|Accomplishment can be its own reward.|
A few weeks ago we were working in literacy centers. It was time to transition to something else, so I told the first graders to clean up. My kids sometimes need a lot of "verbal encouragement" to clean up. So I was walking around the room, telling them...reminding them...giving specific instructions for cleaning up their spaces.
One group of girls had created a display of books along one of the boards. (I think they were pretending to be in a library or bookstore.) These girls worked hard to clean up quickly and put all the books immediately back where they belonged. Since I'm a big believer in thanking and recognizing hard work, I went specifically to each of these girls. "Thank you for working hard and putting away the books. You did exactly what I asked and have moved back to your desk. Thank you." The response? "Do we get a treat/prize?" Uh, no.
This week we were working on a reading/writing/compare and contrast type of activity. We were reading about kids helping in different ways all around the world. We were comparing/contrasting how the kids were helping in the photos in our reading as well as comparing/contrasting how we help. "On the back of your page," I said, "list ways you help at home, at school, and in the neighborhood. Let's see how many you can get." The kids went to work. "Do we get a prize?" some asked. One boy showed me his list and told me how many he listed. "Great!" I said. In the days since then, he's told me that I said I would give him a prize and he wanted to know when he would get it. Uh, I didn't say that.
My school has fundraisers and gives prizes for kids who raise different levels of money. The firefighter who came to our grade gave them a "homework" assignment to check smoke detectors...with a treat or reward for any kids who brought back the paper indicating that they did it. But I don't have a prize box or give rewards. I do comment on hard work and effort. I note what the kids did, making specific statements about what I saw and heard. But I don't give out prizes. Maybe something that's a special treat for everyone...but that's rare and not in response to certain behavior.
But my kids continue to ask about them. I usually just say no and move on. But the power of them is the same. I want my kids to clean up because that's what people in a community do. (And our class is a community.) I want them to work hard because that's how learning happens. Prizes and rewards may be nice, but they are not real results from doing. (Just my opinion, FWIW.)
And the fact that kids ask, "Do we get a prize?" indicates to me that they may not have much motivation inside to complete the task or much feeling of accomplishment when they do it. I'll keep trying to recognize hard work for its own merit. It's harder than just buying lollipops but so much more worth it.