A Year Without a Prize Box

Over the past few years it has seemed to me that all my students want prizes for everything from  bringing back their homework to being the first student done with an activity. I, like many of my co-workers, gave prizes for good behavior when students filled up a behavior chart. I gave prizes when my students were well behaved for a sub too. I gave prizes for tidy desks. I gave prizes for students that were responsible about bringing back their homework. The list goes on...

I spent lots of money at the dollar store and the Target dollar section trying to buy prizes that my boys would like, and prizes that my girls would like. Parents were kind and sent in some prizes too. 

I just had one question: Why was I rewarding my kids for behavior that was an EXPECTATION? I realize our kids are far from being in the real world. But in the real world we don't get prizes for getting to work on time or remembering to shut down our computers. What message was I sending to my students by giving them prizes all of the time?

I made the decision about this time last year that I would have a year without a prize box. 
It has been my best year of teaching yet!

I knew if I started the year with no prize box then my students wouldn't be expecting prizes. I also knew that I had to get the parents on board too. At the beginning of the year when we had an open house/meet the teacher presentation I explained myself to my parents. I told my parents that

1) The pace of first grade is different from that of kindergarten. I also explained that there is a lot of information packed into each quarter. I passed out our nine weeks skills list and heard gasps among the parents. There was a lot to be learned in just nine weeks. 

2) I explained my thoughts on the prize box and how I didn't want to reward my class for behavior that was an expectation. I told my parents that I would reward the class for trying their best, working hard, getting along when there is a conflict, etc. But I would not use happy meal toys as my reward. 
My parents nodded their heads in agreement. 

3) I asked my parents to help their children be responsible because, I believe, first grade is a grade where good study habits and responsible behavior is learned. They cannot do it all on their own at first, but we can guide them. I begged, "Please don't pack your child's backpack. Remind them to pack up their backpack and ask them what is supposed to be in it. They will know my expectations because I make them very clear. Let's give them the chance to learn to be responsible." I gave similar instructions when it came to homework, returning library books, and brining a snack to school. Again, my parents nodded their heads in agreement.

*I have to say this is the very best group of parents I have ever had. They want their children to succeed. They recognize that their child is not just like the child that sits in the seat next to them. They get excited about their successes and encourage their children to do their best. They focus on their child's growth as a first grader, and not on whether they are a straight A student. They hold their children accountable for their actions and they support me 100%.  Best group of parents EVER!*


I talk often in my classroom about how we are a team. We are almost like a family. We may not always get along (some days we may not even like each other), but we can be more successful if we work together. I encourage them to help others, to pitch in, to help take care of our classroom. When a student is absent I don't even have to ask for a volunteer to do their class job. Someone just offers to do it. If a student is sick the other students at their table organize their desk and are ready to explain assignments to them as soon as they return. When a student is proud of themselves for hard work other students high-five and are just as proud. 

I tell my students daily to be leaders. How can we be leaders? By being a good example in the hallways, in our classroom, at assemblies. They just love that they can be a leader for older students. I have no worries when I have a substitute. (It helps that I tell my students whenever possible that I'm going to be gone.) But they behave the same way with a substitute that they do with me. They behave responsibly because I expect it. 

All of this happens without prizes.
Does that mean I NEVER reward them? Of course not! I reward with activities like read-a-thons, art projects, books from my "secret teacher stash," or five minute dance parties.  Before Easter we did an activity from my For My Peeps pack and students made their own jellybean flavor. They had such a ball. They want to make a second flavor. I'll bring that out when they least expect it. They haven't missed toys. They haven't missed getting funky pencil sharpeners or plastic slinkys. NOT having a prize box has given us the opportunity to focus on what truly is important in the classroom. Instead of a prize I tell them how proud I am or how I appreciate their hard work. I write notes on my fancy stationery and notes on Post-Its- "I was really impressed with your reading today! Great job!"  That means more to them than a happy meal toy. Just think about it- when your boss compliments you doesn't it just make your day?

I'm certain I will never go back to the prize box- I've had too much success without it!


  1. I haven't used a prize box or chart since the beginning of my second year of teaching. I had one boy who wouldn't do ANYTHING unless he got a prize! I took it away then and haven't looked back! I think the time it takes to coordinate a 'prize program' (buying prizes, using charts, having kids choose from the box etc) is better spent doing what you are doing - teaching kids the expectations and to be responsible and building a cohesive team that works well together and supports each other.

    It sounds like you've had a great year!

    Down Under Teacher

  2. Amen, sister! I haven't used a treasure box in years and I will not falter! I agree that we shouldn't reward anyone for doing what they are expected to do. We don't get rewarded just for showing up, you have to try once you get there.


  3. I have my regular behavior chart but then I have a 'Thank You' chart where the students earn a 'thank you' ticket (small slip of paper with a sticker on it) for going above and beyond. It's more of the 'caught being good' idea. They have to earn 5 to get any type of treat from my treasure box...and it doesn't happen every week. We also have a class compliment reward for good hallway behavior. I really like the idea of no treasure box though! Do you know of anyone who has done this in Kinder?


