Categories
Behaviour Management

8 Ways to Motivate Children Without Rewards

Different strokes for different folks is becoming my new behaviour policy. What works for me as a teacher, might not work for you. Ditto if your parent. Definitely, if you’re a child. The more I have studied behaviour, the more I have come to wonder why would you marry a single philosophy when there are so many options out there? Handcuffing yourself to a single set of beliefs just limits your options. Develop preferences for sure. But if your strategies aren’t serving you, the adult you’re trying to advise or the child, it’s time to change it up and try something new. As long as the approach abides by obvious ethical parameters, its an option.

Reward systems usually evoke strong opinions. Adults can love or hate them. They can rely heavily on them or avoid them like the plague. The truth, as always, lies in the middle. I wrote a piece about developing top-quality reward systems but I acknowledge they are not for everyone and different strategies are needed. But how do we motivate children to behave and learn without rewards? Here are eight different options:

  1. Providing Choice is a strong motivator. It gives ownership to students over their learning and behaviour. Depending on the situation, you can offer them a choice over what they learn, how they learn and where they learn. (More on choice here)
  2. Providing Competition motivates students. The teacher can set a challenge for the child to overcome. They can challenge a child to beat their own personal best. In the appropriate contexts, they can even pit children against their peers. Healthy competition is part of life and should be harnessed positively.
  3. Technology always is appealing to students. They will jump at the chance to achieve learning objectives using technology instead of using pen and paper. Creating their work digitally, photographically or through video will inspire them to apply themselves.
  4. Art should never be underestimated. Whether it is creating work using new and colourful stationery or reacting to a stimulus through clay or painting, children are often motivated by presenting their work artistically.
  5. Drama stirs children’s imagination. A topic such as the Vikings can be very uninspiring in a textbook, but if it is brought to life through role-play, freeze frames and conscience alleys, it suddenly becomes a world of fun and motivation to get involved.
  6. Mysteries that need solving stoke a child’s curiosity. Give them clues and the resources and support to solve them and they will work like detectives to scratch the itch and find out what the answer is. 
  7. Surprises aren’t for everyone. Some children who are anxious need predictability. Depending on your class, however, inserting novelty and surprise activities can shake off the funk children fall into if they find routine monotonous. Variety is the spice of life and it adds motivation to the mixture too.
  8. Deadlines are simple and effective. Whether you introduce a short term deadline with a radial timer or a longer-term deadline, these can motivate children to achieve task completion before the deadline runs out.

Each of these eight options provides effective motivation on their own or paired with a reward system. Incorporating them into your daily routine will prevent misbehaviour before it has a chance to arise and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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Categories
Behaviour Management parenting

Top Quality Reward Systems

Top quality reward systems can be a great way to start the year and establish the standard of behaviour you want in your classroom. They can be fantastic for intervening if a class is particularly challenging to work with. They can be a wonderful way to motivate children or an individual child to apply themselves to a task. 

By committing to a reward system, you are taking a primarily positive approach that will objectively show you if the desired behaviour is increasing and if you are rewarding it regularly. 

This article explains what the key elements are, what the steps involve and common reasons that they may not work.

Four Keys to an Effective Reward System

Lock in these four keys before creating your system. All successful reward system have these four elements in common.

  1. The students must find the reward desirable. If they don’t, the system will be doomed to fail. Provide choice and pick suitable rewards that you both can agree on. Beware of “reinforcer satiation”. This is where a once desirable reward has lost its novelty. Keep it fresh and change it up.
  2. Ensure the behaviour is defined, explained and practised. Choosing between one and four behaviours for a whole class will keep it extremely clear what is expected. Instead of rewarding “being good”, reward “listening when another is speaking”. Reward the specific behaviour you want to increase. Spend time practising what it looks like as you introduce the system. Ensure the behaviour is within their ability.
  3. Decide how often the children will need to be rewarded. When you set up the system first, reward frequently and overtly. This makes it crystal clear what you are rewarding. Pair your rewards with very specific positive language. “Excellent Caleb, I noticed you were looking at Ellen when she was talking, I have to reward that”. Watch as that behaviour spreads through the room. As the days pass, gradually reduce the frequency at which you reward the behaviours but still intermittently reward and praise them. Wait until break time to reward them. Delay it until the end of the day when they are ready. Finally, the end of the week. If the standard of behaviour drops, increase the frequency you reward again. Find the sweet spot and gradually reduce.
  4. If the behaviour is not forthcoming, do not give them the rewards but equally, do not complain. The attention and rewards are solely for the students who are performing the behaviour. This provides consistency in your approach and will harness children who love any attention to your advantage. If they want your attention, they must play by the rules the teacher and students have agreed.

Five Steps to Implementing a Reward System

Whatever you do, spend time working through steps one to three. Think of it like building a house. Build solid foundations and your house will stand the test of time and stormy weather. If you skip the foundations and start by creating a lovely display, you are building on sand and it is sure to decrease the chances of success.

