A letter to my son’s kindergarten teacher regarding rewards

Dear Kindergarten Teacher,

My son came home very upset on Wednesday and it lasted through bedtime.  He’s told me that everyone but a few kids, including him,  received 4 reward stickers.   He said he wasn’t talking when they were given out and he isn’t allowed to ask you about stickers or he’d “get in trouble.” It seems that giving many students the large reward of 4 stickers is pretty obviously a punishment for those that didn’t receive them.

My son has had a rough start to school emotionally and has regularly not wanted to come.  As I told you in my email and at our conference, it’s been only two and a half weeks since he’s actually been fairly happy to come to school.  All because of a fun science experiment and because he’s had the chance to connect more with you as a person.  After last night I feel like we are back to square one.  Wednesday night in bed he asked me to tell you he moved so that he never has to come back.

We don’t use rewards in our family because we are working really hard to help our children develop intrinsic motivation and to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.  There is a lot of research available to support our beliefs in this regard.  I know you said at curriculum night that you don’t believe 5 and 6-year olds will make the right choices without rewards,  but research doesn’t agree. I’m linking a couple articles that are well-sourced with research articles noted. http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/risks-rewards/ and http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/case-gold-stars-2/

Obviously,  I’d love to see you do away with rewards all together,  as they are truly just the other side of the coin from punishment.  Kids are smart and they know that. But I mostly want you to know that what happens at school has long-lasting impact at home.  Even if his perception isn’t 100% what happened, it is still what happened to him, and illustrates another reason why rewards are a slippery slope.  My son’s school day negatively impacted the rest of the day for him (and us as a family),  and the next morning was not much better.  For a child who,  according to you,  understands and follows the rules,  that seems like a very harsh punishment.

I know you are concerned that they learn self-control and to work independently.  But my goals are different.  I want my son to further develop his love of learning and learn to appreciate being part of a school community.  I want him to learn that school is an enjoyable place to be, because without that how can it be expected that kids will want to be engaged, active participants? I want him to know that his teacher is a person he can go to for help. I’d really love to work with you to achieve those goals.

A concerned parent

A few other resources if you’re interested :


33 thoughts on “A letter to my son’s kindergarten teacher regarding rewards”

    1. She did, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a great answer. She put all their names on a list, and if they spoke too loudly once all day, she crossed off their name and they didn’t get a sticker. So while the new principal did away with the stoplight system and public shaming, she’s managed to implement something just as negative

  1. Yikes, seems like the punishment does not fit the crime. These kids are in kindergarten for goodness sakes. And it kind of seems like she is still shaming because the kids can clearly see who did get stickers and who did not. So sorry you’re having to deal with all this 🙁

    1. Yes, intrinsic motivation is such a better goal. Unfortunately, she does have a toddler. I was hopeful that would be helpful, but it doesn’t seem to be.

  2. I really feel for your son. My daughters class has a reward system in the class. She’s been great all year with earning points and hadn’t lost any all year. Last week, one of her friends was annoying her in class and because she spoke up and told the other girl to go away, she lost points. Was so hard to console her and she was doing the right thing in telling the child to stop and yet the teacher punished her as she spoke in class 🙁

    1. That is so hard Jenni! Of course we want our children to learn to speak up and stand up for themselves, and what lesson does it teach for getting in trouble for doing just that?

  3. Pretty powerful letter! I like how you value more on doing right thing than rewards. nobody should do anything for the sake of getting something out it and should do something because its right or they enjoy it.

  4. Try and get 30+ kids all on task with out rewards! Maybe it works for one but not in a class. There needs to be some system and I’d prefer stickers over my child being told off verbally. Maybe he needs some self control work at home.

    1. There are actually only 12 kids in his class. My son is one of the quietest and most under control rule followers in the class, according to his teacher at conferences just days before this incidence. His teacher also yells a lot and puts kids in time out regularly. So it isn’t a case of her using rewards rather than verbal rebukes. Many children who are very good about the rules didn’t get stickers in this scenario, because it is just not developmentally appropriate to track kids for hours on end and cross off their names if they speak too loudly one time. Not to mention that children are great at learning from their mistakes, when mistakes are treated as such and discussed rather than punished.

      Children in every situation, including school, need connection and respect to do their best, not to be bought with rewards. There is quite a bit of evidence for this school of thought. I highly recommend the Alfie Kohn articles I referenced as a place to start. As he says in his book, “Feel-Bad Education,” “The more compulsive the use of positive reinforcement, the bleaker the underlying view of children…”

  5. I can remember how my baby sister had a similar experience years back when she was just starting elementary school.
    I’m glad it didn’t get to her too much though!

  6. I’m not sure if it’s the teacher’s fault or the school’s system. My son’s school have the stoplight curriculum system and he cries whenever he got a yellow card. Hope things will turn around on your side.

  7. As someone regularly singled out by teachers at that age for things I didn’t do or because I learned slower on maths that the other children in my class, I can understand how awful it is to feel singled out or have your child singled out. I hope the school demands that she stop these actions as they are detrimental to the children’s happiness and learning.

  8. i’m in favor of rewarding achievements and good behavior especially when dealing with 10 or more kids at a time. There has to be some level of control and order.

    I hope it works out for you and your son and you can find a happy medium with the teacher and how she maintains order in her class.

    1. Thanks. My kid’s preschool teachers had order and control without rewards or punishments. It just takes a different mindset and skill set from the teacher. And the latest research says rewards don’t help kids develop intrinsic motivation to do the right thing once rewards are no longer present.

  9. I don’t have a child but I understand where all of this is coming from. I have nephews and I know the gravity, how kids are affected. I hope you and the teacher come to an agreement about this.

  10. I don’t believe rewards system myself. I find it to be one-sided. It could be an effective motivator for some, but I feel that it does not teach the value of being responsible. Whether kids or adults, it’s important to be able to do your role whether at home, in school, in the work place, or in society not because you get something from it but because it is the right thing to do.

  11. I’m sorry for the differences that you experienced with your child’s teacher and I hope you are able to discuss this with the said teacher and do something about it. I don’t think reward systems are great especially in school because kids are going to develop insecurity and lose their confidence more.

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