Student Rewards…That Aren’t Junk Food!

Have I mentioned that I’m tired of all the junk food at my daughter’s elementary school? And I am not talking about what they’re serving in the cafeteria. I am talking about the junk food that’s constantly being used for rewards, parties and activities. Here are just a few examples…

  • “Box top” prizes where winning class gets a donut or cupcake decorating party
  • Skittle sort (why not a button sort, which could even be reused the following year?)
  • Cake for the entire class (from the cafeteria) almost every time a student has a birthday
  • School “spirit” events at fast food restaurants and pizza places
  • “Popsicles with the principal” for top fundraising students
  • Celebrating the 100th day of school by stringing 100 fruit loops onto a necklace (cute idea, but I’m confident some healthier alternatives could be just as much fun)

But rather than just sitting here complaining about these issues, I thought why not do something about it instead?! As you may know, another mom and I teamed up to offer our school a healthier “nut-free” snack list so now we are doing the same when it comes to student rewards. And I’m finding that there’s no better place to brainstorm for ideas than my facebook page (thank you everyone for your wonderful ideas).

So without further ado here’s a long list of student rewards…that aren’t junk food! We plan to submit this list to our school administration and PTA and hope you’ll consider doing the same by downloading the printable version. And as always, please leave any additional ideas in the comments below.

Student Rewards…That Aren’t Junk Food!

(click for printable version)

Group/Class Rewards

  • Extra playground time
  • Pick different seats to sit in for a day
  • Teacher wearing a silly outfit or hat (let the class decide…one reader even said a teacher wore her wedding dress to school!)
  • Afternoon movie (as an individual reward one student could be allowed to select and bring in the movie for the class)
  • Lunch in the classroom
  • Dress up days…let the class vote!
    • Pajama day (can also incorporate sleeping bags/blankets)
    • Crazy hair day
    • Farmer day
    • Stuffed animal day
    • Backward day (wear clothes backward and even follow the class schedule backward!)
    • Camp out day (kids bring sleeping bags and teacher brings a tent)
    • Hat day
  • Book swap party (each child brings a book they no longer want and “trades” with their classmates)
  • An art or craft party
  • A game the class plays together (like bingo or kickball)
  • If it’s warm outside…water play in bathing suits
  • Plant some flowers or plants together at the school
  • Paint birdhouses together to put up at the school
  • Dance party with music
  • Film a short digital video/documentary as a class (for e.g. each student answers a question for the camera) then watches it together afterward

Individual Rewards

  • Lunch or recess time with the principal
  • Books donated to the school library in the student’s honor with a guest reader to read them to the class
  • Extra computer time
  • Go to “specials” (like gym or Spanish class) with a friend’s class instead of your own
  • Sit with a friend from another class at lunch
  • Gift certificate to the school store
  • Lunch with the teacher
  • Sit in the teacher’s chair or at their desk for the day
  • Use a rolling chair/stool at your own desk for the day
  • Sit next to a friend instead of in your own seat for the day
  • Be the “special helper” for the day (running errands to the office, line leader, etc.)
  • Name read over morning announcements
  • Student asked to actually read the morning announcements
  • Choose the story for story time
  • Let a student be the “principal for the day” or the “assistant principal for the day” or even “teacher for the day” (or just for an assignment)
  • “Stinky feet” which means you get to take your shoes off in class
  • Pick something out of a treasure box with prizes like stickers, pencils, erasers toothbrushes, silly bands, etc.
  • Give out “play money” to students that they can spend in a class-wide auction later in the year (auction items can include games, books, etc. and be donated by parents)
  • If students wear uniforms a “no uniform for the day” pass
  • “Family night” bags that kids get to borrow from the teacher for the evening including “lego night” and “movie night”

School Fundraisers

  • Principal can be duct taped to the wall (our school actually did this last year – students had to buy pieces of tape)
  • Principal can kiss a pig in front of the school if a certain amount of money is raised (another example that really happened at a reader’s school)
  • “Teacher car wash” where kids can “buy” buckets of water and wet sponges that they can throw on teachers in car pool line

Birthday Celebrations

  • Class makes fruit smoothies together
  • Small goodie bags with stickers/activities given out to classmates
  • Each kid is given supplies to a make small craft together
  • Birthday card(s) made by the other students
  • Popcorn birthday parties (popcorn is a whole-grain food) served in “popcorn cones” that the kids make themselves out of paper
  • New book donated to class library by birthday student with their parent as the guest reader

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253 thoughts on “Student Rewards…That Aren’t Junk Food!”

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  1. As a teacher, I am all for eliminating sugary snack rewards at school. However, many of your alternatives take an incredibly large amount of time. For example, movies are not allowed in my district. Thats 30-90 min of class time and more screen time (which they also don’t need). Painting birdhouses? That would be a costly and long project. Most of the time these rewards need to be 10 min or less to fit on our already tight academic budget. Thanks.

  2. Actually, recent research suggests that we are over-incentivizing our children in general. Rewards are helpful in some situations, but their overuse detracts from instrinsic motivation.

    1. Absolutely! Children in other countries far outperform our kids without “rewards”. We should find out what is working for them.

  3. My children’s elementary school does not celebrate with food. For Birthdays, parents or someone close to the child are invited to come in and read to the class. The kids love having a loved one come into their classroom. The PTO also runs a program called birthday books. The librarian purchases books and parents have the option of donating one in honor of their child. The PTO then delivers the book to the child. They make deliveries 2x a month. They’re able to keep the book for a few weeks and then send it into the library. My kids love finding their books and it helps replenish our school library.

    For holidays, room parents and parent volunteers usually run centers that involve crafts or quick fun games, like those you’d see on Minute to Win It.

    For box tops, the top selling class wins an extra recess. This only occurs 2-3 times a year.

    For 100th day projects, kids bring in 100 non-edible items that can fit in a gallon size bag or they can make a poster.

  4. Right up there with food rewards is the never-ending stream of low cost “rewards”. Our daughter comes home with so many pencils, buttons, plastic figurines, stickers, GAH! I feel bad that the school and teachers are spending money on things that I give away or recycle.
    I really appreciate some sort of physical activity as a reward, like the dance party or extra recess time listed above. Kids wear uniforms at my daughters school, so free dress days are occasionally given to kids who volunteer.
    Thank you for this list!

  5. Supply your teachers with givables. They can’t pay for all rewards! I bought them for forty years and only had a few parents offer to buy and bring in. Children don’t need rewards, I have had parents come in and tell me that their children work well with a reward system and would like me to buy certain things for their children! Did they offer to buy? Absolutely NOT

    1. Kathy I totally understand. Our teacher just declares that she is having an event and the parents are to pay for it whether we agree with it or not.

      As for your situation, I would ask for a fundraiser to fund the rewards for the kids. If they chose not to put their money where their mouthes were, then it is not really necessary or important. I think the free items above like sitting in different seats or a rolling chair or an Art Project is far better than any food reward.
      I would even be willing to help.