  1. Write and explain clear definitions of the behaviour you want to increase. Actions that can be seen and heard and cannot be argued.
  2. Establish how often the defined behaviour occurs before implementing the system. This helps you decide how often you need to reward it. Raise the standard and increase the time between behaviour and reward as they improve.
  3. List a menu of rewards that they can choose from. Let them have a say in this step to increase compliance.
  4. Create an attractive display. This will maximise buy-in from the kids.
  5. Explain the system clearly.  Taking the time to do this reduces ambiguity and creates excitement as the children can see clearly what they have to do to be rewarded.

Four Reasons It’s Not Working

There is no magic strategy that will solve all problems. Maybe a reward system is not suited to your context. However, there are four common reasons why reward systems fail. Consider these issues and how you might fix them if this ever applies to you.

  1. The students may not clearly understand the expectations or the behaviour may not be within their ability. Put more time into explaining and practising the behaviour you want to increase.
  2. You moved too fast from continuously rewarding the behaviour to infrequently rewarding it. Return to immediately rewarding the specific behaviour you want to increase.
  3. Reinforcer satiation has occurred. The once amazing reward that was on offer has lost its shine. Change the system and rewards to freshen things up.
  4. There are inconsistencies. The child knows that the reward will be given to them anyway. Maybe, they are getting negative attention which they find rewarding. Once the system is set, finetuned and explained, it needs to be executed consistently by all adults in the room to maximise its impact.

Giving children rewards for positive actions and behaviour creates a rapport between teacher and student. If the four keys are secure and the five steps have been taken in the correct order, you will slowly be able to reduce the reliance on your reward systems as the children habitually perform the behaviour. Reward systems are a valuable part of a teacher’s toolkit. Ensure that you use them correctly.

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Categories
Behaviour Management Homeschool parenting

How to Motivate Homeschoolers

By now, a lot of parents have their children at home and have either started or contemplated starting homeschooling. There is a lot of information out there right now which can be overwhelming. I believe that the number one priority is to maintain a happy and calm environment. If your child is feeling anxious, this needs to be addressed as soon as possible and I have written about potential solutions for anxiety along with a more extensive explanation of how to use journaling for this purpose also.

However, your child may be calm and, as a parent or guardian, you may be eager to engage them with some academic learning. The question is how to do this successfully? There are general principles that teachers use to encourage positive behaviour such as providing routine and choice and using a specific language. These are key to preventing misbehaviour before it has a chance to start. The next thing that is needed is motivation.

Extrinsic motivation

You may have heard your child talking about “points” they receive in school for being good. Perhaps, they can cash in these points for some kind of reward at the end of the day or week. Maybe, your child talks about their table being crowned “The Table of the Day” and they get to have some reward for their troubles. These are examples of the teacher extrinsically motivating the children. They are offering an external reward in exchange for a behaviour.

Parents can use this concept also to motivate their child to complete tasks and behave a certain way. There are 3 key principles that are necessary to ensure successful use of extrinsic motivators:

The Reward

The child has to be motivated by the reward on offer. It is not a reward just because you think it is. Picking a true reward is a vital first step. Examples of rewards could be sweets, screen time, cooking their favourite dinner, getting to pick the movie, extra pocket money, going out with them to play their favourite game in the garden or anything that they love.

The Behaviour

Pick one or two very specific behaviours to reward and make sure the child knows what they are. Instead of rewarding “being good”, reward “sitting at the kitchen” and “answering five questions” or whatever you specifically want them to do. Once you have picked a desirable reward and one or two behaviours that the child is able to perform, you are setting yourself up for success.

The Frequency

Finally, you need to judge how often to reward your child. As a general rule of thumb, younger children need to be rewarded more frequently. If they write five sentences, they might need to get their reward straight away to maintain motivation. Older children are generally able to wait longer, so their reward could be additional time on a games console at the end of the day or even a special reward at the end of the week. The frequency of the reward needs to be decided by the parent based on their child’s ability.

Two Simple Examples of Successful Systems

Once you have decided on the three conditions above. You can decide how to package it to make it most attractive. Think of yourself as a salesperson and the more positive and excited you are about this new system, the more excited they will be! Presenting the new reward system so they can physically see their progress can be very motivating and can be very simply done with household items.

Using an empty jar, for example, you could mark a line on it with a pen or rubber band. Every time the child performs the behaviour, you could add pasta shells or lentils to the jar. Once they have filled the jar to the line, they can get their reward. The band can be made higher if you feel they can behave for longer or can be brought down lower if you feel they need to be rewarded quicker.

A jar and some lentils can help sell your system.

Here is an example of a visual way of presenting your reward system where the behaviour can be added and the reward. You may say they need to get 3-6 stars awarded depending on their age before they can get their reward.

A whiteboard or paper can be just as effective.

The opportunities are endless and you will find an abundance of options on how to “sell” your system. Make sure your three key principles are locked in first, however, as the success of your system will hinge on the quality of the reward, selection of the behaviour and the frequency of reward above all else.

Best of luck and please share any ideas you what you have found helpful so far or are thinking of trying!

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