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Learning Laboratory: Incentives and Rewards

our marble jar

One thing I constantly work on as a parent is figuring out how to help my children motivate themselves to do things they find difficult. This marble jar has proven quite useful. Marbles are added to the jar every time the kids do something especially helpful or kind. Sometimes they know in advance that they will get to add a marble to the jar if they complete a particular task, and sometimes I add it without telling them in advance. We go days without adding marbles sometimes, and other days they put several marbles in the jar. When the jar is full, we’ll all go out to dinner – the choice of a reward that the entire family will enjoy has replaced previous competitive issues with a much more cooperative atmosphere! Sometimes Johnny and Lily choose to play with their marbles before adding them to the jar, which is also fine!

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

25 thoughts on “Learning Laboratory: Incentives and Rewards”

  1. Heather @ Creative Family Moments

    We were in need of motivation in the department of chores (without nagging) so I made a list of all the chores I could think of. Each chore would equal not only some cash (think cents) but also 15 min. of video game time. 30 min – 1 hr. max of video game time can be played a day, but if they work hard they can bank up time. So far, each child has learned to do the laundry, and cook at least a meal. Awesome in my book!

  2. Hey all

    First off- I LOVE the gratitude jar. I am going to use it. We have an appreciation jar which is similar…wanted to give you all a link to my Marble Jar mobile app, which keeps your jar or jars with you on the go. My kids have responded better to this than the actual physical jar in part because they get to use my phone, and in part because we have more jars so there is more opportunity for them to earn marbles. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/marble-jar/id444902155?mt=8

  3. I have thought about doing this, but like Ticia, I have not been consistent with any kind of rewards system. I’ll have to get my act together!

  4. I found your post and comments very interesting and timely. I really struggle with rewards, especially after reading Punished by Rewards and Drive. My daughter is a reward junkie, and I am worried that she will get used to the tit-for-tat approach. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I am overthinking it, and I really liked the idea in the comments of rewards going to some sort of charitable clause.

  5. I really like this idea of a marble jar with a family outing as the reward. I actually discussed it here tonight over dinner. I agree with Natalie’s comment about struggling with the concept of rewards, but I do like this idea of accumulating a jar filled with colorful marbles for helpful and kind behaviors. We might give it a try :) Thanks!

  6. I tried the marble jars & I think I had a couple of problems… 1) I wasn’t consistent enough & 2) my kids’ age span makes it hard to find a one-size-fits-all system {their ages 14 mos up to 13 years}. I just try to encourage them. I have found a lot of success in motivating them to help with chores by doing “10 minute tidies” where I set a timer for 10 minutes & we go crazy picking things up & putting them away. 5 sets of hands working for 10 minutes can get a lot done! (side note: I won the box tops giveaway a couple of months back and just realized I haven’t received the prize. I know you weren’t in charge of shipping, but do you know when I might be able to expect it?)

  7. Sadly we’re not consistent enough with our rewards, so it’s probably more of a frustration for them than encouragement……..

  8. We had a gratitude jar. The girls chose the goal of adopting a Panda. If I caught the girls doing something nice (esp. for eachother) they got a coin in the jar. They got coins for resolving conflicts, sharing, helping Mommy or Daddy… My girls are at the age that they were happy to work toward the goal. My eldest loved counting the coins. Bonus! Math reenforcement. They had so much fun they have asked to do it again. Thanks for reminding me :-)

    1. Thank you for reminding me of your panda post! I would like to do something like that with my kids as well!

  9. An interesting take on this idea! We’ve been doing marble jars (although we’ve fallen out of the habit for a while), but we’ve done separate jars for each child and once their jar is full, that child switches off going on a date with mom/dad. I’ve really enjoyed having a chance to go on individual dates, but I really like the idea of working on the jar together. They definitely start to get competitive the way we’ve been doing it and I’d rather see them working together. This might just be the thing to revive our marble jars!

  10. We had a reward chart for awhile. It worked for about a month and then my daughters stopped caring about it. However, in preschool they had a marble jar and they updated me every day on who got to put in marbles. Maybe I should give that concept a try.

    1. I’ve been really happy with the cooperative family goal. It makes for a fun family-building experience =)

  11. We use the marbles too! This system worked SO well for several weeks, and really helped to motivate my 5 year old to do many things that he was resisting (bath, school work, etc). However, he lost interest in the marbles, and we’ve gone several weeks now without doing them at all. The good news is that the good behavior continues. So basically, the marbles helped to train him what good behavior is, and he continues to exhibit this good behavior even when the reward isn’t present. This is certainly what I would wish for in any incentive system!

  12. I love the marble jar!
    Last year I posted about money dollars…and that has been the most successful system for me..and super fun for the kids! I make my mommy dollars worth about 20 cents, but it would be fun, even if they were worth 5 cents. I print off actual mini dollars..and the kids can use the money to purchase items from the mommy store! Even my oldest daughter likes to earn mommy dollars! =)

  13. This is lovely, however, my son loves to play with them and would not keep them in a jar for a minute! :)
    I try charts. Sometimes they work. I found a great site where you can design your own chart from scratch. There is many characters to choose from and you can fill up your blanks with whatever chores you like: http://www.dltk-cards.com/chart/
    The kids chose the pictures on the chart and colored them. I put the charts in a plastic sleeve (or you can laminate them) and bought happy face small foam stickers form 99 cent store. I put the charts on a board. Every chore gets rewarded with a sticker. Pink, blue, yellow… They choose.
    Some of my “chores” on the chart are behavior related, like “use your words” (instead of hitting) and “share”. Certain amount of stickers gets a prize. If yo do not behave or do your chore, sticker goes down.

    So far it has worked. They grow so fast, Thank G-d, there is a constant need to adjust behavior and chore charts or find new tools.
    I don’t think there is a one method that will always work. It’s good try different things…..
    Maybe when my kids outgrows playing with marbles (could one ever :), we could try your system. Thanx for sharing!

    BTW, I got my Milos guitar CD! Thank you again! It’s lovely and relaxing.

    1. Charts can be really useful! Thank you for the link to that site, it looks great! You are right that things tend to only work for a little while – which is why I’m so excited to get more ideas!

      I’m glad you got the CD, and are enjoying it!

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