  6. My daughter is in kindergarten in Huntersville and this is our first time dealing with public schools and the ‘reward’ system in general. I am shocked at how much candy is offered as rewards for EVERYTHING on a weekly basis. Preschool was a just a small taste of how much bigger this problem is in elementary school.
    We do not offer candy at home and only offer (sometimes) unprocessed ‘sweet treats’ (such as our own home made cookies or the occasional organic minimal ingredient cookies from the store). Within the first couple months of school, I could tell this was a losing battle. Me vs school. I feel like I’m treading water in a very large ocean with lot’s of big waves.
    I really need to voice my opinion and somehow make it heard or count, but have been hesitant to. Not sure why , but thats my own issue I suppose lol! I love this site because I know I am not in the minority here. I feel so small and voiceless against the candy issue in school because most people feel it’s totally OK. I won’t judge those that do because everyone makes decisions for their own families that they think are best.
    For me, I do not want my daughter being offered candy all of the time! I like the idea of this list above and will maybe make up a nice email and approach the PTA and or principal with it. Seems like a good place to start. Our school system consists of something like 150+ schools in Charlotte/Mecklenburg… so I don’t want to get involved with the entire district, just the school my daughter goes to (and in 2 years my son). I love her elementary school and every other aspect about it; this is my only gripe with the school.

    1. I feel for you Sky. We have the same problem here. Even voicing our opinion here with the Principal was a losing battle. The School is So-So. My Son’s 4th grade teacher wants to do an “engineering project” with graham crackers, frosting, mints, lifesavers and candy canes as a Reward for all their hard work. Why does it have to be made of edible materials loaded with Sugar? My Son already has compulsive eating issues with Sugar. I consider this an unsafe environment for my Son. (Kind of like holding an AA meeting in a bar.) So when presented with the District’s School Wellness Policy instead of changing the materials to something like Saltines or Salt Dough or changing the project to something that is in alignment with their school wellness policy, they offered to exclude my Son sending him to the Principal’s office instead.

      I found this article that provided some help and pointers.

      But for next week’s “engineering sugar fest” where they try to somehow keep 9 year olds with little impulse control from eating while building gingerbread houses with only one teacher to “supervise” (you know she will be munching in the background). We will stay home from school opting to go to the Amusement Park, to studying Physics and Engineering of the rides instead, again without sugar.

  7. The only one I don’t like is pouring water on the teacher during a car wash. I think anything like that is disrespectful to any adult much less a teacher. I guess I liked my teachers too much to think of doing that to them. But then again I am from a different decade. I am retired but enjoying subbing. The craft ideas sound fun to me!

  8. Oh I completely agree with schools striving towards this but I have to say that where I teach, the parents, while well intentioned, have made this very difficult. I teach kindergarten and I have a no processed food rule for classroom treats. No cupcakes, no ice cream, no soda, fruit punch, etc. the only exception that I make for this is our 100 day snack in which kids each get ten of ten item to make a snack of 100 items. For this day, the kids so get ten chocolate chips, ten raisins, ten pretzels, etc.. The only reason I make this exception is that it is something that has been done for a long time, the families look forward to it and I make sure there are healthier items in there too. I wish we could do it all unprocessed but it gets very expensive keeping it all dried fruit and such.

    That being said, despite going over this rule (specifically stating that there are no birthday cupcakes) before school starts and at conferences, I have parents regularly show up with 24 cupcakes wanting me to make an exception for their child’s birthday. It is incredibly frustrating for me because I am trying to keep it healthy and fair for all students. Our rule is that you can bring in a fruit, vegetable, raisins or an activity for the child’s birthday. If there is a kiddo who doesn’t bring something, I find an activity to do. The kids love this and it costs less to buy a bag of cuties (small Oranges) than it does to buy 2; cupcakes so I don’t get the problem here. Please keep promoting your ideas, i am concerned for the future of these kids! (And don’t even get me started about lunches from home for some of these kids- white bread Nutella sandwiches, chips, sugar water and a piece of candy…). I have referred many families to your blog for healthy lunch ideas… But so many people just lack basic nutritional information.

    1. I think this world is getting a little too packed off on the whole treat thing. A treat even once a day isn’t going to hurt any of them! As far as lunches go, its up to the parents what they pack in a lunch from home! How fun for a kid to bring raisins in for a birthday treat??!! If it’s obesity people are concerned about, you ought to think about bringing recess back and gym everyday. I’m sure we are not the norm, but we have no tv at our house and no computer time either. My kids get to play leap pads at times for no more than 45 minutes in a day. We don’t do any organized sports either. Anything they eat gets burned off through play. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s 8 kids total too-they always have someone to run and play with. Maybe everyone should just have more kids-not only is it a blessing to have them but they have built in playmates and parents that are kept busy taking care of them. It leaves little time to be in everyone else’s business and what they are feeding their kids and other piddly things. I’m all for eating in moderation but ultimately it’s up to me what my kids are eating since most eating is done under our roof. I think people’s time would be better spent watching what their kids are eating at home and what they are doing in their free time.

  9. Some of these are good ideas but quite a lot aren’t at all practical for the classroom. I don’t use sweets as rewards, but I do highly value ease, efficiency and cost-effectiveness when choosing incentives.

    Routine is also a very important part of each day, especially for students with learning difficulties, ADHD, autism and disabilities. Also, many of these ideas, such as watching a movie in class, take up significant learning time that simply isn’t available. Whilst submitting your list (or a shorter, edited version ) could bring some positive change, perhaps providing your child with sugar-free alternatives is an easy option that works for everyone?

  10. Extra recess is the easiest and most enjoyed by almost all kids. I do have to agree with most of what NDI said. I am a teacher and many of these ideas are more disruptive to the school day than in necessary for a reward. (Camping with the bags and tents…one word…lice.)
    I did no food birthday treats for years and each child got to pick: lunch in the classroom with me and a friend, extra recess, art time (tagged on to the end of recess), or swap seats and sit next to a friend for the day. Easy, and FREE, and does not require something to be sent in, remembered by parents, or rearranging of your whole day. (Does anyone know how bananas it makes elementary aged kids to have crazy hair day, or any sort of dress up day!?!? Let me tell ya, it’s not easy to keep their attention when they are busy worrying about their green Mohawk!)
    I have to say, treats are ok, sometimes, in moderation. To say you never have food treats is a little sad to me. I know it goes both ways, and I obviously agree that not everything has to be a junky treat, but taking it so far the other way is just not necessary.

  11. Why can’t schools just stop food celebrations and rewards altogether? There is no need that food be used to celebrate or as rewards. There are dozens of non-food great ideas for kids in grade school. My kids have allergies and even many so-called healthy foods don’t work for them.

  12. Our school does lots of fund raisers or drives (for supplies for the less fortunate, food banks, etc) where if the school meets their goal the kids get to vote on something silly for the principle to do. Most recently he had to lip sync during lunch and be made into a human sundae (he was covered with whip cream and they put a cheery on his head). My kids loved seeing him be silly and messy and we incorporated a “sweet treat” into the prize without anyone actually consuming it.

  13. Some of these are nice some of them I would pitch a fit if the school where my foster kids implemented here’s why:

    Backward day (wear clothes backward and even follow the class schedule backward!) — Following a class schedule backwards would impact every other class whose schedules would have to be altered to accommodate.

    Camp out day (kids bring sleeping bags and teacher brings a tent) – not all teachers have tents or have someone willing to borrow them one- they should not have to shell out for this- especially since teachers spend too much on school supplies already.

    Farmer day — so we’re teaching kids to mock farmers? fantastic… how about a nurses day? and engineer’s day, a secretary day or dress like a parent day? No? Yes? If no- then don’t hold up farmers for this either.

