Something-driven development

Software development thoughts around Ubuntu, Python, Golang and other tools

Kanban for kids

with 8 comments

Facing the arrival of another child, I set out a few months ago to experiment with ways to help each other get things done together as a family without becoming a task-master of a father. A very simplified Kanban board seemed like a good fit for our kitchen wall, as it visualises what needs doing or other fun things that are planned, helps us to help each other when needed, and enables the kids to take part in the planning and organising of the day.

The photo of our board above is what we’ve ended up with after a few months. It is really a habit tracker – with most of the items on the board being things that we do daily, every few days, weekly or fortnightly. Some points that we’ve found helpful:

  • Items specific to the kids are colour coded (ie. we have a “Put clothes away” item for each child in their colour).
  • We have some incentives – each item has a number of associated “service points” [1]. For eg. 5 for putting away clothes, 15 for taking the dog out for a walk etc. (agreed with the kids and adjusted on feedback).
  • We have incentives to have fun doing items together – if you complete an item together with someone else, you get 50% extra service points, simply to encourage having fun doing things together (we put a magnet on the item to signify this).
  • We very rarely tell the kids to do something – in extreme circumstances I’ve told my daughter I need her to take the dog out now as I can’t do it myself, but it’s something we generally avoid, in fact…
  • The kids generally choose what item they want to do next and when they want to do it (ie. “You’d like to help daddy set the table for lunch? Shall we do it now or after playing Lego for a while?”).
  • Each item has a drawing and is laminated with a small magnet, so that we can stack certain items together (for eg, we have a stack of cards related to the dog which are done in order each day – dog breakfast, walk 7am-ish, Walk 11am-ish, etc).
  • We start each day by pulling things that we want to do into the backlog (in addition to the daily stuff). Some items are weekly, which we store in a stack for each day on the top-left. Other items are ad-hoc which we pull in from the mess on the bottom left.
  • We limit the number of cards in the TODO and Doing lanes to 4, to help us help each flow (or review whether we really want to do something).
  • We don’t put normal stuff like playing lego or dressups there – the kids can play whenever they want without feeling they need to have an item on the board 😛

So far it’s been a great help, but as always, a continual learning process. Each child is motivated by different things, and yet the end goal is that we’d all enjoy helping each other without extrinsic motivation. Interestingly, one of the most freeing things has been for the kids (and my wife) to get used to the fact that it’s OK to say, no, I don’t feel like doing that today, I’m just going to move the card over to Thursday for the moment. That is, the board is something we control – a helpful way to organise and communicate – it does not tell us what we have to do.

[1] Service points – The kids can use the service points at the end of the day in ways such as staying up a bit later (1minute per point, within reason), or going out on their own with mum or dad for an ice-cream desert (50 points). We haven’t yet found a good solution for left over points, and are currently converting to Euro-cents as pocket money at the end of the week which works well in terms of value, but I don’t like the direct connection of being paid money to do stuff around the house. Another option I’m trying at the moment is using saved service points as bargaining power for larger items that the kids need (like a new school bag). I’d be glad to hear of other ideas.


Written by Michael

October 3, 2012 at 11:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses

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  1. Sounds like an awesome idea to me. 🙂

    One idea I just had for excess points is like 20 points where the child gets to pick a treat or something like it (a bag of too share chocolates or something) to add to the shopping list for everyone. They get doled out as per normal, but it’s the child’s choice. It could work, maybe. 🙂

    Steve Kowalik

    October 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    • Nice one Steve – I think the idea to buy bargaining power on the weekly shopping is awesome. I’ll try that out (although, I might make it project-based items that they can help with, like making a chocolate self-saucing pudding together). Thanks!


      October 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm

  2. Hi,
    I’ve been using kanban for years managing technical projects – never thought about as a way to plan for a newborn. Awesome!



    October 4, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    • Hi Joe – yes, I think KanBan is just a great communication tool. A year after our child was born, we’re still using it with the kids (with some pros and cons). Another pro I’ve just discovered today is that when a family member is sick (my wife today), the kanban makes it really easy for everyone else to see what needs doing and help share the load.


      October 7, 2013 at 9:02 am

  3. Great idea.. I think the points can be used to decide the menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner on weekdays or weekends 🙂 That would be a great way to use the points without involving money..

    S Vasuda

    November 22, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    • Thanks S Vasuda. Yeah – we’ve kept experimenting over the past year with this. Being able to choose their favourite meal is a good idea – I’ll try it out 🙂


      November 22, 2013 at 1:31 pm

  4. You could establish a specific number of accumulated excess points (maybe 500, 1k) to give you all (as a family) a prize, like a little travel ou some item all the children/family wants (an xbox or something), or give a party, anything like that. This way, you would avoid binding excess points to money directly and, at the same time, contribute to the team spirit, because in the long run it would make no difference who contributed more individual excess points to the grand total of, say, 1k. I think it would be a beautiful way of organizing your life together.


    March 8, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    • That’s a great idea Daniel – thanks! Having a team goal for something isn’t something we’ve tried yet. We’ve since removed the excess points to money, replacing it instead with a whole bunch of options which the kids can choose from (watching a show/film, going out for icecream with Dad (:P), or out to dinner with Mum – we try to do things that also give us 1-1 time with the kids). I’ll have a think about team ideas and chat with the family about it!


      March 12, 2014 at 10:14 am

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