The Value of a Gem

We bundled up against the 32 degree weather and armed ourselves with rakes and lawn bags. Even in boots, scarves, hats and mittens, we could feel the biting cold as we trudged the 2 blocks up the hill to our neighbors' house. It was just after 9 am when Buster knocked on their door. She was still in her robe when she opened the door. "What do you want?", she asked gruffly. Her demeanor startled me and caught me off guard, but Buster didn't miss a beat. "We'd like to rake your yard." From the puzzled expression on her face, I could tell it was her turn to be caught off guard. She softened, slightly, as she asked, "what?". "We were wondering if we could help you out and rake your leaves.", I repeated. It took a moment for our request to sink in, but then her face softened and her words were humbled as she opened the door wider. "That would be wonderful", she said, "My husband had to leave town unexpectedly for his brother's funeral. The leaves keep piling up and I just can't rake them."

It took us an hour, in the biting cold, but the kids worked hard and hardly complained. We left their yard better than we'd found it, but most importantly, my kids had chosen to spend an hour of their Saturday, serving someone they hardly knew.

I had noticed for days those leaves piling up in the yard at the kids' bus stop and I knew something must be awry. The yard is usually so manicured. We brought up the piling leaves to the kids that morning at breakfast and asked what we could do about it. I was so proud when my boys exclaimed, "We could rake them Mom!" We'd spent hours the Saturday before raking our own yard, so they knew what this would entail, and yet they were excited to do it again for someone else.

This Saturday, we cleaned the house. It's not a small house, so alone, it would have taken me a good 4 hours, but with all of us, working together, it took 1. Even though we pulled the kids away from their toys on their precious Saturday and said, "time to clean", we hardly got any push back. They just turned and started their normal assignments. Even Rascal pitched in.

We aren't some crazy, perfect family. The kids still fight and bicker, but we've worked hard this year to teach our children the value of work. I feel it is a vital lesson for them. A year ago, these work experiences would have never happened, and quite often we still have setbacks, but we have made great strides. I looked for quite some time to find a way to teach our children the value of work and came up with a great, but simple plan. I'm not a fan of allowances, because I don't feel that my children should be paid to do chores. They do chores because they are part of the family. But, I also thought it was important that they learned to be fiscally responsible. They needed to learn the value of money and the art of saving for things they want.

So, after talking to a friend, we adopted the Gem System. For $5 from Target, I bought a bucket of gems (the marbles that people put in the bottom of vases). My kids earn 1 gem for each chore they accomplish without complaint. For example, if they get up in the morning, get dressed, brush their teeth, pick up their jammies and clean up their mess in the bathroom, they get a gem. If I have to keep reminding them, prodding them along or find clothes on the floor, they still have to get ready, but no gem. If they do the dishes, without complaining, they get a gem. If they fuss or complain, they still have to do the dishes, but they don't get a gem. Gems can either be redeemed for extra privileges (screen time, play dates, movie nights, etc) or are worth 25 cents each. If they redeem them for money, they get to pay tithing. They are now saving 1 out of every 4 gems, to help pay for the family to go to Disneyland in the spring. They've saved up gems for months so they could buy their own Christmas presents and if they want a new wii game, they can save and buy it themselves. (If you'd like more info about the gem system, you can email me and I'll attach the spreadsheet). This may not work for every family, but so far, it's working for mine. My children are learning the value of a gem. They are learning the value of work.

I read recently that children who work together as a family, do chores and help around the house, and especially children who serve outside the home, have a much less chance of developing childhood depression, which is running rampant through our self absorbed society. So, to save my children, I do not hire a house keeper or lawn company (even if I could afford them). My Sidekick and I work side by side with our children to help teach them that there is a whole big wide world outside of their perfect little bubble of a life and it takes all of us, working together to make it function well. And that is a lesson, that is priceless and worth the work.

But, when the children have grown and moved on, a house cleaner and a lawn company are at the top of my list!

Whaddya think?


  1. Shay, You make me happy! I love reading your blogs -you are a fantastic writer.

    Get a house cleaner and a lawn company NOW! Trust me.

  2. I'm not a fan of allowances either so we've got a new system we're trying out. I love the gem idea though. I'm all about putting my kids to work so I don't have to!

  3. A kid who learns to work learns that he/she is capable. Toddlers can pick up their toys. Preschoolers can make their bed. I recently discovered that Megan is perfectly capable of wiping down the kitchen table and counters after dinner. And I'm sure your kids do lots more chores than mine.