Category Archives: life

Creating A Star Chart for Kids

We’ve needed a star chart for a long time. “Just find clip art!” someone (a teacher? therapist?) told us brightly. “Just make one!”

For tired and overwhelmed (and hey, design-challenged) parents, “just finding clip art” can be a daunting task. What clip art? Where do I find it? What do I need to put on the chart? Also, our brief experience with a potty training chart hadn’t been encouraging (not the chart’s fault).

This has, of course, come up again in a recent meeting. Last year the preschool had a neat chart they’d put together. They wouldn’t give us a copy, despite all the meetings and tuition payments and looks of defeat on our faces. Nope, we had to come up with our own.

Fast-forward a year, and we’re told the teacher might share a “home-school chart.” I started to think, again, about all the times we could use a star chart. The morning hell. The after-school routine. Bedtime bedlam. General behavior, table manners, the few small chores they have. WHERE DO WE START?? We also don’t want to have charts everywhere like some kind of maniacal control freaks. Just one small chart to start, please … but one that really meets our needs.

I hit the Internet harder than ever. And found the solution. It’s a site called and frankly it’s kind of a noisy site. But it is extremely useful. You can either download one of the pre-made charts on the site or give the site your email (that’s right — that is all you have to do) and download your own customizable chart. Yes. For FREE you get a word document with a chart format AND a ton of clip art, organized into topics, that you might need. Everything for the morning routine! For after school! Chores! Bedtime! Prayers, washing windows, feeding the cat –you name it, there’s clip art here for you to use!

The chart we downloaded has five rows. That’s good. That’s all a kid can handle sometimes. We settled on a morning routine chart, since 1) mornings are a really hard right now and 2) if we start the day well, maybe the rest will be better?

I made and printed the chart (had already bought shiny star stickers at Staples, but you can probably get them at any drugstore or office supply store). Then we went over it with the kids. If you do something (get dressed, brush teeth) after being told only once, you get a star (you get two stars if you do it without being told). If you get ALL your stars in a day, you can have iPad time or some other child-suggested-in-advance treat after school. If you get all your stars in a week, you can have —

— “A HAMSTER!!!!!” Ben shouted.

Aw jeez no. He’d stopped mentioning it months ago but I guess he still wants one. Ugh.

“Uh, we were thinking some other kind of special treat, like an ice cream party at home, or going out for slushies, or going to see a movie,” I suggested.

“Yeah, a hamster might be after three months of all your stars,” said C.

“No, a week!” said Ben.

“Maybe three weeks,” I said.

[NOTE: SORT THIS STUFF OUT WITH YOUR SPOUSE BEFORE YOU INTRODUCE THE STAR CHART TO YOUR KIDS. Also, don’t forget that if you turned on the boiler fill valve before you started a load of laundry, make sure you TURN IT OFF before you forget all about it and come back upstairs to go over the star chart with your family, unless you really love wasting water, flooding your basement, and hauling buckets of water to drain the boiler. Trust me on this. Also, our boiler turned out to be fine — as our neighbor said, noticing me pouring five-gallon buckets of water on the lawn in the dark, “it’s like an enema for your boiler.” Yes.]

First day, Max tried hard to do everything without being told, which is pretty normal for him. Ben, on the other hand, thought he should get a star for “get dressed” even though C dressed him after we’d spent 25 minutes trying to get him out of bed, because … well, I’m not sure why he thought he should get a star for that, honestly. I still don’t.

The next day went better, as did the day after that. And tonight before bed they reminded me to print a new chart for tomorrow.

Wow. So easy. The chart, and getting them to follow it. Maybe we should also introduce a bedtime chart. The site makes it very easy to make one.

So if you think you need a star chart and don’t know where to start, try (and ignore the site noise). It’s so helpful!

Practicing Acts of Kindness

I’ve been working at cafes lately, since working at home doesn’t work out so well. It’s cold, and there’s so much non-paying-work stuff to do, and I get frustrated by our limited snack options.

Cafes help me focus. Plus, they can make for amusing status updates on Facebook, such as the day the cafe owner left to go buy toilet paper. As in, he left. He left me alone at the cafe for a good 15 minutes. (I should have used the time to brew a fresh pot of coffee, since the one he’d served me was tepid.)

Or yesterday, at Starbucks (I know, I know, but I get a lot of work done here). It was crawling with plainclothes detectives taking pictures related to a recent secret-camera-in-the-bathroom incident (sometimes a bathroom flowerpot is so much more than decor!).

Today, back at Starbucks, I noticed an older man picking his nose. With two fingers, even. He was a least using a napkin, but he was piling them up on his table. I posted about this to Facebook, of course.

And then he lifted a bloated, purplish foot and began picking at a bloody toenail, placing the scabs carefully on a napkin on the table.

Yes, I had probably the same reaction you might be having as you read that. Gross! Ewww! Shouldn’t he be kicked out per Board of Health regulations?

Then I noticed that his shoes were flip-flops. It is December in Massachusetts, and it is snowing lightly. An old backpack was on the floor, and a plastic bag overflowing with stuff was parked on the chair.

Again the urgent thought: What should I do?, but not in terms of reporting him to management. I wanted to buy him a cup of coffee, but I didn’t want to be intrusive. I thought about giving him a preloaded Starbucks gift card, so he could buy himself some food or coffee. An online friend suggested I buy him some socks at the nearby CVS, but that felt too obvious, like I was saying, “I saw your feet, and that was gross.”

I deleted my earlier Facebook post. Then I decided to do something I read about once, which can really spare a person’s dignity: As I walked past his chair, I pretended to pick something up off the floor.

“Here, sir, I think you dropped this,” I said, offering a folded bill. His eyes met mine as he reached for it. “It was under your chair. You must have dropped it.” I nodded to confirm this was true. He nodded back. I wished him a good day and returned to my laptop.

He didn’t budge. But about half an hour later, he got up and went to the counter, returning with a hot drink and a breakfast sandwich.

I felt so, so happy.

Even better? About an hour after that, a woman walked up to his table and handed him some money. “Here, please use this to get yourself something to eat today.”

The snow is falling more heavily outside, and he’s dozing in his chair. He may or may not be someone’s brother, father, uncle. He was definitely someone’s child once. He might or might not own warm boots and a nice house; I sure don’t know.

But rather than mock him on Facebook, I found I still have a shred of compassion, and for that I am grateful to him.

So thank you, sir. I hope you have a good day and stay warm.