    Lunch in the classroom — many teachers have lunch as their only break, I don’t like the idea of taking that away — for any reason

    “Family night” bags that kids get to borrow from the teacher for the evening including “lego night” and “movie night” — more ideas that cost the teacher money? These things are expensive, how about we place these items on the school supply lists and the parents fund them?

    Principal can kiss a pig in front of the school if a certain amount of money is raised (another example that really happened at a reader’s school) I am surprised anyone would do this,,,it’s degrading.

    New book donated to class library by birthday student with their parent as the guest reader not all families can afford this — and not all parents can get off to read a book to their kid’s class. While it might be nice as an **option** it could cause real issues for those kids whose parents can’t get off or can’t afford it.
    at least with the crafts and stickers, dollar stores still exist for poorer families.

    1. Instead of taking these ideas so literally, maybe just take them as suggestions to build on or create what works best for your school & classroom.
      Backward day, turn the desks and chairs to face the back of the room for the day.
      Camp out day, sit in circle around a faux campfire and tell a story with popcorn.
      Farmer Day, let them dress like a farmer and take the opportunity to teach kids how important farmers are to our lives! I live in a farming community and believe that most farmers would not take it as an insult. This could be done for any occupation.
      I think the intent is merely to provide healthier (physical and mental) options for kids.

    2. WOW, you’re a real glass is half empty kind of person! I think this is a wonderful list of IDEAS and SUGGESTIONS! I am worn out from trying to get my (foster/adopted) boys to eat real food when there is constant temptation to eat some processed sugar-loaded food instead EVERY DAY! The argument: “they’re kids”, “it’s Halloween”, “its Easter”, “it’s Christmas”, “it’s Valentines Day”, “it’s their Birthday”, “it’s the weekend”, “it’s just a soda”, and on and on and on. What’s really frustrating though? My son was purposely telling me he was not hungry in the morning…and then getting a pop-tart as a reward in school!
      Anyway, I love this list and appreciate the SUGGESTIONS!

  14. I guess our school is in front of the curve on this one. We celebrated 100 days of school with 100 physical activities (10 jumping jacks, 10 sit ups, etc). No sweets allowed for birthdays, they encourage parents to bring something like a pencil for everyone instead. Fundraising prize is a “dj party” where the kids go and dance themselves silly. We do have a cheesecake fundraiser, and fundraisers at local restaurants – but because of allergies and other childhood illnesses (like a child with diabetes) they have all but eliminated these things in the classrooms. (After school daycare is a whole other animal though, as I found out when they served my daughters ice cream sundaes as “snack” one day)

  15. I think most of these are great ideas. Sure some take away from teaching time, but what do you really think getting the kids hyped up on sugar will do? One comment even said it needed to be a calm learning environment and this list didn’t fit that. Do you really believe that sugar filled kids produces a calm learning environment? Also you don’t have to require teachers to dress up, only if they volunteer to. If they volunteer they aren’t going to feel humiliated.

  16. I don’t allow birthday treats in my classroom. Instead, we have ten minutes extra recess. The typical cupcakes were so distracting I’m convinced I’m saving time.

    A lot of these are great ideas, and they get the ball rolling to be creative.

  17. Oh to have had a parent like you when I was still teaching. Before I started teaching in one school, the supply list for my grade level included a bag of skittles or M&Ms to give to students when they read a page or brought in homework. I told the other teachers no way did I want candy in my classroom and any time my students got candy from someone else I told them to take it home because you have to brush your teeth after you eat candy. Rewards have their place but feeling good about doing your best is the best reward a student can get. Well deserved praise helps motivate more than anything and a call or note home to parents help get them on board too.

  18. I am surprised this is such a problem. Where we live, the children are not allowed to share snacks. Parents are not allowed to send cupcakes or special snacks for birthday celebrations in school. We do have dine out days at local restaurants, some of which are not the healtiest, but those are optional.

  19. While I encourage reducing food snacks, as a former principal and teacher I find this list very unrealistic. Most take time away from valuable teaching time and many subject staff to humiliating circumstances. I think if you consulted with school staff you might come up with a far better list of “alternatives” that supported your goals AND the main educational goals of school!

    1. Pat, What list would you come up with? These parents including myself are outraged at what is being foisted upon their children.
      The constant sweets are NOT acceptable to so many families. Using sweets as a reward system teaches children to celebrate and comfort themselves with sweets and food. It is a very powerful psychological effect. This is how we train circus and marine animals to do tricks for our amusement. It sets up life long patterns that create other problems. Problems that many of the teachers who use sweets as a reward have themselves, such as compulsive eating. (replace sweets with the word alcohol or drugs and you get a better understanding of how this works.) Sugar does indeed have a pharmacological effect on the body. Serving sweets is also not in accordance with the vast majority of district wellness policies. Asking Schools and Districts to live up to their promises is not asking much other than to follow their own policies.

      1) Check your school dis­trict well­ness pol­icy In accor­dance with the Child Nutri­tion and WIC Reau­tho­riza­tion Act of 2004, all school dis­tricts par­tic­i­pat­ing in the fed­er­ally funded school meals pro­gram must have a writ­ten pol­icy that addresses nutri­tion and phys­i­cal activ­ity. With very lit­tle effort, I found a copy of ours on the school district’s web­site. Arm­ing your­self with the “offi­cial pol­icy” (and I sug­gest print­ing it out and hav­ing it avail­able to show school offi­cials!) will show that you’re pre­pared and that your request is in line with the district’s stated goals. In other words, you’re not some crazy anti-sugar crack­pot—you merely want the school to live up to its promise.

  20. In my daughter’s 1st grade class last year, the birthday child chose a small rock from the teacher’s assorted collection (any bag of river rocks, gemstones, etc… would work). The class sits in a circle and passes it around, each giving the birthday child a compliment or friendly wish. The teacher sent it home tied in a bit of cloth. My daughter loved this and remembered what everyone said. She keeps it on her nightstand :) I love that over the course of the year, each child gives and receives kind words!

  21. I see your point. But some of the suggestions are so time consuming for the already too busy teacher. Also, since a calm learning environment is important, some listed ideas seems counter productive.

  22. Thanks for these! I am the PTA president at our school and have been committed to eliminating junk food as prizes. These ideas are a big help. In February of this last year, we did a box tops drive and the reward was a school-wide paper wad fight in the halls. It didn’t cost anything (we used paper from the recycle bin) and everyone loved it…including the teachers!

    1. I recently discovered just how often students are receiving candy as rewards. It’s ridiculous. My twins started pre-K this year at the elementary school in which they’ll attend. I volunteer in the Kindergarten classes as well and I’m appalled at how they reward the children with candy – skittles and m&ms mainly. And, the foods they give the students are outrageous, full of sugar – honeybuns, pancakes (out of a plastic wrapper – yuck), pop-tarts, etc. etc. That’s just breakfast! Then for snack (which they don’t need), it’s anything from candy to cookies. We pack breakfast and the snack daily for our twins, so they’re not eating it, but I did learn they are being given skittles and m&ms. I DO NOT agree with giving children food of any kind as a reward. Sorry so long…I just found out about this, and I’m outraged. My husband and I have scheduled a meeting with the Principal to discuss. How can I get them to see our point of view?? It’s obviously something all the teachers do… and this is a small town…just have a feeling this will be an uphill battle, and we’re only in Pre-K!! Makes me want to home school… any advice is great appreciated!