    Teaching with Grace

    1. I don't know anyone who hasn't used a treasure box in kinder, sorry. I LOVE the idea of a thank you chart! Do you have a post on it on your blog?

  4. You have really gotten me thinking! I never used a prize box during my first years of teaching because, like you, I didn't believe in rewarding students for expected behaviors. As the years have gone by, however, I've come to rely on my prize box more than I'd like. I love your tip about writing little notes on Post Its and putting them on your students' desks.

    Thanks for your insight!!


  5. What a super idea! I'm adding this to my list of things to do next year. I agree I feel like my students alway think they deserve a prize for everything they do.

    The Hive

  6. I love this post! In my room, I give tickets for making good choices....not always, just random. I collect the tickets and draw 2 each day, 3 on Friday. They get to pick out of my treat basket. Tickets stay in my ticket basket all week and get dumped at the end of the day on Friday. I think I will try your way next year. I like that the students in your class are rewarded with fun activities instead of things they don't need anyway.

  7. What? No treasure box?? GOOD for you! And especially good for them. Our big push has been teaching the kids that their character counts everywhere, all the time, even when nobody's looking, not that they should be good cause they're gonna get a prize or reward. I'm jazzed to read that it's been your best year ever!!!

    Keep up the HEART work!


  8. Thank you for this post! This is my first year not using a prize box and I am LOVING it! Your post had me nodding in agreement over and over. I love that you talk to the parents at the beginning of the year about helping their child become responsible for their items. I need to do that next year. I am so tired of hearing the students say, "My mom didn't put my library book in my backpack." Not your mom's library book! :)

    Covered in Glitter and Glue

  9. I have been a Kinder teacher for 11 years and I have never used a prize box. We have a standard behavior chart and there are some days I don't even need to use that. I truly believe that kids are more than capable of being responsible for their own behavior. Glad to hear you're having a great year!

  10. I traded in my prize box for Golden Tickets (Check out Teeny Tiny Teacher's blog) and haven't looked back. My kids love it and I LOVE giving up my clip chart!

    The Resourceful Apple

    1. We love Teeny's Golden Tix, too!!! :) Fun, positive and simmmple! And Fun Friday ROCKS!!!
      Growing Firsties

  11. I love this post. I do reward charts with stickers and some other rewards that really don't involve out of pocket expense. But I agree that students need to learn responsibility and live up to expectations we set.

  12. This is a brilliant post! Thanks for sharing your rationale! I, too, don't use a prize box for the reasons you have described: these behaviors are an expectation. (I haven't used it K or 1st in my 15+ years of teaching theses grades.) Nor do I use tickets or other trinkets. I don't regret it for a minute. I teach my students that we make these good choices because that's the kind of people we are - kind and responsible people. Thanks for taking the time to address this in your blog!

  13. Interesting post mate and I agree that this method really got good and bad side on it. I remember my teacher having cheap plastic boxes and I am always excited on it. Thanks for sharing.

  14. I also have gone tresure box-less this year, and I love it. I do give prizes to my students but they are only for doing extra reading homework. My students' focus has shifted from doing just what is expected in exchange for a reward, to wokring extra hard, and going the extra mile. Prizes for extra reading work are far less frequent and they love it anyway. I only reward for the one piece of extra homework, and have found that as a result more of my students are completeing all the expected homework than ever before.

  15. I am so happy that I stumbled across your blog! I totally agree with you on this one! We have implemented a school wide behavior policy, so the need for a treasure box surely is not needed now (and probably wasn't before). It has made a difference, as the students know the expectations and follow accordingly without some type of prize at the end for displaying good behavior. I am your newest follower! ~Tava

  16. Jennifer...that is brilliant! Love it and yes it is getting them one step closer to the real world. I totally agree with everything and try to do that too but need to just completely get rid of that box. :o)
    Traditions, Laughter and Happily Ever After

  17. Awesome post, Jennifer! Your class sounds like the place to be. Your kids are lucky to have you!
    Grade ONEderful
    Ruby Slippers Blog Designs

  18. Thank you for sharing this post! I am still very new to teaching (on my 2nd year) and use a "treasure chest" in the classroom. I don't like putting toys in there. It's typically just crayons, pencils, bubbles, and activity books that I find in the dollar store. When my students fill up their sticker chart, they get to visit the treasure chest. Every five sticker charts they fill up, they get to have lunch with the teacher. I actually find that my class this year is not super attached to the treasure chest since I often forget or don't have time to get to it on Fridays and it doesn't really upset them. Getting rid of the treasure chest is definitely something to consider.

    I also really like the message you share with your parents at the beginning of the year about expectations. I do the same too. Although I really like the way you present it to your parents. Might just have to take some ideas from this post! :)

    Diary of a First Grade Teacher

    1. Pam- I swear it's all in how you present it to parents. At this point in my career I realize you absolutely won't please all parents. Some will decide they don't like you before they even set foot in your classroom. So why not put it all out there right off the bat? Then I haven't lost anything and I've made my expectations clear!