Rewarding our children for learning!

I’ve written about this topic and my love for Alfie Kohn before.  Rewards are used a LOT in our schools, at work, at home and in our community in general.  I have mixed feelings about rewards (and punishment).  Generally I hate the idea of rewards at school BUT I’ve talked to enough teachers to know that many of them think they need them to control (manipulate!) behaviour and to motivate learning.

My children LOVE to learn.  I am aware however that they were fortunate enough to be brought up in a home that encouraged & nurtured learning (bed time stories, outdoor adventures etc) and that not all children start school with this foundation.  I know to tackle this difference in early learning and also the difference in learning styles, behaviours etc schools/teachers often implement a reward system; such as, behaviour diamonds that students move up & down on, fake dollars that when collected will buy a toy, sticker charts etc.  It’s been done for so long (Thanks B. F. Skinner!) and so embedded in our culture that it’s hard to stop even though there have been studies that show how this type of behaviour control can result in negative effects in learning desire.

Do rewards really motivate children to learn?  Or do they simply motivate them to want rewards?  My children are motivated to learn when they are engaged, interested and the learning means something to them.  They don’t need rewards for learning.  I hope my children will never be one of those people who ask “What’s in it for me?” when a teacher asks them to explore a new idea or solve an interesting problem.

This is one of those things that I think about a lot and yet also try to forget too.  I have personally struggled with my 4-year-old who is a loving and very determined/head-strong child that often believes her way is the ONLY way!  Reasoning with her simply doesn’t work like it did when my son was her age, and believe me I have tried so many different ways to talk through an issue with her.  Sometimes it’s just easier to throw out a reward so that we can get on with life.  I still try to avoid extrinsic rewards but it’s not always easy.  So I get it, I understand how for many teachers it’s simply easier.  But just because it’s easier does that make it right for ALL the time?  No!  So yes, I can see why teachers resort to rewards for behaviour management BUT to motivate learning just seems like the wrong way.

An Educator that I believe is a great role-model and someone who inspires me is Joe Bower.  A lot of what he writes about is very close to my own views and philosophy of teaching and parenting.  He wrote a personal post recently about his daughter & her rewards for reading that I found sad and yet not surprising.  I believe educators and parents should read his Blog.

5 comments on “Rewarding our children for learning!

  1. Clanmother says:

    We are motivated by reward throughout our lives. The stakes get even higher once you leave the educational system behind! Risk is the other side of reward. We will only take risk if we believe the reward is worthy. And herein lies the problem – our definition of “worthy.” Our reward systems do to always give us the desired results of compassion, honesty and justice. Excellent post!


    • elketeaches says:

      Agreed. Another problem here is that people won’t do things, like donate money or learn more, if there is no immediate reward.


      • Clanmother says:

        I agree wholeheartedly – how did we come to this?!! My industry is all about numbers. One particular day, the numbers weren’t going in my favour. I phoned home and spoke with my “coach” aka husband. After I whined for a while, he said that I had two choices: 1) strive to be number one on a flawed reward system or 2) change the world. It gave me a whole new perspective. It was my ah ha moment. Looking forward to your next post…


  2. missriete says:

    As a Special Education teacher I know all about rewards … my rewards that is.
    Decades ago I was taught that rewarding children was a good thing to do. So I did.
    Nowadays I don’t anymore. When your class room is inviting, your lessons are exciting and fun and the kids like you almost all children are perfectly willing to learn. Even when the above is not possible … we all have those days, lol.

    I never punish either. And I’m absolutely less than perfect so I do get angry at times, but I never need to hand out punishments. A stern warning and a good talk are more than enough most of the time.

    But all this only works when you are willing to invest time in the children, build a relationship with them and show interest in them. They have to trust you and know that you love/like them. And they need to know why they have to learn certain things. Explain, explain, explain … for let’s be honest, we adults don’t want to do things we see as unnecessary either.

    And the reward? MY reward is a class room full of children with learning and behavioral problems who love to come to school, have fun learning and can be absolutely naughty at times (and make me laugh so hard I sometimes can’t stop).


    • elketeaches says:

      Hi, thanks for your input. I absolutely agree that we need to “invest time in the children” etc…a good parent/child or teacher/student relationship is important for learning.


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