How to Create Effective Incentives for School Work

Sometimes, it is hard to get school done. Almost as hard as pulling hen’s teeth. This is where incentives for school work are needed—with simple rewards, your students can learn to work faster and harder.

Near the beginning of the school year, for a week or so anyway, it’s fairly easy to get the work done fast. Past the first month or so, the momentum starts to slow down—until it’s only a fraction of the original speed, and we’re all tired of how long it’s taking to get anything done.

How to Create Effective Incentives for School Work

Photo courtesy of Pixabay/Hebi65 | License: CC0 1.0

A few years ago, after seeing how slow we were going, Mom decided to implement a rewards system where if we got a prescribed amount of work done by lunch time then we could get a treat. It worked—and we used the system for several months, before we all got tired of eating the same reward every day.

Three Ways to Create Incentives:

  1. Find simple rewards. They don’t have to be very fancy—they just have to be effective. For a while, we were using simple peanut butter balls (see recipe below). Everyone who got done in time received a peanut butter ball, and those who didn’t just missed out.
  2. Find simple consequences. Sometimes, a child does not get his work done no matter how many rewarding incentives you give them. For example, say a child is way behind on his math. Since he is so far behind, and not catching up—even though he could have easily finished within an hour or two—a simple consequence could be digging a bucket of potatoes the next day for Mom if he doesn’t get done by a certain time. This is an easy enough chore, usually done in fifteen minutes or so.
    (Note: I am not encouraging enforced labor simply because a chore is not done in time. This kind of incentive is only used when there is an ongoing problem, and when the student can easily catch up by applying himself.)
  3. Create heavier-duty rewards for habits. Recently, Mom has been trying to teach my brothers some life-long habits. Instead of just telling them to work on them, she decided to help them keep track of how they’re doing. Each day they successfully complete a job associated with the habit, they earn 5¢. Every day they miss, they lose 5¢.

Consistency is a key to making incentives work. For busy Mothers, though, it is hard to remember who gets what reward.

One way Mom has combated this problem is by giving a universal reward to everyone. She also has a set consequence for those who particularly struggle. For example, one of my brothers loves to sleep outside. He is normally allowed to sleep outside, but on the days he doesn’t finish his school work in time he has to sleep inside. This is a very simple consequence, but most of the time it does the job—his work gets done early.

Peanut Butter Balls RecipePeanut Butter Balls Recipe

  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • ¼ cup dessicated coconut (+ some to coat balls in)
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 1 tsp. honey (or other sweetener)

Mix well, roll into roughly 1″ balls, roll in coconut.

For variations: I’ve sometimes added cocoa powder, or cinnamon and cloves, to give different flavors. It is also possible to add vanilla, almond, caramel, or other essences to give different tastes. Chocolate chips and dried mixed fruit are good replacements for the raisins. Feel free to experiment—this is just the base recipe!

Even though the rewards for school work well done can be very small, they are effective. Mid-school blues are hard to push away, but by being creative, the work can become more fun again.

How have you used incentives before? Did they work?