I have heard several arguments for and against the use of reinforcers with children. Reinforcers are "rewards" that are given for children's/students' positive behavior. Those against reinforcers point out that we, as parents and educators, are buying our children's/students' good behavior. For instance, ideas such as giving children an allowance for chores or giving money for good grades on report cards have always been controversial. On the flip side, those in favor of using reinforcers point out that we, as adults, do get paid from our jobs. We would not work if we did not get paid. I believe I am somewhere in the middle. I do not see anything wrong with an occasional reward. I believe that even God will give us an eternal reward. That said, I do believe that giving too many rewards or reinforcers can result in the opposite effect of what we intend - children who do not want to do anything without a reinforcer. I do use reinforcers with my own sons at times. For instance, just today, we were shopping for a BBQ we are planning this evening. We were in Wal-Mart for approximately two hours. Both Taliesin and Nathanael behaved very well. I told them how much I appreciated their help and each of them got one of the Easter items that were on sale. At times, we also do plan trips as a type of reward for hard work. For instance, because Taliesin and Nathanael have been doing an excellent job at being helpful here lately (as we record on their helpfulness chart). Therefore, sometime next month, we are planning a trip to the zoo. Again, as long as reiforcers are used sparingly, I see nothing wrong them. It is when we use them constantly so that children come to expect them for every little thing instead of allowing the good behavior to be a reward that they can become more of a problem than a solution.
The following is a list of reinforcers:
1. A type of tangible reinforcer that I use most often is a certificate. I hand out certificates at our homeschooling group's project fair each year. I also believe certificates are good for younger children who master new skills such as potty training, sharing toys, listening to what the parent and/or teacher is saying, etc.
2. I also do use token resources such as stars or stickers off and on. After so many stars or stickers, the child can earn a tangible reinforcer. Sometimes children enjoy making the earning of token reinforcers into a game of who can get the most. I plan to use this type of token reinforcer leading up to a tangible reinforcer with my preschool. The first day of class, I will ask the students to help me think of good rules that we should follow. I will record them on a chart. Each day, when the students follow their rules, they will earn a star or sticker. At the end of a two-week or month-long period, we will have some kind of tangible reward such as a certificate for them to take home and put on their wall.
3. I believe recognition falls less into the category of reinforcer and more into the category of just showing respect to the students. However, since the book mentions it as a reinforcer, I will record it in my list. I believe it is always important to acknowledge when a child is behaving extra well or does a good job. That is something we all enjoy, even as adults. Even Jesus taught that for those who follow His commands, we will hear "Well done, good and faithful servant."
4. I also do like the ideas of using activities as reinforcers. Things such as helping the teacher gather materials or being able to help other students really does mean a lot to children. Again, though, I do not necessarily think of these as reinforcers the way the book does. I think, again, it just comes down to respect and allowing the children to be themselves. For instance, right now, Taliesin is so excited over helping me with the preschool with the younger children. He is naming all kinds of things that he is going to help with.
5. One of my favorite reiforcers that the book lists under priveleges is computer time. I do use this as not only a reinforcer but as a way to encourage Taliesin and Nathanael to use teamwork. They love pulling up websites such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder. They have learned to take turns with the games and activities and to encourage each other in the games, etc. I look at this more as a learning tool than a reinforcer. The only way I can see this as a reinforcer is if they are no longer able to use the computer because they are arguing or not using the computer properly.
6. I also like the idea that the book lists of watering the plants and doing other classroom jobs. This is something that Taliesin and Nathanael do, but, again, not necessarily as a reinforcer but as a learning tool. For instance, they love helping my husband me feed the fish and their pet guinea pig and pet rats. This, though, is more of a way for them to learn responsibility and care than it is a reward for good behavior. I can see how it could be used as a reinforcer in that the child with the best behavior gets to handle this necessity for the day. Another good way to modify this may be to allow the children with good behavior to hold the pet longer or pet the animal longer.
7. The book lists classroom money as a reinforcer. We do not use classroom money, but my sons do help deliver a weekly newspaper route. Some weeks they help more than others (depending on the weather); but they get a monthly paycheck for their work. I can see how classroom money would be a reinforcer for positive behavior.
8. I can also see how earning extra recess time would be a reinforcer, although I do not think recess should be withheld at all. Children need that physical activitiy and unstructured playtime. We do use a trip to the park or to the mall's play center as a reinforcer here. Since we live just four blocks from a park, I will be using the park as a reinforcer with the preschool as well.
9. An extra snack at snack time may also be something that I will use as a reinforcer for the preschool. Perhaps if one of the children has been doing an extra good job that day, (s)he can help me pass out the snacks and take an extra cracker/graham cracker for him/herself.
10. Many view extra teacher time as a reinforcer. However, I believe that the teacher should automatically spend a lot of time with the students and should not favor one over the rest, even in the interest of a reinforcer. This will signal certain students out as "teacher's pets." I just believe that it is so important for the teacher to respect the students if (s)he wants to be shown respect.
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