      1. Jena,

        I found out that any school that participates in the Federal Lunch Program (which is practically ALL public Schools) have to write out and post a school wellness policy. It is very easy to search for on the District;s website. I found ours. In it they disclose their policy with junkfood. It is usually quite strict and also quite often the Principal and Teachers are unaware of the policy. Here is the advice I found today for using the policy to enforce the no sweets at school problem. Here is a very interesting part of that. “1) Check your school dis­trict well­ness pol­icy In accor­dance with the Child Nutri­tion and WIC Reau­tho­riza­tion Act of 2004, all school dis­tricts par­tic­i­pat­ing in the fed­er­ally funded school meals pro­gram must have a writ­ten pol­icy that addresses nutri­tion and phys­i­cal activ­ity. With very lit­tle effort, I found a copy of ours on the school district’s web­site. Arm­ing your­self with the “offi­cial pol­icy” (and I sug­gest print­ing it out and hav­ing it avail­able to show school offi­cials!) will show that you’re pre­pared and that your request is in line with the district’s stated goals. In other words, you’re not some crazy anti-sugar crack­pot—you merely want the school to live up to its promise.”

  23. What I want to know is why do kids have snack time. I never had snack time in school. I think that my son eats his snack and does not eat lunch. when he comes home from school he is starving. I do not remember coming home starving ever from school. Plus, I often stayed after school for club meetings and sports practice.

    1. So true!! In kindergarten, my daughter had snack at 9:30, lunch at 11, and another snack at 1:30. Add an after school snack and her dinner was wasted every night. Then I stopped sending snacks and her lunch was gone every day and she ate supper again. Even she said she didn’t need the snacks! To make it worse, there was no “approved” snack list, so most of the kids had pudding cups, Oreos, chips, etc.! It drives me crazy how society has embraced this notion that kids need constant access to snacks and drinks.

      1. I read an article recently, I’ll try to locate it and post it, that showed the health differences of a list of countries in Europe who gave their kids 45 mins to one hour for lunch. My first grader gets 15 mins! The differences talked about were how many US schools limit the time so much that the children are forced to shove things in there mouths just to fill them, and due to the the quick nature of it then are starving just hours later. Our kids are very healthy eaters but having to inhale even real food takes a toll on ones body. Where as in these European countries the children are able to sit and make their own wise choices to eat well and enjoy every bite of their food. They have no snacks just a well spent lunch time to nourish themselves.

  24. While your ideas are great, most of these can’t just be done without permission from the school. As a teacher, I can’t just decide today is movie day nor can I let my student go to another class for Specials. I like a lot of these ideas and implement many in my classroom. However, just remember, most schools don’t let teachers just make these decisions on their own. They need permission and it is hard to come by at most schools nowadays. Rigor is key and watching a movie, dressing up, and even recess are not considered rigorous at my school.

  25. Thank you so much for this list. I am the Box Tops coordinator for my school and I work in a 3rd grade classroom. I see student store full of candy and ice cream floats for Box Top winners. Thank you for the ideas. I want to do my part to make our school better.

  26. After reading this list, I realized that my elementary school did most of these things. Sure we had the occasional birthday treat, but most of the time for rewards they were non-food related. Thank you for the reminder :)

    wonder why schools have moved away from non-food times and substituted with cookies and cake. I have many fond memories growing up and they did not contain food. We need to move our schools back to this.

  27. This is brilliant! Thank you! Especially for the printable version which I will be presenting at the next PTA meeting where our principal attends. Not only is this good for school, but there is plenty that I can use at home.

  28. I like the way you think. I’m the Box Tops Coordinator at my kids school and I’m trying to implement no food rewards as well. Waiting to hear from the Principal to see if he approves my list of rewards.

  29. great ideas. except one. in our school i get so upset about all the silly uneducational movies they watch already. its one thing to learn something from it but the latest cartoon probably doesnt teach my kid much. it just happens too often for me

  30. There are some truly awesome ideas here! Nice job!

    I’d recommend truly steering away from all food (especially in the classroom), simply because of so many special diets, food intolerances/sensitivities, food allergies and celiac disease these days. By doing so, there’s no chance of excluding, isolating or compromising anyone’s safety.

    A cute idea from our principal…since we attained our fundraising goal, she slept in a tent on the roof of the school a night. Student were able to sign up to bring her a bedtime snack, stuffed animals to keep her company and read her bedtime stories. The next morning students signed up to bring her a morning coffee and breakfast. She excitedly waved in the busses in the morning. It was very cute!

    Rewarding children with food, no matter the accomplishment, is too Pavlovian. It takes away from the actual accomplishment, especially when it comes to academics. If we reward children with M&Ms because they received a 100% on their spelling test, we detract from the true meaning — that hard work and perserverance produces great results. What is the message we’re sending kiddos about their self worth and food?

  31. I have to say as a teacher and as a person who lives a healthy life. I totally understand this. But as a teacher sometimes you have to do something that will motivate kids which at some ages can be candy. We sort buttons all the time but getting to do it with skittles or M&MS is something that can be motivation for kids, I mean do you know any kids that get excited about buttons? But on the other hand, I do try to make other healthy choices. Example today we made applesauce but without the sugar or any other nasty additives.

  32. Our school bought little plastic charms (probably from oriental trading company) the kids could collect and add to a bracelet or chain. They also did monthly principals lunch for top readers. Rarely they do popcorn at lunch for special rewards. They did a limo ride one time for top fundraising students! Thank you for the list! As a mom of a food allergic child I appreciate non food rewards.

  33. I’ve been primal/paleo for the past 3 years. I am now a stay at home mom, but taught for 7 years before having my baby. I am very careful with what I give my daughter and although we do have our occasional treats, we live an 80/20 lifestyle. As a teacher, it isn’t as easy as this list makes it seem. With first graders, most of the children responded to those kinds of rewards, but my intensive reading middle schoolers did not. They don’t do homework, so homework passes don’t work. They hate reading, so a book would be a punishment. A treasure box would need ipods and 80 dollar headphones to appeal to them. And I tried fruit on several instances, and it was an epic failure. These kids have years of failures and years of eating treats whenever they want. I actually threw out a full can of coke as a student with severe ADHD and other issues came in for the 10th time in a row sporting his “breakfast.” He was pretty angry. I had given him three warnings. I agree that these treats are not helping the situation, but I also feel that as teachers, our goal is to get them to learn. Unfortunately not all parents are their for their kids. Not all students come with the same opportunities. As a teacher, I got to a point where I found that m&ms worked. At the end of class, most of the kids had understood and completed the lesson, participated in class, and got to leave with 3 m&ms each. It’s a difficult situation.

  34. Our 4K class counted 10 of 10 items for the 10oth Day of School. Items like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, almonds, banana chips, any dried fruit or seeds/nuts. The kids really enjoy making trail mix.

