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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Stickers or Hugs: Motivating preschoolers

Trying to get preschoolers to do something they don't particularly find fun can be a challenge to even the best mom or preschool teacher.

Stickers is an easy word to help remember the term "extrinsic motivation." Giving a child a sticker to get him or her to do something is an example of extrinsic motivation.

Handing out stickers, stamps, and other little gadgets is a common practice in preschool but relying on this to truly build inner motivation is not enough. What happens when the stickers run out? Will the preschooler still do what he or she is asked?

What we ultimately want to foster is the internal motivation to do the right thing - to do the nice thing - to care about our friends and the concerns of others. Not because a sticker is waiting at the end of the task, but because it makes us feel good inside.

Hugs is an easy word to help remember the term "intrinsic motivation". I chose this word because a hug feels good and warm both on the outside and on the inside. Ultimately we want preschoolers to do something because they feel good about it.

When you give a child a hug, it tells them that you value their effort. Intrinsic rewards lead to higher self-confidence and self-esteem.

The next time a preschooler looks up at you all bright-eyed and says: "I did it all by myself!!" You are seeing the makings of intrinsic motivation. A healthy hug or high five and "good job" will help reinforce that intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is far more complex than this little post is going to cover but it is important to understand the simple difference between getting a preschooler to do something because it is internally rewarding versus always looking for an external reward.

Read a little more about stickers and hugs:)


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Ayn Colsh said...

I use a combination of everything I can---anything that works. We add links to a chain, when it reaches the floor the students vote on a reward. Hugs and verbal praise are constant reinforcers in my room.
One of the most successful "tricks up my sleeve" I learned when I worked in autism inclusion (many of the special ed strategies work well in early childhood). When I see something worth recognition, I very quietly walk over and draw a simple small smile on the child's fingertip. Usually, the other students see and will "fall in place" to get one as well. I tell them I don't give them out when asked (unless the student is choosing between that or other reward), it has to be for something they are "caught" doing.
It costs nothing and I usually have a marker or pen on me at all times, so I don't have to stop what I am doing to get a "reward" out. The kids are so tickled. After initially explaining what the smile is about, I don't even have to say anything. I just get my pen and ask for the student's hand---they know I've recognized their efforts. It's my magic charm and works so effectively! Occasionally, I've had students who need more reinforcement in the past. I've then given an incentive for earning 5 smiles in a given time period.

Ms. Jessi said...

Stickers are something I like to give out spontaneously. I also like to compliment a child when I see them doing something great. This usually leads to others saying, "Ms. Jessi, me! me! me! Look at me, I'm doing it, too!!!". :)

Debbie said...

I don't run into too many problems getting Selena motivated to do her school work. But I do agree a hug goes a lot further then a sticker.

BranFlakes said...

I've also seen a teacher kiss her own thumb and then touch it to a child's forehead while saying "You're a Superstar", the kids LOVE it!!

Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

There are so many wonderful ways to foster motivation - I love reading all of these ideas! I have always been the worst at using stickers for motivation. If I give one child a sticker, I just have to go ahead and give them all one - this is why I stick with hugs and ideas like you have shared today!

Mama to 3 Blessings said...

Thank you so much for the motivation to be more encouraging. My boys love stamps on their hands! This is my 1st time at your blog - very nice. I am going to sign up to follow you. You have some awesome ideas!
Thank you!

Gaby said...

Great simple summary; I like how you explain hugs and compliments as intrinsic motivation. I want my children to be intrinsically motivated so I've been using only praise but for potty training we tried candy and so far it has not worked. he only sits for the candy!

Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

I think that potty training deserves a discussion all by itself:) Potty training takes awhile for intrinsic motivation to kick in!

Sherri said...


Theresa Milstein said...

I like stickers AND hugs!

When my son was in first-grade, his teacher would give full smily face stickers for a good do, 1/2 a face for a so-so day (those sad split faces), and no sticker for a less than stellar day. Some kids would be crushed if they didn't get stickers, so I guess it was a good motivator.

Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

I am not a fan of this approach - I prefer the intrinsic motivators best. I want to see every child find something successful in their day. One sticker can't be a sign of an entire day!

kristin said...


early childhood education said...

A teacher may be giving more attention and smiley face stickers to third graders to students who do their homework, which may prompt a low achieving student to work harder. Also, for younger children, coming home to their parents with good grades and smiley stickers will provide positive reinforcement at home as well. Although as children get older, smiley face stickers and hugs from parents don’t work as effectively for reasons for motivation.

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