Sunday, 6 October 2013

Please Don't Reward My Toddler

Ebony is 20 months old, and this means she has a lot of energy. She likes running, and walking backwards, and walking on her knees. She likes climbing up and down stairs, going down slides and doing somersaults. Most importantly, she likes doing all of this stuff alone. I can watch, of course, but should I dare to offer a hand, she will firmly tell me, “No, no, mummy, no, no. Eba!”


And that’s fine, I’m happy to sit back and observe as she accomplishes new tasks. I know that, when she reaches that top step, or lands at the bottom of the slide, she will look over at me so I can share in her achievement.




Now that she's more active, I've been looking for new activities to take her to. Places she can climb, explore and see other children. On Tuesday, we attended a local group called Little Monkeys. The room was set up with wooden climbing apparatus that filled me with nostalgia for my primary school years. There were benches to balance on, ladders to climb and mats to fall on: it was perfect.


Ebony walked right past the soft play area, and straight to the wooden equipment. I don't like to direct her play, so I try to just let her explore in her own time. She climbed onto a bench and asked for my hand to help her balance as she walked along it. Then she noticed a ladder, so she walked over and confidently climbed to the top. This took her to a raised slide. She navigated climbing up to position herself on the slide, and then pushed herself down. It took her a few minutes, but she managed it alone. Then she walked back over to the ladder to do it again.


At this point, the Little Monkeys leader came over to talk to me. Ebony was, once again, negotiating her way onto the ladder. The leader was looking from Ebony, then to me, then back to Ebony. After a minute of Ebony trying to get into position on the slide, the leader could bear it no longer and held onto Ebony to help her up, "Shall I help you because you can't manage it?" Ebony looked displeased, as you might expect from an independent toddler. I explained that she’d actually already been down once, so would be able to do it again without help. The leader let go, and Ebony climbed up into position and slid down.


Ebony looked over at me and smiled, wanting me to share in her achievement, I smiled back. The leader, obviously thinking I was a cruel and neglectful mother, whooped loudly, “Wow, amazing, well done, Ebony!” This loud and enthusiastic praise continued for the rest of the session, accompanied by questioning glances in my direction to highlight my lack of pom-poms and loud cheering.


A little while later, Ebony was doing somersaults on a mat, and the leader came over with a sheet of paper and a pen, and announced it was ‘badge work time’. “Can you go through this tunnel, Ebony?” she asked. Ebony paused momentarily to say, “No,” and then continued playing on the mat. “Come on, Ebony, through the tunnel. Can you get through the tunnel? If you go through the tunnel, I can give you a tick on this piece of paper, and then you will get a badge!”


Ebony looked up again, “Nooo.” The leader looked a little stressed by this blatant disregard for the badge work, and turned to me, “Is she scared of tunnels?” I explained that no, she isn’t scared of tunnels, she’s just having fun somersaulting at the moment. The leader walked off to persuade another child through the tunnel.


Ebony loved the apparatus at the group, and the freedom to explore. But she doesn’t need a badge to be proud of her activities. She felt proud when she slid down the slide, because she had worked hard to climb up. She was happy when she somersaulted on the mat, because it’s fun to do somersaults. She smiled when she came out of the tunnel (later, when the leader wasn’t watching of course), because going through tunnels is fun. The reward from all of these activities, is the activity itself. She doesn’t need a tick, or a badge, to enjoy doing that. In fact, offering rewards can have the opposite effect, so I would rather avoid a reward system like this altogether. I don’t want Ebony’s enjoyment to come from a tick, some praise and a badge, meaning that she explores only when these are available as rewards. I want the reward to be the new experience, so that she will always climb, explore and investigate, even when no-one is around to congratulate her.


I don’t understand this obsession with reward systems for children. Toddlers love exploring, and a group that feeds that love is, in my opinion, invaluable. I want to take Ebony to play on the wooden apparatus I remember from my youth, but I want her to be free to explore it at her will. I don’t want her to be forced to explore things in a certain order, or in a certain way, in order to be rewarded by a rigid system. I think all exploration is important. Ebony climbing up onto the slide for the first time, is just as important as the time she tried to climb up the ladder backwards only to get stuck on the second rung. She wouldn’t have received any ticks for the latter, but she learnt just as valuable a lesson.

So, the question is, do we return to the group and explain to the leader that we don’t want to take part in the badge system, or do we avoid the group altogether?

11 comments:

  1. Hmm, difficult one. Bagl has been enjoying a similar group but it's a free for all and no ticks or badges. But he's too old for it now and is going to move up to the next one, but I'm a little bit nervous as it's not as much of a free for all and they have to go round the equipment in a certain order. I'm not sure he can deal with that but apparently the session he is booked on has mainly younger ones in it (it's 18 months to 3). We'll see how it goes, he really loves being able to run around and play on different equipment (and inspect the CD player), he's probably not as independent as Ebony but he certainly wouldn't respond to the offer of a badge! I'll also admit that this next group means a later train and less of a rush in the morning, I might have tried to keep him in the current group otherwise, bit selfish of me. If I were you I'd maybe keep going but say to the leader you're just here for fun and not bothered about working for badges. Badge work reminds me of doing BAGA gymnastics stuff in PE, I was hopeless and never got anywhere, which is also rubbish when you're a child.

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    1. I think I will try explaining to the leader that I don't want her to do the badge work. Ach I so hate to be the weird hard work parent though, "please don't include my child, bla bla bla", I must look like a right nut job. x

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    2. How about not making it about *you* being awkward and instead emphasising your daughter's preferences "Ebony enjoyed the apparatus a lot but wasn't interested in the awards last time, so I don't think there's much point in making her get the ticks."
      I don't have kids by the way, but found this story interesting :)

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  2. have you a tumble tots near you? it's similar with apparatus but no badges just lots of fun. it wouldn't be structured for ebony's age but age 2-3 introduces some structure. my boys love it! :-) if she enjoys that sort of thing it seems a shame to stop completely. but to find a group/compromise to suit you.

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    1. Ah I've just had a google and Tumble Tots sounds amazing but there isn't one quite close enough for us. There's one not too far away though so I might email and register my interest in the hope of persuading them to set up a new class nearby! Thank you for the heads up :)

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  3. We go to a tumble tots and Z loves it. They get stamps on their hands, feet etc for doing things but at the same time, if they don't want to do the thing for the stamp, they don't have to. Z will say no to the activity but will quite happily do it if you offer him the chance to get a stamp then he'll wander off before he gets given it and loves the activity. I hate it being forced on the kids, which is why we like the tumble tots session.

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    1. Ah I had a look for Tumble Tots but there isn't one near enough to us. :)

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  4. I found this post really interesting. I've got a four month old so I'm beginning to think about learning and motivation. When I was a child I really wanted to learn to to play the piano, just for fun. But my piano teachersaid he would only teach me if I did grades, which I had no interest in. So he 'dumped' me basically and I never really played again. We seem so obsessed with ticking boxes rather than letting children follow their own excitement. I hope it works out for you whatever you decide!

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    1. Hey, that's so awful. I used to play the piano as a child but never did grades, but out of lack of skill than moral objection though!

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  5. This!! I'm feeling this about an award system they use at school for the kids, it really unnerves me for some reason. But then I dont know if that's because of the amount of stickers they use which makes me cringe and actually think about those poor trees. Yeah that's how many stickers they go through :|

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  6. I hear you on this and have avoided certain groups for that reason. I do get genuinely excited when my children achieve something but don't feel the need to mark it with a sticker chart. It's a very weird obsession and doesn't transfer to real life. Interestingpost.

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