Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How to Motivate Kids With Rocks

No kids were harmed in the writing of this post!
"Remember when we were little and Mom used to reward us by giving us rocks?" 

I know it's coming.  One day, my kids will ask that question at a holiday dinner.  Maybe they'll even bring me bags of rocks as gifts when I'm an old lady.  Probably they'll laugh all the way home.  But  today, no one is laughing or even complaining.  Rocks are big stuff at our house.

Late Saturday afternoon, after a full day of soccer games, we stood on an empty field in Ormond Beach.  Most of the players had already left for the long drive home.  As we chatted with one of Julia's coaches, he said some nice things about her.  Julia has some pretty amazing soccer skills, but more than anything, when she steps on the field, she is a warrior who never gives up.  She leaves everything she has on the field, every game.  It's pretty impressive for a nine year old.

As her coach was talking, Julia tugged on my arm and whispered, "Does this mean I get a rock?"

I hope the coach didn't hear. 

This is why rocks work for us.  All parents know you should praise your kids more than you scold them.  Easier said than done.  For homeschool parents it's even harder for the simple reason that we are always with our kids.  We play dual roles as teachers and parents.  It's easy to become full-time correctors of bad behavior.

A couple of years ago, my friend, Tara, told me about a system she'd implemented in her homeschool.  This idea was totally,100% stolen from Tara.  I'm not sure where Tara got it, but I am sure it works.

The system involves two types of rewards:  marbles and rocks.

We are working together as a family to fill the huge hurricane jar (pictured above) with marbles and rocks.  Each child starts his homeschool day with an empty marble cup sitting on the kitchen counter.  Throughout the day, as I catch a child doing something right (listening, working quietly, encouraging a sibling,) I walk over and drop a few marbles in that child's cup.  This is an especially effective way to stop bad behavior.  If one child is complaining while two others are working quietly, I simply walk over and drop marbles into the cups of the quiet children.  Usually, the complainer gets the message and quickly adjusts his behavior.

At the end of the day, each child counts his or her marbles, and then we pour them all into the hurricane jar.  There is no reward for getting the most marbles, but they still like to count.  When the jar is full, we'll get to celebrate with a family outing -- something that's not too expensive like mini-golf or go-karts. 

One thing I love about this is that it's not a competition.  Everyone should be happy anytime someone gets marbles.  We are working together as a family, and every marble puts us closer to our goal.  Each person's good behavior benefits the whole family, which is a truth that closely parallels real life.

So where do the rocks come in?  Well, rocks are special. 

Whenever we are out in public and another adult compliments one of our kids, that child gets a rock.  It has to be a non-family member who catches our child doing something right.

When we get home, Mike and I make a big deal out of it.  We announce to the whole family what Mrs. So and So said about our child.  We let them know how proud we are of them. And then. . . drum roll please. . . we let them go outside and choose a rock.  They choose the biggest rock they can find.

Rocks are gold because they help fill that giant hurricane jar much quicker.  And everyone loves to be caught doing something right.

Katherine recently noted that she is at a disadvantage when it comes to gathering rocks.  Her teacher is her mom, and her soccer coach is her dad which significantly reduces her chances of getting praise from a non-family member.  So if you know Katherine in real life, and notice something nice about her, please speak up.  You'll make her day.  She'll get a rock.

And in our family, rocks are gold.

Hey, have you "liked" Death by Great Wall on Facebook yet?  Visit Death by Great Wall's facebook page, by clicking here.

Sharing at We Are That Family.


  1. Hmmmm...Perhaps, I'll be stealing this idea, too!

  2. Sam's 4th grade class earns marbles in a jar just like your hurricane glass. When the marble jar is full, the class gets a party... I like the addition of rocks... I'll have to tell Mrs. Masters!!!


    1. I think Tara took this idea from something we saw our second grade teacher do with marbles. Then Tara added the rock part - which for me is the most brilliant and entertaining part of the whole thing.

    2. We still do this in our home and our kids LOVE it!!! In addition to the marbles and rocks we now do Cabney Coupons! This year the marbles are a form of currency! The kids earn and save their marbles and each monday they have an opportunity to purchase coupons. They range from extra 1/2 hr of video games(50 marbles), slushy from 7-11 (100 marbles), all the way to invite two friends over for a sleepover (800 marbles). We do not do sleep overs, so this one is a real hit! We have so much fun with this and even my 6th grader still loves this! Not sure what we'll do next year!

