Awards, being a teacher, being me, parents, rewards

If You Really Want to Reward a Child

A few days ago, I sorted my own children’s toys.  Cleaned out all the misfits, the broken pieces, and marveled at the bag of plastic dippity does I was able to throw away.  A bag worth of trinkets, of things that meant something to them the first 5 minutes they got them, only to lie forgotten in their toy chest since.  The sheer abundance startled me, after all, I consider myself a miser when it comes to toy purchases.   But the proof was in the toy-chest; plastic trinkets galore.  As I snuck the bag out to the trash, I couldn’t help but feel like a mean mother for getting rid of their broken “treasures.”

Turns out, I didn’t have to worry as Thea, our 7 year old, came home with a plastic yo-yo today from school.  She proudly showed it to me before it broke (cheap plastic things tend to do that quickly) and told me she had earned it for reading. For reading…Because she had read every night.  And I sighed, and inwardly I rolled my eyes, and then I realized that I had to get something of my chest, (imagine that)…

We need to stop cheapen the act of learning with plastic trinkets.

We need to stop teaching kids that when they learn, they earn something.  That when they learn they must be rewarded with a tangible thing to play with, rather than just the satisfaction of the knowledge they have gained.

Because in our well-meaning intention of trying to help students feel accomplished,  we are helping kill the love of learning itself.  We are teaching kids through our treasure chests, our prize boxes (guilty as charged), that learning is not enough.  That they have not gained anything until they hold a new toy in their hands.  That the knowledge they have gained is not enough.  That simply becoming more knowledgeable does not matter unless they have physical proof, and I shudder as I think of the long term effects that can have.

So if you really want to reward a child, hand them a pencil to write another story or solve another problem with.

If you really want to reward a child, hand them another book when they finish the first one.

If you really want to reward a child, give them more of your time as a class, give them a high five, a hug, or some sort of positive attention.

If you really want to reward a child, discuss their strengths with them, their effort, their growth, anythingt hat will make them see their own success if they do not already.

If you really want to reward a child, reach out to those at home; let them know what you see so that we can act accordingly.  Let us know what you see so that we can see it too.

But as a parent I plead, from one teacher to another; please stop handing out the trinkets, the stickers, the dippity doodads, the things we find at the dollar store.  Stop the paper awards and the made up rewards. Save us from the tangible, the things that break, the things that mean so little in the long run.   Celebrate, yes.  Acknowledge, please.  But save the toys for home.  The kids don’t need them, and neither do we.

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.  





9 thoughts on “If You Really Want to Reward a Child”

  1. Thanks Pernille for commenting on rewards. They are more about managing behaviour than growing a deeply passionate, emotional commitment to learning. Feedback that gives children specific comment around the things that help them to be better learners are very useful like, ‘you worked hard on this and even though it was tricky, you didn’t give up’. It’s growth mindset feedback from the research of Professor Carol Dweck and nurtures intrinsic reward for stretching learning. This is something in early childhood in New Zealand that we work hard to foster so that children know that hard work and effort, as you follow your passionate interests are what is truly satisfying, sustaining and motivating.

    1. YES! Learn all the children in the world that hard work and many other traits are very important. Having my own blog about books (in german) and being a huge Potterhead, I’d say:

      Hard Work
      Fair play
      Unafraid of Toil

      are the traits we need to teach our children. Hufflepuff House rocks.

  2. My scared and self-conscience Juniors wouldn’t speak or share their work aloud the first or second day of this semester, until I broke out my candy jar. Some still will not share, others are pleased to trade writing a sentence loaded with identified parts of speech for a small disc of sugar. They learned that I value their input and class is so much more interesting if they help teach! We all learn, even when mistakes are public, for all to correct! I realize this is so different than your example, I just wanted to share this experience.

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