A recent event reminded me to ‘never underestimate the power of praise coupled with a reward’. The event was my wife working with my daughter on her writing and math homework. She is a 5-year-old in Kindergarten and it has been especially challenging for her to learn and memorize the alphabet. We have had her tutored and that has really helped her last year in Pre-K. However, academically it is clear that our daughters is very strong artistically yet weak in language arts.
Knowing this, we take extra time to help her reading, writing, phonics and her dictation. At times it is frustrating and we don’t seem to get anywhere except tears, but we constantly try new learning approaches and tools to help her remember and use her letters, words, and phonics correctly. One of the best tools on the internet we found was ABC Phonics. Add this all the books, games, Fisher-Price sound learners, DVD’s, flash cards, portable and stationary electronic devices that we have bought, borrowed, self-produced or have been handed down and there are few tools our daughter has not seen and used.
And yet, beyond all these tools it was the simple praise and sticker reward for work well done on writing and repeating the alphabet and some sight words in her learning journal that brought one of the most remarkable and observable advancements. It also provided a great deal of joy and excitement to both our daughter and us! This was an event right up there with the potty dance from three years earlier. She finally neatly wrote and correctly said all the letters of the alphabet, spelled a couple of words and used them in sentences!
Boiled down the process my wife use was that she:
- Found a good environment that is familiar and comfortable for the learner…here it was the kitchen
- Create a positive and fun atmosphere
- Have the tools needed for the lesson ready and available…here it was paper, pencil and erasure
- Set the task, goal and objective…here they talked about what they were going to do and together they built how they were going to do the task, how long it should take, what the objective was and what the reward would be for achieving the task in a satisfactory manner. Remember to make the goal a stretch for the child’s ability but NOT something they will not be able to achieve.
- Work on the task
- Support the child as they work if needed and be available for questions. Remember not to be too quick with the answer. Help the child find it on their own since this builds the problem solving skills they will need for the rest of their life.
- Evaluate the work with the child. Try to verbalize all the strengths and weaknesses as you go along and ask for clarity from the child as needed. Give little praises like ‘nice’, ‘perfect’, or ‘excellent’ along the way as well as ‘this could be better’, ‘what does this mean’ or ‘can we try this again’ where needed.
- Work with the child to get them to the point where their work will achieve the objective and be able to be rewarded
- Ask the child what they thought of the experience.
- Ask the child if they thought they achieved the goal and if they should receive the reward.
- Provide the reward! Here it was a star and a Disney sticker. I watched in amazement as my daughter and wife went wild and shared their excitement with me.
Sometime in the future I’ll have to write about the power of the treasure box for behavior, but until then remember the power of a simple sticker!