We all love rewards, and kids are no exception. Sometimes it seems like kids will work for anything—stickers, high-fives, movie days. The trick with incentives is to have a lot of options and know how to use them. Here’s our list of 102 incentives that motivate kids to work, behave, and cooperate, as well as how to use them to teach children what they should do.
- How To Use Incentives
- Sticker Charts
- Behaviors To Incentivize
- Are Incentives Just Bribes?
- Intangible Incentive Ideas
- Group Incentive Ideas
- Tangible Incentive Ideas
- Elementary Incentive Ideas
- Middle School Incentive Ideas
- High School Incentive Ideas
- Incentive Ideas Parents Can Use at Home
How To Use Incentives
The thing about rewards, or incentives, is that they work best when they are used strategically. When you set up a reward, first, make receiving the reward contingent with demonstrating a specific skill. So, if you want all students in your class to line up quickly and quietly, you may set up a reward just for that. If you want your child to put away the dishes each night, connect an incentive to that.
The ultimate goal of rewarding kids is to increase behaviors that we want to see, and reduce behaviors we don’t want. That means rewarding the behavior you want as often as possible, and ignoring behavior you don’t want (we know, easier said than done). And when you give a reward, pair it with authentic praise. When kids know that you’re proud of them, that goes a long way to reinforcing a behavior.
The best incentives are small and quick—think a high-five or sticker. As kids get older, they can work for rewards over a longer period of time. Then, they can earn an incentive using a sticker chart like the ones below, or by filling a jar with marbles (when the jar is full they get their reward).
Sticker Chart Options
The nice thing about sticker charts is that kids can learn to control them. So, when they do the task you want—complete their morning routine, or pick up 10 toys, for example—they can fill in a sticker and get an immediate boost even as they work toward a longer goal.
This sticker chart is a great way to provide positive reinforcement throughout the day. Kids can earn stickers on the chart and turn the chart in when it’s full for a reward.
Buy it: Sticker Chart at Amazon
Here’s another sticker chart, this one with cute themes, for students to track progress towards a larger goal.
Buy it: Themed Sticker Charts at Amazon
Get a personalized reward jar to use in the classroom or at home. When the jar is filled, the child earns a larger reward.
Buy it: Personalized Reward Jar at Amazon
What behaviors should be rewarded?
It’s important to reward behaviors that the children actually have control over. Things they can do—brushing their teeth, putting their dishes in the sink, completing a morning routine—or qualities they can demonstrate, like effort, resilience, trying hard, and being flexible. You can also focus on behaviors that your child is learning (taking feedback, apologizing, sharing) and reward those.
Are incentives just bribes?
No. Bribery is when you give a child something in exchange for them doing something they don’t want to do (I’ll give you a candy if you empty the dishwasher). Bribes often come out of frustration when you’re at your wit’s end and just want the kid to do what you say.
On the other hand, a reward is set up ahead of time and is given when your child does something you ask them to do. For example, a child cleans their room or a class of students all line up without talking. This shows kids that you value that behavior and want to see more of it.
The Big List of Incentives for Kids
Here’s our list of incentives that kids will love and that cover you for experiences, little gifts, and stickers … so many stickers.
Intangible Incentives for Kids
Not all incentives have to be things. Praise and recognition go a long way.
- Praise a student on the all-school announcements.
- Pull the student aside and praise them.
- Create a bulletin board and post work where students see it and share why each piece of work is on the board.
- Call home with a positive comment, or send a positive note home.
- Permit students to sit anywhere in the classroom.
- Provide a student with extra gym or recess time with another class.
- Let a student choose which music to listen to.
- Give out a “free homework pass.”
Group Incentives for Kids
Students can work as a class to earn these incentives. Use a marble jar or other visual to show students how close they are to earning their reward.
- Free seating day—everyone gets to choose their seat.
- Have class outside.
- Allow extra recess time.
- Give free time at the end of the day.
- Have a dance party.
- Play a game.
- Have Fun Friday activities. (Get lots of ideas for Fun Friday here.)
- Watch a movie during lunch.
- Allot time to play a favorite sport.
- Have a dress-up or non-uniform day.
- Eat lunch in the classroom or outside.
- Wear slippers for a day. (Ah! No shoes!)
Tangible Incentives for Kids
Small, store-bought items are good for students who require more tangible rewards, or to stock a home or school treasure box.
