Rewards Make Learning More Fun and Effective

We all do better work when rewards are in place to motivate us. Trophies, blue ribbons, and the prestige of winning are effective prizes for those who work hard to compete for them.

It's no different for our children. They also need to have that special reward to motivate them to do the work it takes to learn new skills.

dollar billsFor most people, very few jobs are motivating without the offer of income as a reward unless the career involves a favorite pastime, which in itself would be its own reward.

I’m sure you already know how your own motivation increases when you know you’ll be rewarded. But if there’s any doubt in your mind about the effectiveness of reinforcers, consider how many workers at the local factory would be left if the boss decided he could no longer pay them for their work!

Our kids need an incentive to work just as much as, if not more than we do.

With that said, you might be wondering,

What Kinds of Rewards Should I Use?

Some children would be motivated to work hard in exchange for some time listening to their favorite songs while others might prefer a lollipop. Still others may be happy with a simple “high-five.”

The goal is to find out which ones will truly motivate your child.

Here are some examples of reinforcers I have tried.

High Fives

You have to admit, high-fives are real easy on the budget. (You can’t beat free!) I’ve seen more than one professional use them as reinforcers, and they have been very motivating for my son.

It's nice to find a reinforcer that's motivating that you don't have to buy or keep a supply of.  High fives are also great in a pinch when no other reinforcer is available, as long as it's motivating for your child.  

If you need a non-physical motivator like this and your child isn't into high fives, simple praise usually works for just about anyone. More on this later.


These have been quite effective for my son, especially as he was being potty trained. I like the Yummy Earth brand of organic lollipops. It has no artificial food colorings or artificial flavors. All flavors and colors are derived from real food extracts. And I’ve seen even adults who can’t stop eating them, they’re so good.

I get these at my local Whole Foods Market, but you can also get them online.

Chipper Chips

Chipper ChipsChipper Chips with magnetic wands

Chipper chips are colored tokens with metal rings around the edges. You can buy them with one or two magnetic wands.

The way I've used these is to award him with a chip every time he gets a correct answer. Then he can place a chip on the answer, whether we're using a worksheet or cards or some other medium.

My son loves these. We used them a lot for his lessons as he worked his way through the Moving Across Syllables program. He got to place a chip on each word or group of words that he said correctly. When he finished the page, he had to ask for the wand. (Note the extra speech practice.) Then he could use the wand to pick up all those Chipper chips. Fun!


Therapy PuttyTherapy Putty: a favorite with kids and great for improving fine motor skills

My son loves to work with putty. We use the kind that the hospitals and therapists use.

The brand I like is called Theraputty, and it’s conveniently available  on Amazon.

Our therapists have used putty as a reward for doing a certain amount of work. For example our speech therapist might reward him with 5 minutes of play time with the putty after he has finished his therapy session. Or she might give him putty time after he has finished one task.


I would recommend that you always use praise for a job well done, even alongside other reinforcers. We all need to know when we’ve done a good job, and our children are no exception.

Of course, when I say "always", I mean until they've learned the skill really well and it's part of their normal behavior.  

I also recommend specific praise. For example, when she has done well on her writing lesson, you could say, “Good writing those letters,” or “I like the way you traced those letters so carefully. They look great!”

Why specific praise? Because there may be occasions when saying “Good job” isn’t enough. Your child may not understand exactly what she did that you’re pleased about.

So I like to say things like, “I’m so proud of you for making it to the bathroom. That shows how big you are!”

Other Ideas for Rewards

  • Nuts, including cashews, filberts, pecans, and the like
  • Popcorn

  • Organic candy
  • Any favorite snack
  • A favorite drink, such as juice or a milkshake (dairy-free, if sensitive to milk)
  • Time with a favorite toy
  • Watching a favorite video
  • Listening to the radio or to a favorite song(s)
  • Time on an ipad or ipod touch
  • Time on a swing (this is good for sensorimotor issues as well)

These are just a few examples to get you started. Of course, you’ll need to rule out foods that your child is sensitive or allergic to.

The point is to find something that he loves that you can give him over and over again as a reinforcer.

Need more ideas for incentives?  Earlywood Educational Services is a goldmine of ideas for rewards.  Their collection of resources includes token reinforcement systems, incentive/behavior systems, and reinforcement/reward suggestions.

Success is Motivating, Too

Starting a system of using reinforcers will greatly increase his chances of success. And once your child sees how success feels, he will likely be even more motivated to continue his efforts.

For more information on how you can effectively use reinforcers, see the article on schedules of reinforcement.

› Rewards

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