I’m almost embarrassed to tell you this because is some homeschooling circles this seems to be frowned upon. I’ve set up a reward system for my kids’ learning activities where they can earn tickets and go “shopping” for things I’ve pre-purchased, in exchange for them completing their work without fussing, whining, complaining, refusing or otherwise making my ears bleed from listening to all of that. Mostly this applies to one specific child. The other one has been known to say, “I don’t feel like doing that, I’m gonna color.” Which is fine sometimes, as she pretty young, but now that she’s in kindergarden, we’re going to be doing a bit more.
Why is this frowned upon? Well, here are a few lines of thinking that I’ve read, some between the lines, some more direct. We’re homeschoolers. Our kids are supposed to love learning. They shouldn’t need to be rewarded. That’s too much like public school. Learning is their job, they’re kids, they shouldn’t get prizes for it. Reward systems don’t work, just look at the research.
I’m not saying that any of that is wrong. Well, except for the homeschooled kids are supposes to love learning all the time and use their math books for pleasure reading before the age of four blah-blah-blah.
Personally, I’ve always had mixed feelings about reward systems. I’ve read Alfie Kohn’s stuff on rewards actually being counterproductive and much of it makes sense to me but if I have another year of my son oozing out of his chair into a puddle of whining, complaining, tantruming mess at the mere site of well, it could be any subject, it just depends on the day– I am going to have to check myself into a mental institution.
Now, I go to great lengths to make learning fun in my house. Much of the time, my kids don’t even realize we are “doing school” but my personal philosophy is that there are certain things you have to learn, whether you like it or not (how to read comes to mind). There are also certain things that I think kids should be exposed to, that may develop into deep interests, or may not, but a well-rounded education is valuable to me. There should also be some amount of child led learning for sure, letting them follow their interests and dictate their learning. This is a great advantage to homeschooling, something that cannot happen in a brick-and-mortar school. As they grow older, I envision my kids and I as partners with regard to curriculum plans rather than me selecting most of it for them.
For now, we seem to have phases of fussiness with my oldest child. And I’ve spent many an hour re-examining my curriculum choices, trying to gain a better understanding of his learning style, encouraging him to make choices about what he wants to learn about and how to do so, but I came to this conclusion. Sometimes, he is whining not because the curriculum is not a match with his learning style or because I am expecting too much from him but because it is a habit. Or he wants to play the Wii. Or he doesn’t know what he wants he just wants to not do math or reading right now. For much of last year, I tied his attitude about schoolwork to screentime. Good attitude during schoolwork earned him screentime afterwards. We had some mild success with this approach but still an awful lot of attitude. I would like this year to be different.
So one night, we went to a Chuck E. Cheese-esque place and my kids were winning tickets by playing games and cashing them in for very minor (but to them, exciting) prizes and I realized, hey, that’s what I’m going to do. So I went to Target and I got some stuff from the dollar spot, and some super-duper on sale school supplies and a few other regular items that they need anyway. I took them home and made little “price” tags for them. I bought a packet of star shaped cut-outs at the dollar store, laminated them, and those served as our “tickets”. I set up the whole shebang in the main learning area in our house. The kids noticed it and were intrigued. They wanted to shop. They asked if they could “do school” on Saturday. They asked if they could do more so they could get more stars and go shopping.
So it is working for now. Although I am sure the newness of it will wear off and who knows where we will be at a few weeks or months down the road. Will I be able to keep it exciting without breaking the bank? Will they stay invested in this system or will I be back where I started? Will it benefit their learning or impede it in some way? I honestly don’t know but I hope it works out in some way or another. Because mental hospitals are expensive. I’ll keep you posted.