Aledo mom's Fisherkids system tracks kids' growing responsibilities

Like many parents, Jennifer Beck wanted to teach her three kids about responsibility, but it was easier said than done. With husband Gregory, she'd buy various systems -- little banks to reinforce the idea of saving, magnet boards or sticker charts to get everyone to do chores without reminders -- but invariably, the systems failed. Or rather, the Becks failed the systems.

"Somewhere along the way, we'd drop the ball," Beck says: The kids would lose interest, or the parents would forget to pay up for chores completed, or the whole thing would get tucked into a drawer or closet, then forgotten.

Convinced there had to be a better way, Beck -- a former teacher and graphic designer -- decided to create one herself. And about a year ago, the Aledo mom quit her job in pharmaceutical sales to concentrate on marketing her creation, a responsibility system she calls Fisherkids.

The idea: Responsible kids will grow up to be responsible adults. Less cutesy and sleeker than other systems she tried, the core of the system is a sturdy metal pegboard that attaches easily to the wall, where parents and children ages 2-18 can work on three interconnected concepts:

Independent living: The chores you teach your child to do, then expect them to do without further prompting.

Accountability: Remembering, tracking and recording completed chores, creating a sense of accomplishment.

Financial management: Teaching kids how to save, spend and give away the money they earn.

The board lets children track daily responsibilities, which might be making their beds, doing their homework and keeping their rooms picked up. Kids should not be paid for these basic responsibilities, Beck suggests.

"An important idea to communicate is that the family is a team, and we expect our children to do things as part of that team," Beck says.

Chores are "extra" work. Parents write age-appropriate chores on little wooden sticks, and place these in a pail on the pegboard. Children then pick from these chores to fulfill their daily chore quota, and note elsewhere on the board when they're completed.

Kids earn a "commission" for completing each chore, and then track their daily commissions on the board. Sunday is payday, when children add up their commissions and present the tally to get their weekly "paycheck." Finally, kids store earnings in three attached bags -- one designated for long-term saving, one for spending and one to give to charity or church.

For about two years, Beck, 37, experimented on the board with her own kids, ages 3, 7 and 9, then gave it to friends and acquaintances to test. Last November, with inventory stored in her garage, she sold the first system.

"It teaches them time management, and I'm not sitting there harping on them," says Amy Cendrick, who lives in Arlington and has used the system with her three children, from fourth grade to ninth. "They figure out what they need to do and when they're going to do it."

Cendrick also uses Fisherkids to reinforce habits. Over the summer, for example, she wanted the kids to drink fewer sugary drinks and more water, so one daily responsibility was to drink 8 glasses of water. After a month or so, the new habit was ingrained, Cendrick says -- without daily nagging.

After less than a year, the business has grown enough that Beck has ordered a second round of inventory and is talking to wholesalers about carrying her products. She has also created related products, like lunch-packing checklists and her personal favorite, the "consequences spinner."

That's just what it sounds like -- instead of sending misbehaving kids into timeout or struggling to find an appropriate punishment, parents can have them spin the wheel, filled with consequences that each family comes up with.

Beck says that's particularly effective with her two older daughters, 7 and 9. When children know that their spin may land on "clean your sister's room" or "empty the diaper pail for a week," they'll try harder to make responsible choices in the first place.

And that's the whole point of everything she creates, she says.

"I think the No. 1 most important thing is, the way we learn is by making mistakes, and I think so many parents don't allow their kids to make mistakes," she says. "We want to fix everything for them."

Fisherkids, she says, helps parents set children on the course to knowing how to fix things themselves.