Bribery…I mean positive reinforcement??

Bribery…I mean positive reinforcement??

I’m sitting here typing this blog entry by the glow of twinkling blue, pink, gold, and green lights…Christmas lights. On a Christmas tree. Fully decorated with ornaments. That’s a little peek into how homeschooling went today. It was a 3-day school week last week due to parent-teacher conferences (don’t even get me started on the ridiculousness of no VIRTUAL school for a VIRTUAL conference held at 7pm!) and this week there was no school on Tuesday because the school building was an election polling location (again, VIRTUAL school!), so the motivation and willingness to do school work was seriously lacking. Plus, it is 70 degrees out, so who wants to be inside staring at a computer screen when Eli’s “school” window overlooks the neighborhood park?!?!

It’s 9:30am and I tell Eli it’s time to get started on school work. He had breakfast, then second breakfast, and it was time to quit stalling. I’m sitting at his desk chair when he walks into the room and declares, “This is dumb. I’m not doing any work.” Great. Here we go again. Ava climbs up on my lap and holding my face in both hands says, “Mama, you’re the best mama in the whole world. Can I do my schoolwork now? I promise I won’t play my iPad until I’ve finished everything because I know that is the rule.” I’m torn between giving the biggest sqeezy hug to this tiny little human bundle of sweetness, and telling her no one likes a suck up. I choose the hug route. Eli then licks my arm. And so our day begins.

I tell Eli he needs to do 20 minutes of his math program and to keep working on it until I tell him 20 minutes is up. Exactly 4 minutes later, I hear him playing a computer math game instead of the lesson. Me: “Eli, what are you doing? That’s not your lesson.” Eli: “You said to do 20 minutes of math and the timer says 24, so I did more than you asked.” Me: “No, the timer in the program that says 24 is a cumulative running timer. You did 20 minutes on Monday and 4 minutes today, so that’s why it says 24.It doesn’t mean you did 24 minutes today. 20 minutes on Monday plus 20 minutes today is 40, so keep working until the timer says 40.” Eli: “Nope. That’s not fair. You said 20 and the timer says 24. You should have said 40.” This argument continues for quite sometime, as little aliens are doing math dances on the computer in the background. This is homeschool life.

As soon as Halloween was over, the kids started asking when they could put up their Christmas trees. They each have a little 4-ft tall tree in their bedrooms with special ornaments they pick out each year or ones people give them. I LOVE Christmas trees and always had a tree in my bedroom growing up, so they were super excited to get their own trees a couple years ago. Based on how homeschool was going (or not going) at 10am, and the fact that Eli’s best friend was on vacation and I couldn’t use do-your-homework-if-you-want-to-play-with-Evan as motivation, I decided it was time to pull out the big guns (and by guns I mean Christmas trees!). If both kids got all their schoolwork finished for the day without arguments, they could put up their Christmas trees after dinner. It worked and I’m sitting by tree light in Ava’s room right now 🙂

So, some of you might be shaking your head right now thinking how dare she bribe her kids to do school work. Well, to those readers I say, “Unless you’ve taught common core math via singing and dancing aliens to a 7-year old boy who is part sloth and part stubborn donkey, you don’t get to judge my methods!” Hmph! And, you would also be incorrect – I’m not bribing my kids but rather using positive reinforcement to get them to do a desired positive task. Just like you as an adult work for a paycheck, kids are allowed to do schoolwork for a positive reward, too. The difference between bribery and positive reinforcement is that when you bribe someone, you are enticing them to do something that is not a positive, ethical contribution to society (i.e. I’ll split half the money with you if you rob this bank with me) whereas positive reinforcement is just that – reinforcing a positive activity that contributes in a good way to society (i.e. a store giving out free cookies for every A students receive on their grade cards).

So today, I did not bribe my kids with Christmas trees to do their school work; I positively reinforced that good things happen when you follow directions and work hard. Tomorrow’s motivation ~ picking out a new ornament for their trees 🙂

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