To lead children to pursue long-term benefits that they cannot understand or appreciate in their youth, we must use rewards and punishments that they can appreciate, just as God does to us. I recommend this system of rewards and punishments for children under 12 years of age.
Every Friday afternoon, students will receive rewards for the week's work. In our family/school, we eat a healthy diet and use candy as a weekly reward. This is all the candy our children get and they enjoy it very much. Mrs. Michael keeps a supply of candy in her desk that's worth working for--boxes of M&M's, Skittles, Starburst, Gobstoppers, etc.--and awards the students who earn a minimum number of points over the course of the week. If you don't want to use candy, you need to make sure you offer something that will actually motivate the children or you defeat the whole point. Don't be the parent who blames modern social problems on things that are not at all dangerous when used temperately. (Children today do not have cavities and obesity problems because they eat candy once a week.)
How Points are Earned
Any desirable academic achievement or behavior is rewarded with points. This includes the following:
- completing a memory work assignment (e.g., Catechism question, Grammar declension, Arithmetic facts, etc.)
- completing a written assignment approved by the teacher
- doing one's assigned chores well (taking out the trash, vacuuming the floor, preparing snack, etc.)
- reporting another student's bad behavior when the teacher wasn't present/watching
- any good behavior that merits a reward
How Points are Lost
Any undesirable behavior is penalized by the loss of points. This includes the following:
- not doing one's assigned work at any time
- distracting other students
- getting out of one's seat without permission
- any bad behavior that merits a penalty
Focus on Problems
In our family, my wife and I are working all day together while managing our children's studies, and we often need to meet and talk and have them work without supervision. This is very important for our family, and we cannot allow kids to fool around any time Mom walks a way. Therefore, we place harsh penalties on behavior such as getting out of one's seat without permission. In fact, if a student gets out of his seat without permission, he loses ALL of his points for the whole week. This is not to cruelly punish the child, but to completely prevent fooling around--and it works. If there are specific problems that you see as most harmful to your home schooling, eliminate them with harsher penalties in your point system.
Taking Away the Ability to Earn Points
If you offer good rewards, you will find that taking away the opportunity to earn points is an effective punishment. This is especially true for children who are bright and, consequently, arrogant. These children can often get work done quickly and then, instead of continuing to work, start fooling around. They are idle because they are smart, and they often earn lots of points, but this habit needs to be weeded out. It can be done so by putting the child in a corner or out of the room and, thereby, taking away his ability to get work done and earn points by taking away his time to get work done. This can be done in the following ways:
- sending a child to bed early so that homework cannot be done
- making a child sit away from his desk, where he cannot work and earn points
- making a child do chores that are used as penalties and take away work time
This may sound counter-intuitive, but if your rewards are what they should be, your children will not want to lose time to earn points. That's the goal, and the smart kids that often cause trouble can be kept from disrupting others.
Avoiding Physical Punishment
While there is certainly a need for physical punishment at times, it is very rare if a system of positive rewards and privative punishments is used regularly. Yes, God warns against "sparing the rod", but he also gives us Reason to teach and motivate. There is no need to spank a child for behavior that could have been eliminated by making positive rewards possible. After all, the goal is not to prevent children from doing bad things, but to motivate them to do good things--and physical punishment doesn't do that.
Beware of Hypocrisy
The greatest danger in parenting and teaching is breaking the Golden Rule--that's all hypocrisy is. To demand of your children something that you yourself would never accept is hypocrisy. You know that you require rewards to be good yourself and have a hard time doing anything that doesn't offer at least some short-terrm benefits. Your children need the same and you must share your resources with them for the purpose of fulfilling your duty to them as their primary educators. If your children see hypocrisy in you, they will hate you and resist you because they know they cannot trust you.
The Benefits of Consistency
As you deal with different children and different circumstances, you can add more and more detail to your rewards system over time--and should do so. Don't try to do this in the beginning, but get started with basic rules and points. If you manage things consistently, you will see how the system can be improved and fine-tuned over time, and that development is priceless. If you are not consistent, you can't blame the kids for their behavior, can you?
Don't Lower the Standards
Your children are created to fulfill God's will in their lives, not serve the minimum standards of secular society. If you don't provide them with a course of study and quality of life that allows this--which is what the word "curriculum" means--the children will never become what they should be. It's your first duty to provide them with a study program and daily schedule that actually serves the needs of Christian students, and I can assure you that the Classical Liberal Arts Academy is designed for this very purpose. If you allow the bar to drop lower than it should be, you're going to pay for it eventually. Many parents choose easy courses of studies and have happy elementary school children, but end up with miserable teenagers, or adult children who weren't prepared for the temptations of the world. Can't be surprised when it happens--and it's all too common. Be careful whom you take advice from.
Let's Help One Another
This is the kind of stuff Christian parents should be talking about with one another, rather than politics and liturgical controversies. If you have questions about developing a point system, or find certain things that work really well for you, let's discuss them.