  3. Wonderful way to get everyone on the same team. Love that you are back to blogging.

  4. Dana, I love your blog...I especially love that you shared about Sarah...I cried all the way through that.

    I wanted to comment on this post because I wanted to play devil's advocate. I think this stuff with the marbles & rocks makes perfect sense to a behavioralist mindset which we are all born with.  But could rewards for obedience ultimately be dangerous to our kids’ souls? How does this point our kids to Jesus? How does it not point them to their own behavior and their own ability to modify that behavior in order to get rewards?  Yes, blessings do come with obedience!  But if I can earn rewards on my own, then how will I ever truly hear the gospel?  I won't need the gospel except for when I realize that I can't be “good enough” and so Jesus was perfect for me. I fear, with my kids, that this tactic would train them to seek their salvation by their sweat only and also feed the ugly monster of pride. This tactic does sounds appealing because all of our hearts long for affirmation of our self and our own abilities (I know mine does), and I am the type of girl who would have strived to have that jar full every day…

    I don’t have the answer, and I know that in every family there’s a different context and different words being said. I’m not judging, I’m just sharing. I really would love to know how you have balanced blessings for good behavior with giving them the gospel truth that they can't be "good enough"?

  5. Oh Amy. Am I going to have to get rid of the marble jar?

    Those are great questions. And I'm not sure I have a perfect answer.

    I think for me, giving the child a marble or a rock to put in the jar is my way of saying "Way to go. I see you doing something right. I see your progress." I think there is a scriptural basis for encouraging people as we see them grow. Kids are very concrete so I think a visual aid like a marble or a rock makes the encouragement "stick" a little more.

    I think my kids see their sin and their need for Jesus more through relationships in our family. Having to share when they want to be selfish or forgive when they've truly been wronged -- those things bring them to the end of themselves.

    But I hear you. I'll have to think about it. Good reminder to pick methods that match our belief system.

    1. I am the second grade teacher who used marbles in cups for 8 years. ;-) Wow! Lots of legitimate concerns. There is definitely a "holy tension" here. We should of course let our beliefs govern how we discipline/correct/train our children so I am appreciative of the thoughtfulness here. We definitely don't want to use behavior modification, thereby producing more "elder brothers" from the story of the prodigal son. That being said, my opinion is that we can --- and should--- praise/reward our children when they are choosing wisdom (obedience, righteousness). In my mind that is not synonymous with saying that you can be good on your own. For example, in second grade, the main behavioral issue I faced as a teacher was self-control. I told my students everyday that they could not be self-controlled in their own strength. Inevitably, EVERY day one student would pray for God to enable us to be self-controlled. I believe that if the parent is careful to remind their children that we are desperate for Christ in every area, that a reward system like marbles is not harmful, but helpful. As mentioned, it is a concrete example of the blessings which are incurred by obedience. Perhaps I am too simple minded but a variety of fun and winsome ways to exemplify God's grace and love and forgiveness is just what children need.

  6. I really love this idea, but at the moment I only have one 3 year old boy. My only concern about this is that he might lose focus because it will take too long for him to fill the jar. Any tips for adjusting this to my situation?

    1. Smaller jar! Seriously, I'd use a smaller jar if I was just working with one child. And I'd be generous with marbles. With a young child, you don't want it to take too long to fill the jar.

  7. I believe I will incorporate this into our home... my son LOVES collecting rocks so it will be good for him to be able to use these rocks for a PURPOSE. Let's fill that jar!!!! Thank you for the wonderful idea.

  8. I agree with Diana. Kids need tangible rewards. The marbles aren't the gospel, your conversation throughout the day is the gospel. Even the Bible promises rewards for believers who practice obedience, which has nothing to do with our salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.
    I also love that you give rewards for good behavior, but don't take away marbles for bad behavior. I tend to want to punish/scold for every bad behavior and make less of a fuss over "expected" good behavior.
    We love rocks anyway, so this will be fun to incorporate.
    You are such a wise Mom, Dana! I am loving your blog and don't know how you bloggers do it!
    hugs from Indiana

  9. I just started doing this with my almost 4 year old - it's awesome! I use it as a reward and punishment system. He brushes his teeth - get's 5 marbles (we call them stones) if he does not brush his teeth he has to pay me 5 stones. We haven't been doing it long, but he has yet to not brush his teeth. I went over all the toys he as and saw that he had 21 cars, no like matchbox cars but pretty big ones! Too much! I told him that there are lots of children that don't have any toys and we need to get rid of half of them. I told him I'd give him 2 stones per car. He did great! We got 10 cars to donate to the less fortunate and he got 20 stones! When his father got back from the store he was more excited about showing his father the full donation bag than he was about his stones, the stones were just a motivator. On the other hand, if he is not behaving, I tell him I'll take away a stone. I've had to do it a couple of times, I think just to prove that I will and so far it's worked out beautifully. When it's full to the line, we can do something fun or he can earn 30 minutes of tv time (we don't let him watch tv during the week, that's why he has toys and book and a loving mother to hang out with) so it's kind of a big deal for him. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the rock idea though. If we have more kids it will be implemented in our family too. Kudos!

  10. Great method to correct the kids' bad behavior.


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