  35. It’s unfortunate that these “treats” or “rewards” aren’t special, out-of-the-ordinary things anymore. The problem isn’t with teachers and school administrations giving the kids Skittles, it’s the kids getting Skittles at home, school, grandparents, in their LUNCHES (!!!) and every time they go to any store that happens to have Skittles. Pizza used to be a TREAT, not an everyday meal.
    It’s difficult to motivate twenty-five 4- & 5-year-olds with the promise of wearing a silly outfit the following day.
    Also, little edible rewards are for individual motivation, as opposed to group motivation. Kids tend to take better responsibility for their actions when they know that it is only them who can earn themselves the reward. Even with the suggested rewards, how many names can be read over the announcements every day? How many kids can sit in ONE teacher’s chair at the end of the day? How many rolling chairs are there?
    If I want to give a student a gummy bear once a day for being a good listener and getting ready without disturbing anyone, ONE gummy bear or sucker or sugary treat isn’t going to harm the child. It’s the 100 others he’s already gotten that week from umpteen other sources that make my 1 gummy bear seem like a horrible idea.
    Don’t get me wrong, these ideas are great! They’re just not as effective as short-term goal, immediate rewards as, oh, let’s say a gummy bear would be.
    I don’t advocate for food being the ONLY reward for EVERYTHING (at all), because, like I already mentioned, these are GREAT suggestions for rewards toward which kids can work, long-term. (When I taught third grade, I used to have a classroom economy that was a huge motivator for kids! Work long term and the rewards add up! No one was left out. It was fabulous! Lots of extra time and MONEY for me to spend, though, but I thought it was worth it.) Kindergarten doesn’t really lend itself as well to this type of reward. The quicker, the better, for them! :)

  36. Some of the teachers at my kids’ school schedule a monthly birthday party to celebrate all the kids whose birthdays are that month (or over the summer at the end of the year). Parents of those kids coordinate what they’re bringing. They’re still getting cupcakes usually, but having one party beats having 3-4 in some months!

    Sometimes, the class reward for contest winners is an extra PE with the much-beloved PE teacher. As others mentioned, some of the biggest fundraisers at the annual auction are after school activities with teachers or being Coach/Principal for a day during school.

  37. While these are great ideas, the majority of junk food does not come from classroom rewards but from the daily lunches packed by parents. I have been a teacher and administrator for several years. Each year we talk about healthy lunches/healthy snacks. Unfortunately parents continue to pack or buy unhealthy lunches or snacks. Kids won’t eat healthy at school because they don’t eat healthy at home. To ask teacher/schools to enforce healthy snacks when it is not happening in the home is not realistic. And as a parent who raised children to eat healthy, I also raised children who had a balance. It is ok to enjoy a treat on a special day.

    1. Shelli,

      I totally agree with you! For some reason, marshmallow fluff seems to be a staple in my Pre-K lunches/snacks. It is crazy what these little bodies are digesting each day. I simply try to share ideas and recipes with my parents and hope that they will begin to incorporate more healthy choices into their family lifestyle.

  38. Lisa,

    How about a list that is tailored for church workers? We are a homeschooling family so we don’t deal with the junk food at school, but at church it is just overwhelming to me. Besides the weekly treats that are given for good behavior in church, we also deal with the Fall Festival, Christmas parties, Valentines treats, Easter Egg hunt, etc. and the candy flows way too freely because it’s cheap and easy. Can you help us out with some alternatives that we can present to our children’s church workers? I have tried to deal with it individually in our own family, but as more families who attend are trying to be careful about what their kids eat, I find that it really may be a hinderance to ministering to families.

    1. Addy,

      At my family’s church, the Children’s ministry would hand out “bible bucks” for good behavior. Then after the children’s ministry was over, parents would staff the Bible Bucks store. It was usually full of 99 cent store toys like bouncy balls, plastic dinosaurs, or colorful erasers, but all the kids love being able to pick out their prizes! It’d take some work to start up, but it’s a fun idea for the kids.

  39. It seems like the simplest solution would just be to replace any junk food reward or “treat” with a non-food reward. Instead of candy bars, give the kids stickers or erasers or pencils.

    Use non-food items for learning games like bingo or fractions. As Lisa suggested, use buttons that you can re-use year after year. When we learned fractions we all just colored in pictures of pizza and then cut the picture of the pizza into slices and learned that way without using actual food.

  40. At my daughter’s school – they do a silent raffle in the spring as a fundraiser for their arts program. We bid on and were the proud winners of an afterschool croquet for two with the school librarian and the music teacher. It was so much fun! Other cool raffle items we didn’t win were paddleboard lessons with the gym teacher and being “principal for a day” where the kids got to read the announcements and had a student/teacher planning meeting where they talked about ways to make the school more fun.

  41. I find this odd when our children’s school has a strict no treats policy. Parents are not allowed to send candy, cupcakes, cookies or any of the sort….not even for parties or holidays. My daughter has handed out pencils as gifts…parents have been asked to donate vefgie or fruit platters…etc. I believe the most risky snack we can send is popcorn or pretzels.

  42. I totally agree with Ali on the rewards! We wouldn’t be reading this blog if we weren’t interested in creating a more healthful lifestyle, and that can also be taught in the classroom. I like to take note when my Pre-K students are having something healthy for a snack…and will say “who has fruit today?” We discuss what letter it starts with & I’ll sometimes take a picture. The children get excited about brining in fruit to eat, just like the teacher. So, there are many ways to increase nutritional awareness in the classrooms. I also agree that the celebrations have gotten out of hand, but think that making a healthier version of a cupcake or cookie would be a better solution than asking not to have any celebratory food.

    1. Thank you for the ideas every one! I also am a Pre K teacher and it is really hard to find rewards for the kids that they like and does not take away from class time or is age appropriate. I really like the fruit idea for snack time and I am going to try that in class this year ( making a big deal about fruit and who brings it) Thank you!

      1. Vicki,

        This year I plan to create a “Super Snacks” board in our classroom. Each day I’ll take a picture of a student with a healthy snack…fruit, vegetables, string cheese etc… And display it. I’m careful not to make those who have “Doritos” feel bad…it’s just celebrating the healthy choice. Everyone will/can bring in an apple or grapes at some point, so no one gets excluded. Also, by back-to-school night, most/all of my students should be on the board…so it will provide a nice visual for parents to understand our efforts to support healthy choices. Good luck for a great new year!

  43. My daughter’s birthday in kindergarten happened to be the first of the school year. I felt like I was setting an example for the other parents. So instead of cupcakes (which would then be brought in by other parents all year long) she brought a decorated pencil for each classmate. Each time there was a birthday that year, it was pencils. Unfortunately the other kindergarten classes all brought giant cupcakes from the grocery store.

  44. I whole heartedly agree that using food as a reward seems to have gotten out of control. As a teacher, however, many of the wonderful options you’ve listed take valuable teaching/learning time away from students. There is just too much students are expected to learn during each and every day. My students enjoy the tickets they earn. An auction twice a year is a blast!

  45. Now I am both an elementary school teacher and a fitness professional, so I find myself torn here. I have decided to at least dramatically reduce the amount of junk food in my classroom next year.
    Here is why it is so tempting for teachers to use single wrapped candy as a reward: It takes literally no classroom time, the kids love it, and it costs very little as far as rewards are concerned. The students at my school will get junk food regardless. If children want to in the cafeteria and have enough money in their account, they are allowed to buy an UNLIMITED AMOUNT OF ICE CREAM BARS. Or even a 2nd lunch. Now, some of my children live in poverty and this issue gets complicated, but the ice cream thing really bothers me.
    That being said, the real problem is not so much the candy, it’s the expectation that they will get an extrinsic reward for their behavior and performance. I am not against the idea, but I encourage my children to think about how doing a good job makes them feel. My kids get little prizes and things every week, but I try not to make it behavior or performance based as often as I can. Before long they are asked to obey the rules and they respond: “What do I get?”

  46. I think that some of these ideas are very good. My daughter’s school advocates for no junk food. I would rather see a fake money scenario over junk food. My kids have sensory and health issues and I would prefer for them to not be given junk with out my consent.

