise you to know that Elizabeth already has her first job. She's had a social insurance number pretty much since birth, so clearly child labour is sanctioned under Canadian law.  I kid, I kid! Although we did register for her number online when we registered her birth as it was needed for RESPs.


Elizabeth is a bit young to really worry too much about allowances and all that, but she is quite interested in money, so Brendan and I started talking about what we wanted to do. Plus it didn't seem fair telling her that she can only get that toy if she bought it with her own money (a great way of stopping store-whining!) unless she had some source of income.


Usually parents either pay their children an allowance on a pre-set time schedule, or they pay them for certain defined chores. My parents took both approaches. I don't really remember what we did when I was very small, though I remember washing and vacuuming the cars for money. When I was sixteen my allowance was dramatically increased to a fairly generous $250, out of which I had to buy bus passes, clothing, shampoo and anything else I felt I "needed" or "wanted". I think they probably made money on that deal (my reluctance to spend money on clothes and shoes perhaps related), but I also learned a lot about budgeting and delaying expenses. I learned how to iron after I learned that my dad was paying the laundromat $2 for every shirt they ironed. I rashly offered $1/shirt, which I regretted after the first one took me more than an hour. I didn't quit though and eventually I picked up my speed...  My parents never required me to save or tithe, but I managed to pick up both concepts anyway.


Brendan and I agreed that we wanted to avoid paying for chores, mostly because no one pays us to do them! We feel that Elizabeth needs to learn to keep her room tidy, help with supper, wash dishes and clean the bathrooms as a basic life skill.  Brendan also recalls skipping his chores if he felt he didn't need the money, which we would not find amusing. We may revisit this later of course, since we're making this up as we go along.


We weren't terribly keen on just forking out money on a pre-defined schedule either. Cue brilliant if not terribly original idea: Elizabeth gets to "come to work" with Mommy and Daddy a couple of hours a week, and we pay her up to three shiny coins for doing so.  The actual amount has tended to vary depending on what kind of change we have lying around. Luckily she doesn't know the difference yet!


In theory she loses a coin if she bothers Daddy at any point during "work time", and another one if she bothers Mommy.  In practice we've only had to remind her a few times and the threat of taking away a coin is enough to get her back on track.  Quite amusing though - the few times she forgets we'll ask her if she's talking to us.  "No!" she whispers back. Most of the time she lets us work about an hour without any interruptions - assuming that she is sufficiently fed, watered and rested of course! We usually target somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half, though she completed two hours well enough.


She has her own desk in the office and when "working" she can use non-messy craft supplies or play with her toys. The key is that she must be "quiet like a mouse" so that Mommy and Daddy can work too. If everyone works hard, then clients pay us and she gets her own portion. Brendan and I usually trade-off looking after Elizabeth which works well, but means that we don't have a lot of time to work together. This has the advantage of giving us time to collaborate on those projects that need it.


We've tried to save certain toys and craft materials for "work time" only, so that there's a bit of novelty to working as well. Elizabeth's favourite activity is cutting up paper into teeny tiny little pieces. I'm happy to report she has not glued anything to the walls, coloured on anything unsanctioned or cut any blankets. We had to ban unsupervised access to tape though, at least for the moment. We often put on some music in the background, mostly classical since Mommy finds it easiest to tune out!


On the whole it seems to be working well for us, aside from the time we had to raid Elizabeth's piggy bank in advance in order to be able to pay her (ahem). We're also still working on figuring out a transition out of "work time" - the timer tends to come as a surprise and then Brendan and I are scrambling to finish up what we were doing while trying to encourage Elizabeth to clean up her mess. What? Of course there's a mess! I'm thinking maybe a "clean-up" timer might help. Aside from scissors (and oh - how she loves her scissors), the other thing we bought for "work time" was a new garbage can. Elizabeth's inordinately proud of having her own. She even sometimes puts garbage in it, though it only took about fifteen seconds for her to figure out that it makes a cool hat with a portable echo.

On November 8, 2011 at 10:21 pm
Anne said:
I love this idea, a very clever way to do the allowance thing which we too have struggled to figure out (schedule vs chores). Elizabeth sounds like a great worker! If you need more ideas for her I have heard of 'toddler trays' - prearranged activities that young kids can do by themselves. Homeschool moms use them to occupy their younger kids while working with older ones.
On June 14, 2012 at 04:47 pm
Grandpa H said:
I don't think that, ahem, our money strategy with you was nearly as well thought out as you suggest... but you were a natural entrepreneur! You've come up with a great approach and we're proud of Elizabeth for her "work" and of mommy and daddy too!

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