Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pay Your Kids to Exercise?!! You Bet!

              Steve has been a track/cross country coach for Autumn's and Alaina's entire lives. They have grown up attending practices and races and even participating in some. One race that the girls always anticipate participating in is "The Cabin Fever 5k Run."
                      This race is coming up soon, and will be held on Saturday, April 21 at 9a.m. in the Norris     Center on LSSU's Campus

                 Running a 5k (3.1) miles is difficult for anyone who doesn't train for such a distance, and so the girls have always enjoyed the challenge of just finishing this race. To them it is like running a mini marathon. However, now that they are getting older they have decided that they want to start "training" in anticipation of the run so that they will be in shape to race it and see if they can beat their times from last year. Since Steve is currently training for an Iron Man, and I have begun training for my triathlon, I think the girls developed this idea from watching us starting to workout more.

However, running is not the most exciting sport, and getting in shape for a race is painful no matter how old you are. The first few times I took the girls to the track to workout I could tell they weren't motivated at all. They said they wanted to get in shape for the race, but when they realized it would require hard work they weren't so sure they had made a good choice. I thought "what would motivate me to run lap after lap around an indoor track?" And then a light bulb went off....just the day before I had been in the Dollar Tree and saw some little incentive charts that would be perfect for my plan:
I picked up a few packs exactly like the ones above. (You could probably still find these or make something similar on your computer). Each chart has 25 squares, and a few lines at the top for your name, date, starting/finishing time etc. The next time we went to the track I wrote the girls names at the top of the chart, the time they started running, and then placed them on the ground on the side of the track along with a pen. I told them that each lap they ran they could mark one square on the chart, and that I would pay them a quarter for each mile they completed. If they finished the whole chart before it was time to leave (3.1 miles) I would tack on an extra quarter.

I never saw the girls run so excitedly around the track before! All of a sudden they had a mission, with a visible finish line, and a reward to receive if they worked hard. They both completed their charts, and that night they each received 4 quarters out of Mom's and Dad's jar to place into a jar of their very own.We agreed to start saving their charts so we could look back on their progress like a workout journal.

It has been two weeks since we have been using this method of motivation consistently and the girls are excitedly watching the quarters in their jars grow. They are also beginning to feel fitter which makes it easier for them to complete their charts quickly, allowing them the chance to earn extra quarters. Alaina's 4th birthday is coming up on April 12th, and Autumn has been begging to work-out more so that she can afford a nice present for her sister.

The quarters aren't completely safe in their jars however. If one of the girls displays behavior that warrants discipline (such as fighting/hitting etc) the new go to method is a loss of a quarter from their jar. This is a huge loss to them, and they don't take it lightly because they literally worked and sweat for that quarter. They care about these quarters, so it works well. We had tried this before with chore money and the girls acted like they could care less, because the work it took to earn the money wasn't a sacrifice to them.

 We are finding that the girls feel much more ownership over this money that they are earning. I asked Autumn why paying them for chores never motivated them like their running money does, and she said that "I don't really have a choice whether I am going to make my bed or pick-up, you expect me to, so in reality I have to do it whether I get paid or not. But, running money feels like money I have a choice to earn. No one is forcing me to do it, and I have the ability to decide how hard I am going to work, or how much I want to earn that day."

We don't mind paying the girls, because when we add up the cost of a dollar or two a day it is nothing compared to the amount of money we could be sinking into organized youth sports, and we know that this is helping them to see the rewards of a strong and consistent effort daily over a long period of time. It is also teaching them to independently work towards long term goals.

In fact, Steve has been joking that he should encourage all of his runners (or their parents) to pay themselves for running each day over the summer. Each summer Steve works a one week cross-country running camp offered through LSSU EDventures ( http://www.lssu.edu/edventures/ ) and parents pay about $300.00 dollars for their kids to enjoy the experience. It is a week of fun, and learning, along with running and I think that it is a great thing for some kids....but Steve says that most of the kids don't enjoy it nearly as much as they could (and some even limp away injured), because they weren't running consistently before they came to the camp.

Imagine if those parents had payed their kids $5 a day for every day that they ran that summer. "Yikes!" you say...... It sounds like a lot (which is great, because most kids would bite on the deal), but five dollars a day gets that kid 2 months of consistent training for the same price of just one week of camp!

I teach acrobatics to young boys and girls once a week, and for two semesters now I have been attempting to motivate the kids to practice their splits at home so that they will be more flexible and thus capable of learning new skills. Each week the parents bring their children in, and each week I can tell that almost none of them have practiced any of their stretches at home. Since they only see me once a week  for one hour they won't improve drastically without practicing each day at home, and yet the parents seem o.k with this and pay around $10 per class! Imagine if these parents sunk a little bit of that money into their own child instead?! If they offered their child .50 cents or a dollar for time spent working on their skills each day they would see a better return on their investment.

Maybe the same could go for all of us? Instead of paying for a gym membership we should pay ourselves the amount it would have cost every time we workout....put it in a jar and then take a little vacation or buy a treat when it is full. Instead of eating out and paying 5 bucks just for the tip, offer to pay the kids 5 bucks to cook and serve a meal at home. Instead of trying to pry our child away from video games and t.v. and begging them to read books, pay them a buck for each chapter book they read. Pay your child for practicing the piano instead of hiring an expensive instructor...The list could go on and on. Many of you will consider this form of motivation bribery, but we don't think it is if the person receiving the payment has the choice not to perform the work without penalty.

Of course, I don't advocate using money to get kids do things that they are unwilling to do, or things that they should be doing without payment (like family chores etc)....however, why are we throwing our money around outside of our families and hiring other people to get our kids (or ourselves) to do things that they themselves could accomplish with only a little incentive? We have found that it pays to pay our kids to exercise. If you are having motivation problems, or just want to see a change in an area of your life, before you go out and hire someone else to solve your problems, add up the cost and contemplate whether you just might want to pay yourself to get the same job done.

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