Work for It, Kid

I had an eye-opening conversation with a mother at the end of the school year last year.  Report cards came home on the last day of school, and she said she paid her kids for the As they earn on their report cards.  My jaw hit the floor.  “I thought we weren’t supposed to do that,” I said.  “I thought that sent the wrong message about the value of learning.  Or something.”

Her reply was really quite simple: right now, they are school children and their job is to work at school.  If they work hard, she will reward them for it.  She was careful to point out that the money does not go to them directly.  It goes into their RESPs.  The life lesson here is, work hard now, and it will not only make getting into university easier, it will help to ease the work of paying for (or paying off) a post-secondary education.  The money stays in the education circuit, so to speak.

The more I think about it, the more I love this idea.  One of my most pressing concerns as a parent is to avoid fostering a sense of entitlement.  That whole special snowflake thing.  If the kids can begin to understand from an early age that income is tied to excellent performance, perhaps they will give 100% from the get-go.

I have begun to wonder how I can apply the whole “their job is to work at school” thing in our house.  My sixth-grader has been asking for a phone…

“Good luck with that,” has been our response for the last six months, but my husband and I are now saying, “Why delay the inevitable?”  I’d like him to have a phone for middle school, which is a year away, so why not make it available sooner rather than later, and make him work for it.

As part of the process of making the decision about middle schools, he has to write the SSAT test.  I used to work for one of the companies that does preparation courses for these standardized tests, so I know that a concentrated dose of preparation can go a long way to improving the scores.  That and studying thousands of vocabulary words.  Which is what he has been doing.   For an hour a day.   At the end of the road: established work habits, a better score and a phone.  He gets it on the day he writes the test.

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I think it’s a plan that works in everyone’s favour, and he is certainly more eager to sit down with flashcards now that he knows it’s getting him closer to the phone.  The whole atmosphere around the test preparation has lightened enormously.  And I will continue to live in the hope that the vocabulary he learns in the next few weeks stays with him for life and does not vanish into the ether once the test is done!


5 thoughts on “Work for It, Kid

  1. I don’t think I agree with this. After all when kids pay attention at what the teachers say, when they do their homework and so on – they’re doing what they’re supposed to do the best they possibly can.
    When he was on 6th grade, my husband suggested his mother pay him 500 Escudos (Portuguese currency at the time) for every A he got. That was a lot of money: 200 used to be enough for a whole week for us, since we didn’t really need much. Her answer was: “I am not going to pay you for doing your job. What I can and will do is punish you for every mark you get that’s under A – because you have proved beyond doubt that you can do it.” I like this approach and this is what I do with my children, although we never got to such a crisp dialogue. I expect them to do as good as they can, no less.

  2. “Or something.” – you are so funny, Nathalie. This is an interesting post, and the thing that stays with me is your comment that the atmosphere around learning has lightened for your son, which is always good to hear, and we all need what works.
    Having said that, when I was in university, my (older, kind of maternal) sister told me that if I hit a certain grade point average, she would take me to Europe. Although I was not particularly concerned about that target, I bristled. I told her that I didn’t want to go if it were contingent in this way – I just had some intuitive resistance to hinging my value on my grades and others doing the same. She later agreed to take me without conditions (and I did actually exceed the grade point she specified).
    For me, learning for the sake of learning is so important, and education’s system of rewards and penalties often works counter to that, with people doing what it takes to get the A as opposed to actually learning something and enjoying that process. I was mystified when friends would take “easy” courses rather than those they were interested in to boost their grades. I want my children to perform well in school to ease their way in this world, but I’m often not sure how well this serves the (to me, much larger) goal of developing a genuine love of learning for life .

  3. Thank you, Carol and Eduarda. This is a very thorny issue, I know, and money can get so emotional. I think that’s what I liked about the simplicity of this other mother’s approach: work hard, earn cash for more education. There is no fanfare with it. I’d hate to think that I’m inadvertently stifling a love of learning, though, so lots of food for thought as we work through these years.

  4. I found this an interesting topic. While yes, it is their “job” to do school work, are they doing just enough to pass or are they challenging themselves to do their best? I feel that rewarding them for doing well can be that extra little push that gets our kids through. Sometimes the work may be hard and they don’t want to put so much effort in, but when they know that they will be getting paid to it can change that attitude. In our home we pay for A’s on the report card and have the rule to deduct for D’s and F’s but we haven’t had any deductions since we started this 3 years ago. We’ve also instated the save,give,spend rule for these rewards and it is working out well for us.

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