Sometimes an idea is given to you, and the more you think about it, the more you realize it’s genius!
I was feeling frustrated yesterday by the incessant requests from my children for some “DS time”. Yes, both children have a Nintendo DS – not by our choice. They were given to them by family members. Now, I will be the first to admit that the DS has been a life saver on car trips and during medical appointments! But, typically in the home, it is a thorn in my side, as the children always want to play them. We are very strict about the amount of time they are allowed on them, typically limiting them to 20-30 minutes, tops, and not even every day. This, in their minds, is not enough.
My son especially can get very fixated on video games. While he normally does okay while he’s playing them, it is often a meltdown when they’re over. While part of it is just a typical child’s reaction to not wanting to stop something he is enjoying, the other part is due to the fact that video games are sensory overload for children with Sensory Processing Disorder. While playing video games a child gets bombarded with visual and auditory sensory input, but without proprioceptive to balance it (the exception to this can be the Wii). And unfortunately one area of our son’s modulation difficulty is modulating his reactions to visual input. In other words – video games are a ticking time bomb for him.
As I mentioned we do not allow the children to play their video games every day, despite their frequent requests. While Thomas has a fairly good grasp of time in reference to days, our daughter at only 3 1/2 of course, has none. Both children do much better with visual input than auditory reminders. I was talking to my daughter’s ABA therapist about their constant asking for the DS, the fixation our son gets with it, and she came up with a great suggestion: make them earn it, and let them visually see their efforts, so they can see when they can have it.
She explained further: to try using a reward chart, earning stickers for doing chores, having good behavior etc… Then when they earn however many stickers, they can have some DS time (or computer time or Nintendo time). Knowing how much our children enjoy eating apples, she came up with the idea of using an apple tree as the chart, and using apples as the reward stickers. I mulled it over after she left for the day. The idea was a great one. We had talked off and on of implementing a reward chart, we had just never gotten around to it. The benefits would be three-fold, the children would have a visual way of tracking their behavior and help around the house, they would work towards a prize they enjoy… and they would be able to see when they were going to get their DS.
Originally I planned on creating the charts myself out of construction paper, and I popped online for some ideas. I did a quick Google search for “apple tree reward charts”, and lo and behold, I hit the jackpot! I found this great template from Parent Palace! It was exactly what I was looking for, and even took the therapist’s idea two steps further: it showed them what they would earn apples for, and for extra challenge, it showed what they would lose apples for. I loved the idea of losing apples, as I think it’s a great way for teaching children that their actions have consequences. The template is a free .pdf download, and they have a blank one you can customize.
So, I downloaded and got to work. I decided to make two trees, one for each child. I opened the .pdf up in my Adobe Elements, sized it to an 11×14 (with a dpi of 150), and added the text we wanted for our son’s tree. I also added matching text on the apples, so as he completed a chore, he could place the apple on the tree – a reward and chore chart in one! I also added a picture of the rewards he could work towards.
For our daughter’s tree, since visual pictures work so well with her, I decided to use images – free clip art I found on the internet. Since we are still working on potty training, I decided to also include that on this chart, as an incentive for her to try and use the potty, instead of going in her panties:
All in all, it only took me probably an hour to create both trees and both sets of apples, including the time I spent searching for clip art. I uploaded it to our local printer, and had them print them print the trees out on card stock and laminate them. The apples I just had printed, and then I cut them out and laminated them myself at home. I attached velcro sticky tabs on the apples so they can be placed and removed on the tree, and I bought some sticky magnets at the local dollar store so we could hang them on our fridge. All in all, I spent less than $15, for two very nice quality, interactive reward charts. Other reward charts that would be of similar quality and size that you purchase in stores can run you $20+ for one! If you have color ink and your own laminator, you could create these in an 8×10 size for almost no cost at all.
This chart template works well for almost anything: a daily chore chart, a behavior chart, a potty reward chart, a reward for good grades in school etc… You could also use it for therapy goals. As I already mentioned I put visual cues for our daughter’s potty training on her chart, and for our son, we encompassed his food anxiety, allowing him to earn an apple for trying new foods, something he really struggles with. This way he can visually see his efforts at something that is difficult for him. You could have other therapy goals like learning new skills, completing therapy without complaint etc…
Another idea that came to me after I had already completed ours, that would make it easier to change goals/disciplines without having to reprint the tree:
– Leave it blank and just use a dry erase marker to write in your goals
– Create a separate page of ways to lose/earn apples, laminate them, cut them out and then just attach them at the bottom with velcro.
I have to say, this is without a doubt the best reward chart I have found!