Recently I had the joy of looking after 3 grandsons whilst their parents were off at an agricultural conference.
On Saturday morning I was chatting to a mother on the side line of 7 year old Matt's first rugby game for the season. 'My son struggles to keep up,' she said, pointing to the lad lagging at the back of the pack. 'I've been telling him he needs to do some runs to get a bit fitter and faster.'
It was very apparent that 'Willie' spent more time sitting down than his lean and healthy team mates, most of whom are children off farms. I guessed at TV and possibly computers or Xbox-type devices as his most likely entertainment.
'Once he gets into the weekly practice I'm sure he'll tone up,' I said reassuringly. And then, wanting to give her some helpful suggestions instead of just platitudes, added: 'My grandsons are on the run all the time. They don't have a TV so outside fun is a regular part of their day. Plus they're constantly looking for ways to earn computer dollars, which helps keep them moving as well.'
I think she heard the bit about running around but what really got her attention was the computer dollars. 'What are they?' she said with interest, once she'd recovered from the shock of a family with no TV.
I replied: 'It's a great way to teach them responsibility for jobs around the house and at the same time to ensure that computer usage is kept at a reasonable level.
The two older boys are 7 and 9. Chores such as picking up their toys are without recompense, but for most other tasks they negotiate with their parents as to how many 'dollars' they can earn. One 'dollar' earns 5 minutes on the computer, which they use for playing age-appropriate games. Even the 4 year old earns a computer dollar if he makes his bed (which means pull up the duvet). And they are only allowed to use their computer dollars on the weekend.'
Earning Opportunities for Small Boys:
• Tie or untie the dogs and feed them - 1 dollar
• Stack or unstack the dishwasher - 1 dollar
• Clean the basins and mirrors in both bathrooms - 2 dollars
• Mow the lawn - 4 dollars (the 7 year old is the main lawnmower man)
• Sweeping the garage - 2 dollars
• Vacuum the whole house - 6 dollars; parts of the house appropriately less
Apart from encouraging them to be active, the other big benefit is the entrepreneurship they're learning by osmosis- they go looking for jobs so they can earn computer time.
For more on raising self-sufficient young people who become the kind of adults we want to employ, listen to my interview with Yvonne Godfrey here . (I do a weekly podcast on this American internet radio station).