School Incentives and Rewards That Aren’t Junk Food or Cheap Toys

School incentives for kids don’t have to be junk food or cheap toys. To be honest, we should be teaching and modeling to students that a job well done is its own reward. But if your child’s school offers rewards, here’s how to make sure they’re safer and healthier.

incentives and rewards for kids in school

We get it – bribery works. And sometimes it’s more fun if the group is working toward a common goal. So today we’re sharing some school incentives that are better quality or at least not total junk.

It’s one thing for fast food restaurants to use junk toys to push junk food on our kids, but it’s another thing for school systems to use them as rewards.

What do such rewards tell our kids?

That getting to eat candy is aligned with being good? It could be one factor in the complicated obesity problem.

The good news is there are healthier alternatives for student incentives that taste delicious and can be educational and fun.

If you want your child’s school to revamp its reward system, brainstorm with other parents and get the PTA involved at your next fundraising meeting. And if you need ideas for sustainable ways to raise money for your child’s school, check out these Eco-Friendly Fundraising Ideas for Schools.

Here are ideas for alternate incentives for younger and older children to get you started.

School Incentives & Rewards for Younger Children

Anything that gets kids outside is healthier for their bodies and minds, and it’s a great reward. Teachers can have the students brainstorm ideas that would motivate them either indoors or outdoors.

  • Special seating: Sit beside a friend in class for the day
  • Extra recess
  • Special guest for the class: Our Montessori school hosted a John Muir impersonator who shared stories of his walks, his learnings about nature, and his adventures in the mountains.
  • Chat break: For one day only, the student chooses a time for up to five minutes for the class to have a chat break
  • Special Helper: Student is the teacher’s special helper for the day
  • Student chooses story for story time
  • Show and tell
  • Movie during lunch
  • Recess toys for the whole class (outdoor game, hula hoop, jump ropes)
  • Family night kit: Create a gift basket with puzzles, games, or movie and organic popcorn
  • Books: Age and family appropriate book chosen from a pre-approved list
  • Special themed coloring book and crayons
  • Sketchbook to encourage free expression through drawing and writing
  • Adopt an Animal: Let the student (or class) choose an animal to adopt with the World Wildlife Fund’s program. If it’s for the whole class, choose the option where you get the stuffed animal (with a card about its habitat) and make it the class mascot.
  • Puzzles: Pick a variety of puzzles set in different cities or with pictures of animals
  • Seeds to start flowers or veggies in the classroom window or outdoor area

School Incentives & Rewards for Older Children

Big kids can also brainstorm ideas of what motivates them. It’s all in the way you present them that makes them cool or boring. But when kids have some buy-in, they’re more likely to work toward the goal.

  • A local writer or artist volunteers to teach a creativity workshop
  • Have class outside
  • Extra recess
  • Dance party
  • Homework pass (skip one homework assignment)
  • Movie during lunch
  • Journal or sketchbook: The blank pages encourage free expression
  • A movie ticket to a parent-approved film in theaters
  • Flower or herbs in a pot, such as basil, which grows well indoors and outdoors
  • Students get to plant a school garden to grow veggies or to attract butterflies
  • Age-appropriate but fun book in a genre of choice
  • Coloring books that are age appropriate, with colored pencils
  • One musical instrument lesson voucher for the student to meet with a professional (this can be donated by a local musician or business)
  • Students plan a potluck: They make items at home and bring them into class for a picnic. Encourage the kids to pick healthy recipes to try.
  • Age-appropriate science kit: Build a solar-powered dinosaur that walks

The Case for No Incentives

One approach that doesn’t involve toys or useless items is to forego incentives altogether. Montessori classrooms rarely use rewards in the classroom. Instead they encourage intrinsic motivation, or action that occurs without external stimulus.

Montessori kids aren’t rewarded for deeds or accomplishments. Instead their daily activities are designed to help drive their independence. If they do their work and get a treat, it teaches that everything they do should offer something in return.

If you do opt for incentives, they should reflect the effort and enthusiasm placed into the students’ hard work. Interactive, educational and silly challenges, and fun social activities are extremely useful ways to encourage students to succeed.Save

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  1. Great ideas! Our school gets pretty ridiculous with the candy so I always try to offer some suggestions. These will really help!

  2. How about no incentives? Why do children need an incentive to do their work? We shouldn’t rely on bought items or a promise of a “fun activity” to get children to work. Good teachers know how to motivate their students by encouraging a desire from within to try and to do well. Many of the activities listed are ones that a teacher might include as part of the curriculum, and not use them as an incentive for children to do well!