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    Earning Cursive

    March 2, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I have this angst about school-related {or anything-related} reward systems. Actually, I have angst about a lot of stuff {I’m just torn about life, that’s all} but we’ll stick to reward systems today. I think that it is true that reward systems, by which I mean, for example, having a chart where children earn stars and then giving them a prize for a certain number of stars or something like that, are effective in that they get the child to do what we in authority want them to do.

    The angst comes over whether or not I am feeding the wrong part of the child’s soul.

    I know this isn’t an ideal world, and yet, ideally we are bringing the child’s motivations into harmony with God’s design for life.

    I have a hunch that earning stickers might detract from the issue.

    Which brings me to a memory of something I learned in college. I took a semester of Human Resource Management, which was taught by an actual manager of a human resource department {in this case, those who can were teaching; Biola was great}. I remember that the professor discussed the issue of giving someone a day off as a reward for a job well done. He said that many companies do this, and yet he didn’t think it was the best idea because it didn’t emphasize the value of work.

    Think of it this way. If I had a child who needed motivation for doing chores, and I set up a reward system where if they did chores for ten days without complaining, then the didn’t have to do chores the eleventh day, I have in effect communicated to the child that not doing chores is a reward. If my goal is to have the child gain a work ethic and actually learn to enjoy working, I am defeating my purpose with my reward system.

    Having a child earn a toy or a treat is a little more neutral, and yet it isn’t communicating the central idea, which is that work is rewarding in and of itself.

    Recently, I had a revelation. Perhaps the problem isn’t reward systems per se. Perhaps the difficulty lies in choosing the appropriate reward.

    With this in mind, I decided to implement a second offensive in the Copywork Battle. I hesitate to still call it a battle because giving my son some ownership over the process has solved a lot of problems. But there have still been days when he would rather not do it.

    I had a number of people suggest a reward system, but the question remained as to what would be an appropriate reward. Thankfully, my son inadvertantly gave me the answer. He was watching me write out a list and he said, “I wish I could do cursive. I think that cursive looks so much easier and more fun. I really want to do cursive.”

    In the past I had told him that he had to get better at his copywork first and then I would teach him cursive. But God is kind to me and showed me that the desire to learn cursive would offer a fitting reward. After all, using cursive as a reward reinforces the learning/growing/maturing process itself. This is a reward system that says, “Good job. You have done the smaller thing. You have proven that you are ready for the larger thing.”

    This is the same as what God does with us. I remember when I was so discouraged to be living in a rental house so much longer than planned. That was when the Parable of the Ten Minas came to mind. God made it clear to me that my job was to be faithful in little. And so I cleaned my house and did my dishes in earnest attempt to be faithful, a good steward of what He had given me. For truly our rental was an abundant blessing.

    And now I feel as if my cup runneth over.

    I want my son to feel that in his own youthful way, the reward of being faithful in little things.

    Enter our new Earning Cursive reward system. There is a very basic spreadsheet I drew up. On it are the five days of the school week. Next to each day there are three boxes. Each box represents an opportunity to earn a checkmark. There is one for speed, one for skill, and one for attitude. When he has earned ten checkmarks, his next day’s copywork is replaced with a cursive lesson. Last week, he learned A, a, B, and b. Today we did likewise, learning the next two letters in both cases.

    I have already told him that once he has learned all of the letters and completed some simple exercises, I see no reason why he cannot replace his current printing copywork with cursive copywork.

    He is thrilled.

    And I learned a lesson on not throwing babies out with bathwater. Reward systems are fine. The key is to analyze what is taught by the reward itself.

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    3 Comments

  • Reply Mystie March 5, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    That’s a great point, Brandy.

    I give the boys stickers for saying their memory work, but not without angst. 🙂

    I could certainly see this working especially well with my oldest boy, as long as I sold it well. He’s taken to saying that he “hates” his catechism. But he’s actually just frustrated because his younger brother is learning it faster and better than he is.

  • Reply Brandy March 3, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Ha ha.

    Actually, I don’t know that this philosophy is going to save me any money. If I want my son, for instance, to learn to be a breadwinner for his family, I’m going to have to teach him that hard work is the way…hence pay for work when he is older. Actually, we’ve paid him for work already, but I mean consistent opportunities to earn money as he grows up.

  • Reply Anonymous March 3, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    I wish I had thought about it that way when my kids were young. It would have saved me a lot of money and cars and stuff.

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