Bribing vs. Rewarding in Homeschooling

Are you seriously struggling to get your homeschooler motivated?

Wondering how in the world to get them to do their school work without arguing, threatening, or punishing?

Maybe you’ve also considered (or even tried!) bribing your homeschooler. But you know that it isn’t effective, sustainable…or respectable.

Two separate people talked to me about motivation with their homeschoolers this week and it has caused me to wonder if the rest of the homeschooling world is going through the same thing.

The first person I talked to was embarrassed to admit that she “bribes” her homeschooler with a special sweet treat if she finishes reading a chapter book.

The second person was telling me about some huge struggles that are going on in their first year of homeschooling. I asked what they were doing to motivate or reward the child, and I got a blank, confused stare.

The problem here seems very obvious, but first I think I need to make one thing super clear:

Bribing vs. Rewarding in Homeschooling: What is the Difference??

Are you confused about how to motivate your homeschooler? Isn't it wrong to offer bribes or a reward system for things they should just be doing anyway? Shouldn't the love of learning be enough for your kids? I have been homeschooling for going on 4 years, and I have answers for all your questions - and they're going to surprise you! Don't miss this crucial homeschool tip and the free printable that goes with it!

Many people are confused here and I want to help highlight the massive difference between the two.

This is Bribing in the Homeschooling Setting:

Your kid has already started doing their work…and they start to throw a fit about it.

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The whining and complaining sets in and you start watching the clock as minutes of your life tick away that you can never get back.

You begin to feel desperate as your patience slips away, so you try to do something nice (instead of yelling)…and the bribes start coming.

“If you finish up these problems, mommy will give you a lollipop!”

“When you complete your schoolwork, I’ll give you extra screen time!”

“If you just finish your work and do your best, I’ll buy you a puppy!”

You try to say it with a smile, but you’re boiling on the inside and you just want the pain to end.

You and your kid fall across the finish line for the day – knowing it’s nothing to be proud of.

You have a break now…well, at least until tomorrow.

Summary of Bribing:

It’s characterized by power struggles, feeling last minute, rushed, desperate, and shameful – you are not telling the other homeschool moms about this!

It is also usually a “one time thing” the parent comes up with to get through a bad day – not intended to be repeated ever again – or so they hope.

And This is Rewarding in the Homeschooling Setting:

The parent comes up with a positive incentive rewards program and informs the child of the details BEFORE any school work is even attempted.

This may look very different for each child because it’s dependent on what motivates your kid.

Here is an example:

“Johnny, remember that if you finish your school work today with a good attitude, you will earn {fill in the blank}. If you have a bad attitude or don’t finish your work, you not get {fill in the blank}.”

There is no punishment. No yelling. They will have just lost the opportunity to earn something they really want.

Examples of possible rewards may be more screen time, later bedtime, a chore they don’t have to do, a sweet treat, or my favorite – a sticker on a chart that helps the child earn something bigger (i.e. “If you earn 5 stickers you get….”)

Rewarding is usually characterized by an established system, thinking ahead, feeling calm, methodical, and a kid who is proud to show off what they earned through hard work and discipline.

Unfortunately….

People still don’t see a difference between the two – giving your homeschooler anything to do their schoolwork is considered bribing and it tends to be looked down on in the homeschool community.

People often feel that it is cheating, inauthentic teaching, and a cheapening of the pursuit of learning. You are made to feel that your results don’t count because you used poor judgement to achieve them.

In fact, when you tell people in homeschool circles that you use these tactics, you get a lot of looks like this:

Homeschool mom confused about rewarding vs bringing in homeschool

Why I Have Used a  Rewards System in My Homeschool from the Beginning Anyway:

Because it works!!!!

If you think back to your elementary school days (and you’re honest with yourself), you’ll start to remember all the ways that you were rewarded for outstanding work and behavior.

Here are just a few I could think of off the top of my head:

  • I still remember my 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Crawford, rewarding us with M&Ms for pages read. I was a chubby kid who loved reading, so I had the biggest bag of M&Ms in the class!

  • The same teacher used a punch card to reward good behavior and completed classwork. The punches could be used to purchase things in a class store.

  • I attended many awards assemblies where kids were recognized for outstanding achievements in math, language arts, etc. with an engraved plaque to take home.

  • There were writing contests the school put on that often had a cash reward.

  • My oldest daughter went to public school kindergarten (before we started homeschooling) and she was rewarded with an ice cream on Friday’s if all her homework was done. This was huge for her and she never missed an assignment!