  47. I don’t think food rewards at school are appropriate at all and wish treats brought in for celebrations were limited to healthier snacks with less sugar. My kindergartner has ADHD and autism, and his teacher hands out snacks to kids in his class who come to school without one. Apparenlty the snacks are more exciting that whatever I’ve sent him in with (raw fruit and veggies, usually) and he’s begun to ask for what the other kids are getting and refusing to eat what I’ve sent. He clearly doesn’t understand why some are being provided snacks, and I feel like that should not be done in the general classroom but instead maybe the nurse’s office or something. It’s confusing to my child why he is told no, so he gets angry. He told staff he was angry becuase “I’m really hungry” so they had him write me a letter stating “I’m hungry at snack time. I need more food” to bring home with no explanation, so I thought they were saying I wasn’t feeding him! Then I found out that the teacher gave kids who turned their signed report cards in the very next day a “treat” which must’ve been candy because my child told her “My mom doesn’t let me have treats like that” so they gave him a sticker which of course he did not want and was very upset. One week he came home with Lucky Charms (minus the marshmallows, which had probably already been eaten at school…) in his snack container also with no explanation. I was livid! I don’t care if he is offered a treat with others so he’s not excluded, but he should not be begging for sugary snacks when he has a snack from home and resorting to hiding his snack and saying he’s hungry to get the junk food. I personally feel there should not be any food rewards in the classrom, and I also have a home filling up with plastic crap toys that are given out as rewards. Grr!

  48. As an elementary teacher, I have to admit my opinions have run the gamut on this topic. On one hand, when my class is going crazy giving out a quick non-time consuming piece candy to 2-3 well behaved kiddos pulls their attention back immediately. On the other hand, I’ve have 3 kiddos all bring full sized birthday cupcakes on. the. same. day. On yet another hand, I just made a personal commitment to eating real food and now giving food as treats at all just isn’t sitting the right way anymore. While some of the ideas up there are completely impractical from a being able to maintain order standpoint, others have a good bit of merit to them and could easily spark other ideas. I guess the reason I’m commenting is I’d love some feedback on food served during special events. For instance, we just did Dr. Seuss inspired centers that included buttering a slice of bread right side up or down and stating reasons why that was the best way (The Butter Battle Book, opinion writing skills) and Grinch Floats (1/4 cup sherbet and 1/2 cup sprite, introducing adding fractions). As rightly concerned moms, what would your feelings be on foods used in this way? Keeping in mind of course that this type of thing only happens a couple of times a year. I really do want honest opinions, I’m still new this way of living and I want to show integrity in my actions :)

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi there. I know it can feel like a big shift in philosophy but it is a good one. I think giving candy as a reward in a classroom is problematic simply from a brain function perspective. Sugar is not the best brain food and does not bode well for learning. :) Beyond that, I think food can be used as part of learning activities as long as they aren’t wasted and employ healthy, whole, non-sugary ingredients that are relevant to the topic at hand. Hope that helps. ~Amy

  49. Thank you for the long list of ideas. My school district has healthy food rules but it really depends on a principal as to whether they are followed. Teachers need to be part of the solution i.e. teaching nutrition not promoting junk food. It’s hard to say no cupcakes etc. when they are in other classes. We want students to make good choices and do well without extrinsic rewards but it can be tough to motivate some students, however, that’s part of the job. Just acknowledging the effort or accomplishment can often be enough e.g. showing work to the principal or last year’s teacher, a note home to parents, a bulletin board to recognize outstanding work. I would vere away from any “rewards” that show disrespect to principals and teachers. One of my students favourite activities is playing board games. Fundraising is a whole other issue: schools need to be properly funded. Parents, teachers and community leaders need to continue to seek good and fair education for all.

  50. Just an FYI (that most teachers either don’t know or don’t follow) showing an entire movie with the sole purpose being reward is against the copyright law. It is not protected under educational use because it is not being used for education, but as a reward.
    This was covered in my recent grad classes and I was not aware previously. I thought I would pass this on since it is listed as a reward on this list. :)

  51. I am a mom and a teacher and I love the ideas for healthy and non food rewards. Thank you for taking the time to compile this list.

  52. Lisa: As much as I am all for what u have to say this is actually the only meal some kids get all day what is there. healthier it could be but at least our American children r getting food. We are taking care of our own for a change. U have to work there in school to see how starving some of our children are in need of food each day and some for weekends.

  53. I, too, am tired of all the junk food rewards–at school and even at Sunday school. They have no place in the classroom. This morning my daughter informed me that her teacher said that Pop Tarts—with fruit filling and no icing–are “healthy.” Sigh………

  54. Wow. I’m both saddened and, quite frankly, disgusted, by some of the teacher’s comments on here. These attitudes ARE the problem. First of all, the point of the original post is to offer alternatives to giving kids junk food for rewards, not an indictment against rewards in general–that was an issue raised by people replying to the article. Secondly, this list provides many suggestions–of course not all of them are going to work for all classrooms. So maybe focus on those few that might work for you rather than criticizing the ones that won’t. And finally, in my opinion, junk food has absolutely no place in our classrooms period. It is 100% unnecessary to provide kids with candy, cupcakes, etc. at school. I don’t expect our schools to fix the culture of junk food in our society, but I do expect them to at least stop contributing to it.

    1. It’s a conversation. Diverse views will be shared. Isn’t that the point?

      I don’t believe that anyone in the conversation is advocating for unhealthy children. What I am seeing is some real concern with the idea of

      a) Trading one version of unhealthy for another, equally problematic version
      b) Placing responsibility on teachers that belongs on parents and/or is better off kept out of the classroom altogether.

      I don’t expect a teacher to reward my child for expected, socially normal behavior. Likewise, I don’t really want a school hitting up my 5 year old for fundraising efforts. Fundraising is an adult issue, not a child issue.

      When these types of situations (rewards and fundraising) are eliminated from the classroom equation many of the “junk food in schools” situations are also eliminated.

      If there’s an occasion for group eating at school I am all for the ideas that have been shared – have a breakfast party, healthy alternative, etc. I’d rather there not be junk food in the school.

      But don’t freak out when people express the idea that they don’t want their child spending an afternoon of school (education) time watching a movie that, at best is an age appropriate session of screen time and, at worst, is inappropriate vacuous dribble.

      I care about what goes in my child’s mouth. I care what goes into his mind.

      It’s great to share ideas for alternatives. It’s great to discuss the merits of those alternatives.

  55. I am a teacher and for the first time this year I decided to try a NO JUNK FOOD policy in my classroom. For b-day celebrations and parties I asked all of my parents to send in healthy foods for their brains and gave them a list of some great options. Most of my parents hugged me they were so thrilled. Only one parent was sad that she could not send in cupcakes and once I explained the quantity of cupcakes they will consume in a year, she understand my point and was happy to think of other healthier options for her son. It’s definitely worth the battle so our children don’t eat junk at every holiday and b-day and class celebration. There are so many other fun options when it comes to food that children will really enjoy! :-) Thankful to finally be on this track!

