Great Incentives for Students to Encourage Excellence

August 1, 2022

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Alpha Omega Publications

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Students can be motivated toward hard work and positive behaviors with the help of incentives. While we would all love our kids to be naturally wired to work hard without any rewards, sometimes incentives for students help give them a nudge in the right direction.

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Incentives for students

Incentives for students can help reinforce good behavior and motivate higher student achievement in a fun way. The dictionary definition of incentive is “a thing that motivates or encourages one to do something.” Not all incentives have to be trinkets from a prize box. But they can be.

How do incentives motivate students?

Incentives motivate students by reinforcing the behaviors you want to see. That is, if your student exhibits academic achievement of some kind, let’s say she masters this week’s spelling list, then an incentive is a great way to build confidence and encourage them to put in the hard work again next week. Being successful makes you happy. So you’ll see increased student motivation when you can encourage kids with incentives.

Do you remember being in elementary school and having celebrations as an entire class? Maybe the entire class reached some sort of milestone and you all enjoyed a popcorn party. When you have classroom rewards and celebrate success, students are more likely to repeat that success.

Even if you’re a homeschool mom with one or several children and not a classroom of thirty, you can still take some cues from how teachers use classroom rewards to motivate students in elementary schools and high schools.

What are educational incentives?

Educational incentives are rewards for learning that produce motivation in students. These student incentives can be special activities or physical rewards. When you reward behaviors, you get more of those behaviors. This is why teachers in a classroom tend to have multiple educational incentives for the whole class, like an extra recess or no homework. Or, sometimes they have a small treasure chest with little trinkets that kids love.

What makes a great reward or incentive?

A great reward or incentive will change with the age and maturity level of your kids. We all know that very young children get excited about simple incentives like a sticker chart showing their progress. This is an incentive idea that doesn’t require any prizes. The reward or incentive is the pride and accomplishment your child feels by being praised by you and visually seeing their progress on the sticker chart. Other kids will love a physical reward system of small treats that they don’t get on a regular basis. So, inexpensive rewards from the dollar tree or special snacks and candy can be an easy way to motivate many children.

A reward system to motivate academic success of older children might be based on special activities like a movie night or special outing with the family. Sometimes you can motivate your whole family with group rewards, like a family trip for meeting a huge goal or purchasing an awesome new board game to enjoy together.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Rewards

The difference between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards is from where they originate. External or extrinsic rewards originate outside of the person. They could be intangible rewards like praise or tangible rewards like a new toy or money. In contrast, intrinsic rewards speak to the internal motivation that a person has inside themselves. An example of intrinsic motivation might be the satisfaction you feel by performing in the piano recital and this drives you to practice daily.

If a student is relying only on extrinsic rewards to motivate them, they will lose all interest in the task if you remove the possibility of a reward. Intrinsic motivation will last longer because it’s not dependent on the external circumstances. People that have intrinsic motivation find more enjoyment in their tasks through the longterm. They’re also more likely to persevere through hardship.

Extrinsic Rewards

Extrinsic rewards usually change behaviors quicker. You can picture a child that is unruly. If they are promised that they can choose a toy from the dollar store if they behave themselves while mom is shopping, you know that extrinsic rewards work to modify behavior. At least most of the time these extrinsic rewards work – ask any mom and she’ll acknowledge that sometimes nothing works!

Here are more examples of extrinsic rewards:

  • positive feedback
  • positive note
  • good grades
  • money
  • prize or reward
  • activity
  • trophy

However, there is a delicate balance between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. It’s not beneficial to overdo the extrinsic rewards. You do want your child to have the inner satisfaction of experiencing intrinsic rewards.

Intrinsic Rewards

As students grow and gain maturity, we all hope that they will also grow in their intrinsic motivation. But, even in the adult world, grown-ups are still motivated externally by the promise of a raise or a promotion, so the extrinsic rewards in society really never go away completely.

Here are some examples of intrinsic rewards.

When you want to play on the soccer team because it’s fun, not because you want to win an award, this is an example of an intrinsic reward. That is, the motivation to continue playing on the sports team comes from an inner satisfaction, which is the reward.

Or, if you decide to learn a foreign language because you want to travel to another country and be able to communicate while you’re there, then this is another example of an intrinsic reward. You’re doing the hard work of foreign language study, not because someone is giving you a prize, but because you’re motivated by the promise of experiencing a foreign country in a new and unique way.

Incentive Ideas for students

If you want some easy incentive ideas for students of all ages, here are those student rewards that your kids will love.

