Rewarding Students Without Candy: Tips for Teachers

March 02, 2011

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by Maya Noronha, HSC graduate student intern

Class

Many teachers are uncomfortable using candy as an incentive for their students, yet they want to be able to reward good behavior and academics — and candy is a cheap way to do so.  However, this type of reward can have negative consequences: in addition to reinforcing unhealthy habits, candy rewards can contribute to decreased student performance at school after students eat candy.

Fortunately, there are some great ideas out there for fun ways to reward students without using candy or junk food!  Rewards can encourage children to perform well, and using non-food items can help reinforce healthy habits.

We've gathered ideas from teachers in HSC's Fit to Learn program and other school wellness initiatives. Check out these teachers' great ideas for non-food rewards:

  • Buy inexpensive pencils in bulk, saying “Mr./Ms. ___’s All Star!” or another personalized message.  Kids will love getting them as a reward, and they can be used in class! (Thanks to Shaina Vincent of Ogden International School for this tip.)
  • Make leadership a reward.  One teacher made each student a shirt that said “School Leader” with each student's name on the back.  Students who had good behavior all week got to wear their shirts on Friday and read to preschoolers in the afternoon.  A great way to reward your students while giving them a chance to practice their reading skills!
  • Make phone calls home for good behavior. You can make calls home to tell parents about their kids' great behavior; or consider creating opportunities for children to make calls home telling their parents about their good work.  (Thanks to KIPP Ascend Charter School for sharing this tip, which they put in practice every Friday to reward students.) 
  • Set up a photo recognition board and reward children by displaying their photo on the board.
  • Lunch with the teacher! Reward children by inviting them to eat lunch with you.  This is a great chance to also set a good example and communicate messages about  good nutrition.
  • Reward the class with healthy parties. Celebrate the healthy way! You can also work with your principal and wellness committee to make a school-wide commitment to healthy classroom celebrations. For healthy celebration ideas, check out HSC's recent blog on healthy class parties(Many schools including Fit to Learn schools Gray Elementary, LaSalle II Magnet School, and Skinner North have healthy celebration policies in place.)

Making a transition from candy and food-based rewards to healthy non-food rewards may seem a bit daunting at first, but if students see their teachers getting excited about these rewards, chances are they are going to get excited as well!

What are your ideas for healthy rewards? We'd love to hear what's worked for you!

Plus! Click here to learn more about the Fit to Learn, a program that helps teachers learn how to incorporate health and wellness into the curriculum at their school!