  56. As a teacher, I appreciate these suggestions, but they are obviously written by a well-to-do parent who may not entirely understand that the education system in general is not all about families like hers. Some things that pop out to me about these: 1) many of the alternatives are costly (Have you ever tried to stock a treasure box full of things that appeal to a variety of students? Hundreds of dollars could be spent here alone, and that’s just one option). 2) Many of the options take much needed time away from classroom learning. 3) Donations from parents? Not at your typical school… 4) Do you know how many kids come to school and only get to eat what icky food is provided to them at school? Carrie and Donna (above) are right on about working for these rewards is no different than working for food rewards and the value of this list in actual education. If your problem is the type of food, most schools/teachers are open to parents sending preferred items for their child. If your problem is rewards in general, that is something that largely falls into the parents’ lap to teach their children to work for the inherent reward of hard work…we call that teaching them to be intrinsically motivated. I don’t often get defensive of teacher critiques but this list just irks me all around. If your biggest issue at school is what type of rewards you approve of and are being used, consider yourself blessed!

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with you! Not to mention that we teachers already use many if these rewards listed. I find it silly to think that all treats should be banned, life includes treats and we must all just learn to be moderate with what we consume. Why do we need to go on such a strict all or nothing rampage? Food is a part of socialization and joins people together, what is the harm in a group of active and healthy children joining together to celebrate with a sweet treat? I’m all for healthy eating and adhere to many of the real food suggestions but this is down right silly. Please show some courtesy and respect for the teachers and school administrators who work hard everyday to reach and motivate every student in anyway that they can.

  57. Ok….Enough about the food reward stuff–others will make the argument that too many video’s too much free time and if your not a teacher try letting the kid sit in a new seat today and then keep them on task especially the unmedicated, suggered up, video junky student you can’t control in Walmart! all while trying to teach, meet core standards, and someone’s unrealistic walk thru telling you your not reaching 100% of the class but lets push the school fundraiser so we can have field trips with a reward of pizza, popsicle or donut party for top sellers. And all those tangible rewards cost the teacher money not the school, district, state or federal govt. So with that said..You all want an external reward that’s why you look forward to payday, quit time, happy hour, and sneaking your extra dessert after kids are in bed. It’s education today and we aren’t going green or healthier with blenders in our classroom to make a smoothy from organic foods you can’t get them to eat anyway!
    Wow I feel so much better. Tomorrow I’ll give the goldfish to xxx for passing the glue to his/her partner and we will get the no worksheet tissue paper glued to the simulated apple I drew on 24+ sheets because we have no copy paper thanks to budget cuts and crappy fundraiser sales.
    Get the point–Qtip the complaints –your not going to fix education by healthy tips.

    1. But junk food isn’t free, either, is it? I’m not going to suggest being a teacher isn’t a difficult job, but if you’re going to take the time to read this, why not offer constructive alternatives instead of just unloading your gripes? Or are you just pro-junk food?

    2. The point of this article wasn’t to “fix education”. Within that context, cetainly junk food isn’t the worst challenge facing our schools. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a real issue, nor that we should do nothing to try to improve it. True–in a school with severe poverty, a preponderance of children from dysfunctional families, classroom sizes of 30+, gang viloence, etc., these ideas likely won’t work. (Then again, you probably won’t have a parent at those schools bringing this list in to the teacher…) But these are lots of viable options on this list that would work in many classrooms.

      Sounds like you have a tough job. Stay strong!

      1. Also, just because we can’t solve the entire problem doesn’t mean we can’t solve small portions of it. Don’t have the mindset of “if we can’t solve the entire problem, let’s just not solve anything about it” is deflating.

  58. When I was in grade 2 our teacher had a reward drawer so if u did really well in a test or in class she would let you go to the drawer which was filled with books and sticker sheets etc and you would pick the one you want. Inside it said this book has been awarded to ____ for hard work in class. And the teacher would put your name in for you. Another thing a school I attended did to fundraise was we had various selected students challenge teachers to different things eg a dance off with the principle, arm wrestling, a twist on bobbing for apples, teachers vs kids in tug of war (u would pay to join) etc

  59. It seems that an underlying question here is one of the value of extrinsic rewards. While I’m completely fine with my son having a cupcake to celebrate a classmate I’d be quite against him getting a cupcake for completing his math, etc, because it teaches him to work for the approval of others rather than for himself. Changing the rewards to be non food doesn’t change the heart of the issue, it just fills my house with cheap plastic crap, pits students against adults, and involves kids watching more tv. These three things are poor “solutions” in my mind. Id love it if the conversation shifted one step back in the process…. What are we trying to accomplish with these rewards in the first place?

    1. I like your assessment that we need to back up one step and question the need for the reward in the first place. Our swim school has a basket of suckers for kids to grab as a “treat” after their swim lesson. (Shouldn’t learning to swim be the reward?) Anyway, in an effort to reduce kids’ access to junk food, they did try eliminating the sucker bowl. You would think they tried taking away people’s 1st born child they way most parents reacted! So, the sucker bowl is back… :(

      I do disagree with one point you make though, I personally do have an issue with the cupcake itself (regardless of the reward issue.) Just way too much junk food in kids’ lives. If parents want to indulge their children, that’s fine. But does the school really need to do this?

  60. Our school has the policy of no birthday food or toys allowed, and I love it! It got to the where I thought at least the junk food was consumable–I couldn’t stand all the crap toys, stickers, and pencils that were taking over my house.sent home. I’ve seen birthday packets come home where everyone has written what they like about the birthday child and draws a picture. That has been fun to read–you learn a lot about your child from them (ie mine might be the class clown). Donating a birthday book is also great–the books get a placard in the front cover recognizing the student.

  61. My son just started Kindergarten this year and I was thrilled to see his school encourage no sweets or chips for snack. As well as the two birthday clubs to celebrate at school. One book club, a new book for the school library with the child’s name in it that try pick out and are the first to check out and a fitness club where a new piece of playground equipment is given to the school in the child’s name ( jump rope, soccer ball, basketball, kickball etc. )

  62. Some of these ideas are great. But some are very degrading to the teachers and principal and teach an us vs them attitude. I was rather surprised to see that here. Some of these (like the smoothies, or going to a special with a friend) will only be possible in a small amount of school because of the over supervision of teachers and stricter rules that have come about lately, but many are great ideas that can be used in most schools. I would recommend thinking hard about these from the teacher’s point of view and editing the list before bringing it to the school.

  63. I would like to second Gwen’s comment. While I like the idea of moving away from food as a reward, a lot of these rewards are problematic. The appeal of food rewards is that they’re easily incorporated into lessons. These rewards, on the other hand, often require significant time away from lessons, or even special permission to break school policies such as dress codes. If anyone is thinking of pushing for junk food to be avoided as a reward at your child’s school, please consider whether your alternatives create even more work for the teacher. They are plenty overworked as it is. Choosing a story for a class that already has story time is a great reward; trying to redo lesson plans to make time for a movie day isn’t.

  64. These sound brilliant! When I was in school, teachers weren’t allowed to give food rewards and we has similar small rewards like these. At primary school age these are excellent for building confidence in a child and are totally healthy! I don’t understand why food (good or bad) should be a reward, it just encourages an unhealthy attitude to food.

  65. The reward to the students in our daughters primary school for meeting their goal of selling 1000 books at their book fair was a silly string fight with the principle. It was hilarious!! And the kids and principle got so much excitement/enjoyment out of it, even more then they would have with a piece of candy! They chose one child from each class (K-2, 12 students total) and the rest of the kids got to watch as each grade went to battle with the principle. I think the kids watching had as much fun as the kids spraying the principle! So fun and it was remembered by all the students, unlike a sugary treat would have been.

