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Check The List

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We all know the screen-time battles. The begging, whining, cajoling, screaming…whatever. The internal decision; If they are on the Wii I can cook dinner with out interruption…have they had any exercise? Has their behavior earned screen time? Honestly, I have a pretty deep dislike of video games, even when I see their value. I don’t play them – when I try I have about a 5 minute tolerance and then I am so bored that I can’t even focus on the game. But the kids love them. And Arthur wants to design video games, so playing them is actually a part of that process. Not to mention that possibility of cooking dinner while they play…

A couple of years ago I read this article about limiting screen time by making it “unlimited”. It made a lot of sense to me, and it took the pressure off me always being the decision maker, or setting an arbitrary time to play Wii, or even engaging in the debate.


How this works:

Each kid has a list of what they need to accomplish each day. These lists look pretty extensive, but remember that as homeschoolers, they have much of each day at home to do whatever is on their list. Also, one of the things everyone needs to learn is time management, and this certainly helps with that.

The basics look a lot like the list from that article, especially on the weekends. After we had used the basics for a couple of months, I realized that I had an excellent tool to get some school structure and requirements into each day. So the basics are augmented with the school work that we need to do each day.

When we started, the list was pretty simple, and only Arthur had one. Cecilia was soon interested too, and we make each checklist specific to the kid; where they are at in schoolwork, skill building, etc. The list should be doable over the day, but not too easy. You can’t finish it if you spend half the morning reading Garfield. If you are up and at ’em early in the day you can finish by late afternoon, no problem.

In the beginning, it looked like this:

  • Get dressed, brush teeth and hair
  • Check in about the day
  • Living room clean up
  • Play room clean up
  • Exercise or outside play
  • Quiet time/Read something new
  • Do something helpful
  • Do something creative

We tried it out. And results!! Kids got dressed in the morning and Arthur stopped griping about cleaning his room. I stopped having to arbitrate screen time: he knew if he had checked everything off or not.

Two years later we have very different lists. I’ve added to them and taken naps off (sob). These week days they have to:

  • Get dressed, brush teeth and hair
  • Check in about the Day
  • Tidy their bedroom and school room (The Lab)
  • Clear their dishes
  • Exercise and/or outside play
  • Do a chore of the day
  • Earn “school points”

Chore of the Day: I removed “Do something helpful” and instead focused on a chore of the day. This is an age-appropriate chore that each kid can do with little help from me. “Do something helpful” had turned into them demanding a “helpful thing” from me, and then I’d have to make something up. Usually they would show up after I had done all the major chores of the day and I had nothing age-appropriate left to offer. So now the two older kids each have assigned week day chores; Monday they vacuum (Arthur does a whole room, Cecilia does the living room rug), Thursday they work together to take the sheets off their beds and wash them. No chore is difficult, but they need to be done. No chore is essential to me keeping the house clean so if they don’t get done it isn’t a big deal. I don’t have to make up chores every day, things are getting clean, kids are building life skills.

School Points: I want the kids to take initiative in their school work. I want them to go out and find things they want to learn about. And I need them to be doing some work most days that I can point to when it comes to testing time and know they will be just fine. When we started this with Arthur he was 2nd grade(ish). He was a competent reader. So I just put “Schoolwork” on the list and that was okay. But he’s getting so much more independent in what he can do. We can’t cover every subject in a day, and I want us to have lots of room to discover rabbit trails in our school and just play. So now we have a list of possible school subjects: reading, math, writing, science, handwork, Scout achievements, cooking, project specific work (related to whatever we are currently delving into). Each kid needs a certain number of school points each day – the number needed varies depending on the day and what we have going on that day. More points on days we are just home, less when we are out and about.

Arthur needs 20 minutes of a subject for one point, and he must have one writing point and one math point. Cecilia needs 10 minutes for her point, with reading and math being required. In this way, if we delve into Climate Science for an hour, we knock out a bunch of points. Or if we hunt and peck, reading a history story here, memorizing a poem there, knitting a few rows…that’s okay too. There’s structure, but it is structure that moves with our day. Just the way we like it.

On weekends the list reverts back to basics – do something creative, play outside, read something new…

But what about Simon? At 3 1/2 he wanted his own checklist. I thought about what he could do on his. It’s simple. It has pictures.

  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Help Mama and Papa
  • Clean the bedroom
  • Pick up your toys in the lab
  • Exercising
  • Clear your dishes
  • Schoolwork

I don’t really care if he checks it all off everyday yet. He’s learning the system and he feels big, having a checklist like his “Bubbie”.


Last Thing! Good behaviors! The most recent addition is a daily behavior point. Each kid has their behavior Everest. So we chose the thing that needs the most focus. Each day to complete the magical list, they need to show that they have made an effort to address that behavior point. Simon has “Good Listening” on his list. Cecilia is working on “Using her strong and clear voice” (no whining!!). Arthur is working on thinking about how other people feel and responding with kindness.

I’m not sure how this part will work, or if it will work. But it’s worth a shot…anything to curtail the whining voice, really.


That’s it. The system we have designed. It looks elaborate. It is elaborate. But it was put together piece by piece in a way that works for us, and when it is in place it fades to simple. It is all written down, the elaborate reduced to a laminated piece of card stock. It seems to work really well for the kids. A couple times a month they are ON IT. They knock that list out by 2:00 and fry their brains with whatever Wii game all afternoon. But more days than that, they get involved and busy with life and just don’t get to everything. And that can be a disappointment, but they can’t blame me (I do make a good-faith effort every day to help them stay on track).

What about your family? What ways do you limit or un-limit screens in your house?


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