Rewards: What are alternative rewards?

We all like to be appreciated. But when we reward our children we really need to think carefully about what we use as rewards. All too often, the default reward for children is unhealthy food, fizzy drinks and sweets as a way of rewarding accomplishments. In reality, these rewards hold barely any or even zero nutritional value and because they are easy to access and inexpensive, the hidden negatives are that these type of rewards can affect short-term behaviour change.

What’s more, offering bad food as a reward also teaches children to eat when they are not hungry – an easily formed habit that could continue for a lifetime. By using negative food sources also shows children that achievements are marked only by eating and this can undermine healthy nutrition practices that are taught at home or at school. The really goods news is that there are plenty of cracking alternatives, just check out some examples below.

Verbal Rewards

One-to-One: You can’t beat saying: “Thank-you.” Just make eye contact, say their name and shake their hand. This directly level of communication always resonates.

Phone call: A quick phone-call home to the child’s parents to express your delight at their achievements goes a very long way.

Group: What better way than using school morning assembly time to announce and acknowledge pupil achievements. Instant peer recognition is always a big hit.

Top Tip: When you offer praise, be proactive – do it right after an achievement is logged and remember to be specific, sincere, personal, and positive.

Written Rewards

Try any of these highly effective ways of communicating praise as a reward:

On school website or newsletter: mention a child’s name for all to see and praise achievements in a public way so the the entire school, and parents can acknowledge their merits.

Hand written note: a personalised hand-written note praising the child directly will have an enormously positive impact.

Stickers: merit stickers or badges can be worn with pride for all to see.

Post it note: don’t underestimate a lowly post-it note. A spontaneous note written to the child praising merit strategically placed on a book, bag, desk or locker is a very welcome surprise.

Certificate: achievement certificates singling out the reason for merit are fantastic ways of rewarding children and encourages the pupil to collate certificates as much as possible to bring home, so parents can enjoy the child’s rewards too.

Experience Rewards over time

A great way for children to enjoy a reward is offering a positive experience spread over a period of time:

Take home the classroom mascot: every child in the classroom will be vying to do something good, to get their hands on the mascot to take home.

Be a class helper: a great way for a child to be rewarded for good behaviour and setting an example to the rest of the class.

Fun quizzes or puzzles: offer a child a fun task they will really enjoy such as quiz or puzzle time.

Extra screen time: the lure of extra screen time as a reward is always a big hit.

Class outside (weather permitting): class rewards offers a really unifying way of celebrating achievements collectively – one guaranteed fun way is teaching lessons al fresco, in the great outdoors.

Access to the treasure or reward box with special toys: you can’t beat a treasure box bursting with hidden gems, or a reward box with the most sought after special toys.

Field trips: any class reward that takes the class out of school, is always a fun escapade so creating accessible field trips really do get  children excited.

Cinema/theatre tickets: budgets pending, a trip to the theatre or cinema is a very special way of marking a child’s achievements – and highly memorable too.

Flexible working hours:  class rewards can be offered literally in ‘time’. So collective good behaviour can be rewarded by finishing early.

Jump the lunch queue voucher: a highly effective easy reward to manage, and well received.

Watch a video: you simply can’t beat using video as a rewards hook.


Top Tip: Non-material rewards are the more usual day-to-day methods. But for extra special performance/behaviour rewards, think about giving actual gifts – receiving a present, is a very powerful symbol of acknowledgement.

Gifts Rewards

Every child likes to receive gifts, and a really enjoyable way of giving praise, is by offering gifts as rewards.

Trophy: create a new reward trophy or trophies that can be handed out as praise.

Books: every child likes the prospect of a new book.

Balloons: personalised or colourful balloons are always enjoyed.

Stationery: a stationary set is a marvellous way of saying, “Well done!”

Bookmarks: you can never have too many bookmarks, so offer unique, unusual or personalised bookmarks as rewards.

Amazon voucher: a voucher allows the child the freedom and flexibility to buy exactly what they want and is a great hook for setting a benchmark for achievements.

Water bottles with their name on: it is exciting for any child to receive a personalised rewards gift, such as a water bottle and they can proudly carry around school.

Engraved watch: a rewards gift to be treasured.

Top Tip: A simple analogy: if you reward a child with a donut, it gets devoured instantly and after the sugar hit they suffer an energy loss, then forget about why they received the original reward. Now imagine offering a ‘STAR’ badge instead. That child will smile every time they look at it – and smile even more when others notice it. And they’ll easily remember why they received it in the first place.

How to take action

The Rewards Project is on a simple mission that is 100% achievable. We ask you to ask your teachers to adopt a:   “No-Food-As-Rewards” Pledge. Just invite your teachers to complete the Rewards Review so we can help them to ‘think of rewards beyond sugar’. Our ultimate goals are to strengthen healthy eating practices in schools – and you can easily help the Reward Project achieve this. Just complete the Rewards Review to see how well your school ranks.

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