  66. Thank you so much for posting this! I am a first grade teacher and am teaching a non-food, non-toy/goodie, reward system (intrinsic & fun/activity rewards.) I tend away from screen time rewards though-my students get enough of this already (t.v., video games, computer, hand helds, etc.) I am so happy I happened on this list!!!
    I would add to the list; a note home-highlighting the student, a hurrah phone call home, hugs for a day, being first for the day, and music playing during work time. My kids love these!!!

  67. I forgot to add that our community agreed to have the students come to school in uniforms. The teachers reward students with small green coupons. They can collect and keep them or enter them into a drawing. The students who are chosen get to have free dress the next day instead or wearing uniform clothes. It is awesome.

    1. As a parent of two little kids, I agree, especially with this: “What is wrong with just telling the kids we are proud of them? Why do we need so many bells and whistles?
      I wish we could just focus on learning being a fun interactive experience. And when it is not, it may reflect the reality of life. Sometimes life is work.”

  68. I am a teacher at a school where parents are no longer allowed to send in anything to celebrate birthdays. It is much better. I remember one month when we had four birthdays. We had to stop class four times for cupcakes. I am happy to see that gone.
    Some of these ideas are great and I already use.
    If you walked in a teachers shoes you would understand why we don’t want to stop everything to paint bird houses or make smoothies for 30 kids while we have other people breathing down our necks to make every instructional minute count.
    Giving up my thirty minute lunch which I already use to correct papers or make photo copies isn’t a great option either. Some of these suggestions show a lack of understanding from our perspective.
    However, free easy rewards like the stinky feet is super cute!
    Things that are short, simple, and free are perfect.
    Please don’t ask me to be taped to a wall or have water thrown on me so we can have enough money to buy things our schools should have without question.

    As far as the junk food is concerned, I agree! Our school has seriously cut down so that if a teacher does do a skittle sort, it isn’t that big of a deal because they haven’t had cupcakes or principal popscicles that month.
    I also don’t like having a prize box. It all ends up being junk anyway. What is wrong with just telling the kids we are proud of them? Why do we need so many bells and whistles?
    I wish we could just focus on learning being a fun interactive experience. And when it is not, it may reflect the reality of life. Sometimes life is work.

  69. Ladies! Gee, this is not about protecting some children, while hurting others! Be real! The ideas put forth by Lisa are all valid, and are IDEAS! I commend her for just trying to be as healthy as possible with children. You gotta know, it’s all better than sugar, and her intentions are not to degrade teachers, or outlaw nuts, or break the copyright laws. Please!

  70. you would fight tooth and nail if the school tried to become safe for all children????? I work in a nut and egg free daycare, we have these rules in place because of childrens allergies. we also have children allergic to milk, strawberries, and pineapple, however the health nurse who came in to talk to us said eggs and NUTS because of the smells ( which means food particles are in the air) can make a child sick without them even becoming near it. I have a ton of allergies myself, not eggs or nuts though. and hen these rules were instituted I did not fight it. because the other people in my work place ARE JUST AS IMPORTANT AS I AM. I feel for you and the fact your children have allergies, but there are a lot of possibilities out there.

    1. My daughter has over 30 allergies and nuts are not one of them. Her biggest is Celiac disease. Up until recently she would even get sick from it being air borne. She still can’t touch it. A kid put playdoh on her desk and she had a seizure. The school tried to ban all nuts and any item produced in a nut factory. That wiped out everything my daughter could bring besides fresh fruit and veggies. Schools can not favor one kid over another. MY DAUGHTER IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE NUT ALLERGY CHILD. Bans only instill a false sense of security and are actually dangerous.

  71. I’d rather my kid be given junk food than have movies at school. My pet peeve: them being allowed to watch movies at school that they aren’t allowed to watch at home.

    1. To my knowledge, any movie over the rating G must require a permission from the parent first. I am not sure if that was a district or school rule.

  72. Oriental Trading Company has a lot of non food items that can be used as rewards and are inexpensive. Little toys, craft kits, stickers, pencils, etc. If you’re looking for food alternatives for birthday treats in the classroom, Oriental Trading is a great place to look.

  73. Too bad those fundraisers are degrading to people of authority. I would love to see ideas that are not degrading. Also I would never let me kids attend a nut free school and would fight tooth and nail if our school ever tried. My kids are allergic to lots of things besides nuts and that is one of the few healthy options I have for them.

  74. I was excited to see you had the auction thing on your list! When I was in fifth grade my teacher let us earn “Little Bucks” (her name was Mrs. Little) and we had regular auctions or markets where students could buy little toys and things with our Little Bucks. It’s also a great way to teach saving and budgeting!

    I also had a teacher who utilized the ticket pulling system to provide rewards at the end of the week. Everyone starts on green and if you misbehave you have to pull a ticket. Yellow, then orange, then red. Once you hit red, you were in trouble. But if you were behaving especially well, the teacher would tell you to put a purple ticket on top of the green ticket. If you got all purple tickets for an entire week, you got to pull something from the treasure box such as a homework pass, eat with teacher pass (that was my favorite!), toys and trinkets, etc.

  75. Good ideas except for the students bringing in a movie for the class to watch. Movies that you purchase are for home use only; showing it to an entire class with no curricular purpose in mind is considered a public performance, and it is against copyright. If your school agreed to such a policy, they would be opening themselves up to a lawsuit. Also, we need to teach students to adhere to legal/ethical standards related to using someone else’s work.

    I do like several of the other ideas and wish you luck in your efforts to make a change at your child’s school.

    Sara Ralph
    School Librarian
    Asheboro, NC

    1. I am a second grade teacher and my students work towards dojo points for being on task, helping a friend etc. and they get to choose something from treasure box, which includes candy and the main reason is cost. I have to purchase what I can afford because the school doesn’t help and for the most part I have very uninvolved parents so I pay for everything I give my students. I would love to show a movie but against district policy. I do whole class awards which do not involve candy but you have to remember at many schools teachers are footing the bill for many of their own supplies and trust me we aren’t in teaching for the money in the first place.

  76. As a teacher and healthy food advocate, I came up with a list of ideas as well to create rewards that were non-food items. You have covered most of them in this post and my kids loved them! As people become more aware of food issues with our children, it will be easier to make the transition to these types of rewards. Approach your child’s teacher and the school principal about it, I think most will be receptive and not be offended. If you don’t try, it won’t change. And if nothing else, on your child’s birthday, think of an alternative to the usual cupcakes/sweet treats to set an example.

  77. I am a 2nd grade teacher. We have a no food policy at our school. We can have food at a Christmas or Valentine’s party. I started having a breakfast party instead. We have bagels and fruit. The kids love it and they don’t get all sugared up! On birthdays we can play a game in the class or the birthday kid can have no homework! :) I think we get so many treats they aren’t treats anymore. On days that are over 90 in June, it is nice to give a popsicle if everyone is okay with that.

  78. I’m a teacher myself and will be using some of these ideas I’m my classroom this year. Lunch with the teacher has always been an incentive to work toward in my classroom and the kids love it. I personally respect any wishes a parent has regarding things they prefer their child not eat. If we have a birthday approaching I just send home a note with that student so that parents can send and alternative snack if they choose to do so.

  79. My daughter’s kindergarten teacher lets them bring their favorite doll to school for one day as a reward.

  80. Incentives are always a good idea! I have worked in the school system for a few years and students do need goals to work towards. Learning is tiring and breaks are good! :)