This year after our prize day there was a casual picnic with parents from every school year, and prize day prompted a lot of debate. The biggest question was “do they really celebrate success”?
“If they all get a prize, what’s the point?” one mother mused? “They should just give a few important ones,” another suggested.
I’ve been thinking about ways we celebrate success at home and school because of the #PGRaisingOlympians Celebrate Their Success Linky at BritMums. (Disclosure: this linky is sponsored by P&G.) It’s a fun and thoughtprovoking Linky challenge, with the opportunity to win a £250 spa day! As a founder of BritMums, I can’t take part, but it’s a very timely topic.
In lower school, about 5 – 7 children receive prizes from each class, ranging from a maths prize to a companionship prize to best handwriting. When we were in lower school some parents I know would scratch their heads at the prize their child won – a hopeless drawer winning the art prize, for example. They chalked it all up to the teachers wanting to motivate children who were improving if not at the top of their game in a specific area.
This year for the first time we attended the upper school prize day which culminating in all the year 6s getting a prize. Every child.
Now, on one hand, every child makes a contribution and is important in their own way. But on the other hand, how valuable are the prizes if everyone gets one? Also, some prizes seem invented to suit the child’s personality. Surely the children do notice the difference between a top science award and one for “best attitude”? Surely that in its own way is demotivating and a little bit condescending, not to mention detracting from those students who have worked hard and improved throughout the year?
Ironically, while Year 6 celebrated every success, Years 3, 4 and 5 awarded only a handful of prizes. This year my daughter, in year 3, didn’t get one and was disappointed. We talked about what she’d like to get a prize in – art, science and music – and how she could improve.
Even before prize day I had been thinking about how to motivate my daughter as well as celebrate her true acheivements. As a result my husband and I have been tougher about doling out praise and rewards, and we’ve been creating frameworks for actually achieving goals.
Our front door is papered with tick-charts for daily reading time and flute practice, along with her morning routine to-do’s. For good marks in science in her end-of-year report, my daughter received Steve Backshall’s Deadly 60 book (she’s going through a “dangerous animals” phase). She has a bigger goal that will enventually net her a Nintendo DS (it’s a very big goal).
But in fact the smaller stepping stones seem to get her really motivated. If she remembers to gather her school things each morning for the entire week, she earns a star. She collects enough stars and she gets a pound to put in her piggy bank, to help her save for a big treat she’s working toward.
It’s perhaps a testament to the value of tougher standards and a meaner dispensation of rewards and prizes that one of the goals she’s worked hardest at has come from her martial arts class. The instructor is stern and demands concentration and attention. He stresses that the students have to work hard. During test time, he sits impassively behind a desk and silently makes marks on a piece of paper and they perform their moves.
It’s been hard work. She injured her foot, which put her behind the other pupils. She did kicks and rolls at home, using pillows and duvets for a mat. After weeks of practicing in our sitting room, she passed her test last week. It’s the most delighted I’ve seen her in ages.