  • The same school sponsored a huge end of year party to reward kindergarteners who knew all their sight words and could count to 100.

  • Our scout meetings use raffle tickets for a treasure box to reward kids who are on time and in the correct uniform.

  • The creative writing teacher in our co-op uses a ticket system to reward students who use certain vocabulary words in their writing. My daughter goes crazy over it and never has a problem turning in her work.

So, what’s my point?

My point is that you never see a parent reading a teacher the riot act for “bribing” the students with pizza parties or whatever else they offer kids to keep them engaged.

In fact, we celebrate it! I was so proud of my kid when she earned the right to attend that big end of year party. She worked hard, earned something super cool, and she was beaming the day she got to go!

So why do homeschoolers feel like rewarding is off limits for them?

There is nothing wrong with finding something that motivates your child and leveraging it for their educational success. Nothing.

I am sick to death of people looking down on it, being afraid to admit they do it, or being afraid to use the tactic at all.

I am about to start my 4th year of using a reward system with my homeschoolers and I still find it to be a highly effective tool to keep our days productive.

But then my homeschooler won’t do school unless I give them something, and they’ll just ask for more and more…

homeschool kid covered in candy from bribing or rewards

Actually, no. That has not been my experience.

The opposite has actually been true for us.

The reward system gets my kids excited and motivated. They start to get in the habit and pattern of doing schoolwork. They develop confidence in their abilities as a student while working hard to earn their reward.

Over time, they have started to completely forget about their sticker charts. I have to remind them all the time to put their stickers up and what they’ve earned.

I also used to offer a minute of extra screen time for ever page my 1st grader struggled to read. She now reads constantly and has long forgotten about our screen time deal.

This is a lot like potty training. I know that’s a weird comparison, but just go with me.

I gave all my kids M&Ms when they started potty training. All three kids stopped needing the M&Ms as soon as they starting getting the hang of the potty.

After awhile, I stopped offering them, and the kid stopped asking for them. And yet they still use the potty to this day.

My point is that over time, you will need less things to motivate your child as they settle into the expectations of being a student.

That’s why high schoolers don’t get as many rewards from their teachers as elementary students do.

What Reward Will Motivate My Homeschooler?

You and your kid are the only ones who know that for sure.

What puts a sparkle in their eye?

What gets them moving?

What is something they would hate to miss?

You may be really surprised at what small things kids find to be effective!

Don’t be afraid to ask them and have a discussion about it.

Three Rewards Systems I Have Used in My Homeschool Over the Years

treasure chest to motivate homeschoolers

To get your mind rolling, I want to share what has been effective for my kids. Keep in mind, this may not work for your kids, but it will give you a spring board to start thinking about what will work.

  1. With my oldest, I started with telling her I would give a $1/day if she did her school work and completed an assigned chore. This essentially worked out to giving her an allowance so she would stop asking me to buy her things constantly. It worked out beautifully for teaching her about money and saving for things she really wanted + her school was getting done with no issues! It was a win-win!

  2. With my younger kids, I have used a simple cardboard treasure box filled with cheap amazon toys. Every Friday they got to pick from the treasure box if they had earned 5 stickers during the week.

  3. My kids are older now and we have moved on to a treat box – same thing for everybody. I stock it full of stuff that I never usually let them eat – so they get really excited! They can pick from it every Friday to have a treat during our weekly movie night. I also announce a “Star of the Week” that worked especially hard and they get to pick from the box first. This is such a fun time to really highlight one of my kids and let them shine for something they truly earned.

Bribing vs. Rewarding in Homeschooling Recap + Free Printable

All of us, even adults, need to be motivated during tough days.

Us moms may tell ourselves that if we survive the day (of if our kids survive the day), we can have an iced coffee, a sneaked bit of chocolate, or a glass of wine.

Your kids need that too some days!

They are too young to fully understand how the world will open up to them if they learn to read, write, and do math with excellence.

We can help them (and ourselves) along by letting them earn short term rewards they can be proud of while carving out the discipline and confidence to be self motivated in their later years of schooling.

If you are already using a reward system, I would love to hear about it! Drop a comment below and share your secrets!

If you are not using a reward system in your homeschool, I would highly recommend you start experimenting with one and see how your kids react!

To help you out, I have developed a simple sticker chart (the same one I use!) that you can download today and print as many times as you need to!

Sticker chart printable for rewards system in homeschooling

You can get it for free when you subscribe to The Simple Homeschooler (no SPAM ever! Unsubscribe anytime).

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Just click HERE to subscribe and get your free sticker chart printable today!

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