Go on a Field Trip

When your children reach a goal, take a day off from school and go on a fun homeschool field trip. This can be a typical educational field trip like a living history location or science center, or you could spend the day at a play park just for fun. Kids of all ages are motivated by a day away with a fun activity to celebrate a good job with school work.

Offer Small Prizes

Younger kids love small prizes from a treasure chest. It’s no wonder that many teachers use a prize box as a popular classroom incentive – because it works! You can find party favors or small toys online. One way to make this manageable is to join forces with a couple other local homeschool moms.

Each of you can purchase some items in bulk and then trade among yourselves so you each have a nice selection of small prizes. Kids love unique pens, Iwako erasers, pop-it toys, and bouncy balls. All of these are great ideas for your prize box.

Give Your Kids Fee Time

A great incentive idea for kids is just to reward them with extra free time. Once they finish a science project or reach their book reading goal, offer them a free day to pursue their own hobbies or enjoy free playtime.

Create an Activity Shelf

You could create a shelf with special activity bins and toys that only come down as a reward. So, at the end of a successful homeschool week, maybe your younger children can play with the items on the activity shelf on Fridays.

Or upon the completion of a successful math test, your child knows they can play with the items on the activity shelf. Look for fun educational toys at garage sales to fill your activity shelf on the cheap.

Go to the Dollar Store

What child doesn’t love a trip to the dollar store, perusing the aisles to decide the best way to spend a few bucks? This is a great incentive idea for students in every grade level but especially your younger students. Even your older kids can find some fun treats at the dollar store.

Eat Out

There’s a reason a popular pizza chain offers free pizzas as an incentive for reading books. Take a cue from them and take your kids to their favorite restaurant for a celebration meal!

Handwritten Note

Your older kids may appreciate a handwritten note from you which talks about their hard work and your pride in them. Don’t neglect the small expressions of encouragement that can be a huge motivation for some kids.

Electronics Usage

Some of us may try to limit electronics usage for our kids. But if you turn it into one of your incentives for students in your homeschool, this might be a great motivator. Can your kids have extra time to play Minecraft? Maybe watch some of their favorite YouTubers? If you usually have no electronics usage in your home, this incentive might still be narrowed down to using apps or watching shows with educational value only.

Go to the Movies

Take your student to their favorite movie and grab some movie theater popcorn on the way in! Make it a fun celebration of academic achievement or positive behaviors. This is a simple but fun incentive for students. Another great alternative is a fun movie night. Here are some great family movie night ideas. 

Buy a New Book

Take your child to a local bookstore and help them find a new book that’s right up their alley. What are their current passions or obsessions? Find a book on that and buy it for them!

This is a great incentive for kids who love to read, but it can even work for your more reluctant readers if you find a book about their favorite topic. Don’t be afraid to check out the graphic novels or encyclopedic books about specific niches.

Go to an Escape Room

Your high school students might need a more motivating activity as a reward. How about taking them and some friends to an escape room as unique incentive? This kind of incentive can be saved to celebrate the completion of a large project or goal. It’s a great end of the school year activity for teens.

Sticker Chart

Some of the best incentive ideas for students are the most simple. Create a sticker chart and put it in a prominent location for your child to see. Every time they complete the task you’re working on, let them add a sticker.

Sometimes seeing the completed chart is reward enough for kids. Other children might need a small reward at the completion of the chart. You know your child best.

Give Money

Adults are still motivated by pay raises and bonuses, so why not use money as a reward for some things? Your older kids will especially appreciate this kind of incentive, especially if you’re teaching them to save for big purchases. Teaching kids about money is important, and you can help them learn great money habits.

Go Out for Ice Cream

Enjoy a sweet ice cream date with your kids! Enough said.

Host a Sleep Over

A great incentive for your social butterfly will be to host a sleep over. Plan their favorite treats, movie, and activities that they can do with their friends as a special reward for a job well done.

Should I reward my Student?

If you’re wondering if you should reward your student, the answer is yes and no. There are times when external rewards will fit well and help reinforce positive behaviors and academic success. But there is also a time when external rewards will squash the growth of internal motivation and the satisfaction of doing a job well just for the sake of it.

We do want our children to grow and mature and so we need to be careful not to go overboard on the external rewards to the detriment of maturity and growth. Much of this will be balanced around the age and maturity level of your individual kids and the types of rewards you use will change through the years.

In Conclusion

Incentives for students can be a tricky tight rope to walk with your kids. How much is too much? Should I even give them rewards? Hopefully you’ve been inspired and encouraged with some practical ideas and thoughts as you work to motivate your children in the best way possible as you encourage excellence.

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