I believe in treats, but my daughter took it a bit too far.
Bethany Sanders: My daughter was in kindergarten last year, and just a few weeks into the school year, she brought home a note about a new classroom incentive program. At the end of every week, she'd bring home a sticker sheet. If she'd worked hard and behaved herself, it was up to me to read the note and provide her with a reward.
"What are you going to buy me?" she asked.
"Buy you?" I choked on the water I was drinking. "BUY you?"
Her hopes of building a Littlest Pet Shop empire dashed, I sat her down and explained to her that I wasn't going to buy her anything. "Behaving and working hard is what your dad and I expect of you," I told her. "It's what will help you succeed in school and in life. It's what you're supposed to do."
Though I don't have a problem with all incentive programs, I'm a big believer in intrinsic rewards: the pride and satisfaction that come from a job well done, and the joy of learning in itself. Just this past weekend, that same kid from the story above read her first chapter book -- an accomplishment that filled her with pride. And no one paid her to do it.
There's evidence to support my point of view. Numerous studies have found that money and other rewards not only don't help kids perform better, they sometimes make kids do worse.
But as it turns out, bribery may indeed have its place in the classroom. A recent study -- done, ironically, by a man who'd fought his way out of a rough childhood not with rewards, but with hard work, competitiveness and a fear of failure -- found that when incentives are planned well, they can improve test scores equivalent to spending three extra months in school.
For his study, Harvard economist Roland Fryer, Jr. set up incentive systems in four different cities (Chicago, New York, Dallas and Washington), reports Time magazine. Each program was set up differently, and each was compared to a control group. The bar? End-of-the-year standardized testing.
The results were interesting. In New York, kids made no measurable improvement. In Chicago, kids improved their grades but showed no growth on standardized tests. Kids in Washington made small gains. But it was the ones in Dallas who made everyone stop and take another look.
The Dallas schoolchildren were paid a small amount of money to read books, which boosted their reading comprehension -- and therefore their test scores. The difference? According to Time, while the students in the other cities had been asked to improve their performance on nonspecific tasks, the kids in Dallas had been asked to do something they already knew how to do: Read books. Fryer theorizes that giving kids control over what's necessary for performance -- attendance, participation, work ethic -- can motivate them to improve their test scores.
Fryer's study inspired the Knowledge Is Power Program, which now runs in 82 schools across the country -- and gives kids weekly rewards for doing what they're supposed to anyway. But really, let's be honest: Do you work for free?
A few weeks ago (before I read the Time article), I offered my kids a deal. We were just beginning the monthlong school read-a-thon -- a competition that's really hard to win. So instead of focusing on winning, I helped the kids set their own personal goals. Then for every book they read, I paid them a nickel.
Without my reminding and without my nagging, my kids didn't just reach their goal, they surpassed it. And just a few days ago, at the award ceremony? One stood in first place, the other in second.
So yes, I'll continue to model a good work ethic, teach my kids a love of learning and expect that they'll toe the line. But I think there just might be room in there for a treat or two, too.
"Bribing can work -- and here's why," says momlogic expert Dr. Janet Taylor. "Motivation is both intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external). There is nothing wrong with externally priming kids' behavior with either monetary or verbal (praise) rewards. Bribing should be used, as the Time article suggests, toward efforts like education, character-building or health-related activities, to reinforce positive habits and skills. Directing your kids to individual, purposeful goals requires effort. Ultimately, a positive outcome or simple sense of fulfillment can result in an enhanced psychological benefit. Those feelings can pave the road for them to take control of their own lives and develop the internal capacity for generating their own action plan -- minus a bribe. By paying kids now to aim higher and study harder, we can save later by having a more educated -- and motivated -- workforce."
Do you reward your kids for their hard work?
|Bethany Sanders is a teacher-turned-stay-at-home mom of two living in the Midwest. Her musings on parenthood can also be found at Strollerderby and Savvy Source.|