- Star sticky notes (Buy it: Star Sticky Notes at Amazon)
- Stickers are a great, cheap incentive that you can customize for any kid. (Buy it: 3D Stickers at Amazon)
- Colorful pencils (Buy it: Pencils at Amazon)
- Mini key chains (Buy it: Key Chains at Amazon)
- Tiny animal erasers (Buy it: Erasers at Amazon)
- Fidget toys (Buy it: Fidget Toys at Amazon)
- Mochi squishy toys (Buy it: Squishies at Amazon)
- Magnetic bookmarks (Buy it: Bookmarks at Amazon)
- Brag tags (Buy it: Brag Tags at Amazon)
- Mini erasers (Buy it: Mini Erasers at Amazon)
- Mini Play-Doh cans (Buy it: Play-Doh at Amazon)
- “Caught Being Good” tokens could be given out and then exchanged for a larger incentive. (Buy it: Tokens at Amazon)
- Slime (Buy it: Slime at Amazon)
- Hatching toys (Buy it: Hatching Dinosaur Eggs at Amazon)
- Mini stamp pads (Buy it: Mini Stamps at Amazon)
- Bubbles (Buy it: Mini Bubble Wands at Amazon)
- Multi-color pens (Buy it: Multi-Color Retractable Pens at Amazon)
- Backpack pins (Buy it: Enamel Pins at Amazon)
- Fun paper clips are great for older kids, who can use them to clip notes or as bookmarks. (Buy it: Multi-Color Paper Clips at Amazon)
- Rainbow pencils (Buy it: Colorful Pencils at Amazon)
- Get more ideas: Inexpensive Gifts for Students
Incentives for Elementary School Kids
Younger students love tangibles (all the stickers). They also love attention and having more freedom around the classroom. Here are incentive ideas just for the younger set.
- Have an ongoing class puzzle and provide students with time to work on it as a reward.
- Set up drawing or coloring time.
- Have a special chair that students can sit in when they have earned it.
- Have a special pen or pencil students can use when they have earned it.
- Let kids take care of a class pet. (Here are lots of ideas for using stuffed animals in the classroom.)
- Decorate a section of the whiteboard, and leave up their artwork for at least a day.
- Have flashlight reading time or Flashlight Friday. (Read why one teacher loves Flashlight Fridays.)
- Let them be line leader or be first for a day.
- Let them eat lunch with a favorite friend.
- Let them run an errand for the teacher (make a special hall pass so other teachers know why they were chosen to run this errand).
Incentives for Middle School Kids
Middle schoolers still thrive off of incentives and rewards, especially ones that give them extra responsibility.
- Read to a younger class.
- Go outside for a class.
- Play music during warm-up or independent work. Have students make a playlist ahead of time so they really look forward to this.
- Provide a list of websites students can use for free time.
- Late pass, homework pass, or odds pass (complete only the odd-numbered problems).
- Choose a partner to work with.
- Drop the lowest grade.
- Work in the hallway.
- Two words: prize wheel. (Buy it: Prize Wheel at Amazon).
- Board writer. (Why does every student want to write on the whiteboard?)
- Minute To Win It games. Students have a good week and they get to play a few Minute To Win It games.
- Water bottle or laptop stickers are great for older kids. (Buy it: Water Bottle Stickers at Amazon)
- Let students choose a virtual field trip to take. (Here are 40 virtual field trips to get you started.)
- Assign students to be mentors to younger students.
- Bring a snack to class.
- Ask the teacher anything (within reason).
Incentives for High School Students
High schoolers do like stickers, homework passes, and even a treasure chest. But there are some incentives that are really ideal for high school students.
- Play a game of student vs. teacher.
- Give out a free parking pass.
- Allow them to change their virtual background.
- Allow them to change the teacher’s email signature for a day.
- Let them play class DJ for a day.
- Let them erase one tardy.
- Let them choose an assignment to take off of their grade.
- Give students time in class to work on homework.
- Choose a laptop sticker. (Buy it: Vinyl Meme Stickers at Amazon)
- Let them choose the next assignment, science experiment, etc.
- Slime or pie the teacher or principal.
- Do a social media shout-out (with principal permission) of students or classes who are exceeding expectations.
Incentives for Parents To Use at Home
Incentives to use at home with kids can range from stickers (always!) to having control over what they eat or do, or simply getting some one-on-one time with you.
- Choose a favorite video clip and play it.
- Stay up late for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on your child’s age.
- Let your child choose what’s for dinner.
- Give a little extra screen time, or let them choose what everyone watches.
- Give them a day off from a chore.
- Give them a bonus. If they get an allowance, give them a bonus of a few dollars, but make sure they know what it’s for.
- Play a board game or card game together.
- Plan to go to an activity that your child likes.
- Let them wear pajamas all day (even if they leave the house).
- Play a video game together.
- Let them pick out a cereal to have for breakfast.
- Take them to the dollar store and give them $5 to spend.
- Paint nails together.
- Let them show you their favorite silly videos.
- Set up a mystery bag with food, games, and activities your kids like. When they earn a reward, they can open the mystery bag.
- Donate an amount to your child’s favorite charity or cause.
- Create grab bags with small items your child likes. Each time they earn a reward, they choose a bag with a surprise inside.
- Get a special breakfast (doughnuts maybe) on the way to school.
- Take a photo on your phone and let your child edit it and share with family.
- Brag about them to a relative or friend and make sure they overhear.
- Let them choose a dessert to make together.
- Go out for ice cream.
- Let them choose the snack they bring to school.