I want candy, but which one do I want?

Most people want incentives in their lives. That goes for work, school and home. I may love my job as an educator, but I do receive a check at the end of the month. You may enjoy your work but you still expect to be paid.

Pay is a powerful incentive to do a job. Education almost always leads to better paying jobs. However, to a 4 or 5-year-old child that fact really means nothing to them. The fact is: most children need incentives. Children, like adults, do better when they get something within a reasonable time period. That time period is unique for each child.

Vance was a child that needed lots of incentives. He liked getting rewards after completing his daily work. When Vance first came in, the boy had difficulty finishing any of his activities. Vance would sit at his table and stare out.

The teacher knew the boy had lots of potential. She had IPADs in the room as a reward and as a choice activity after class work was completed. Vance always ran to get one of the IPADs.

The problem was Vance typically would not finish his work. He wasn’t aggressive at all but just would not focus.

So the teacher began to give all the children at her table tiny mini M&Ms (FMNV-foods of minimal nutritional value). M&Ms were a favorite treat in the classroom.

The students also liked sour patch kids (cut up into small pieces), gummy bears and goldfish. One boy was especially crazy about sour patch kids. It took the teacher a few years to figure out what he liked. He hated chocolate and most any food rewards except pretzels. But when the sour patch kids came out, his work suddenly improved.

Vance definitely needed some kind of incentive to push him to complete his work. The teacher discovered he loved M&Ms. The boy hated it when the teacher would give everyone at the table a reward except for him. Vance also hated it when everyone got to leave the work table for choice time but him. The boy tried to pout and shut down but seeing the others get rewards for their work drove him finally pushed him just enough. Vance finally began to complete his work.

Then a new problem developed. After a while, Vance wanted to have different rewards like some of the older students. The teacher understood that the students got tired of the same treat. The teacher would ask him, “Which one do you want Vance?” She placed the choices in front of him.

He would stare wide eyed at the teacher. Want? How on earth could he choose? He wanted all of them, every single one of the candies. Instead, the teacher had to give choices like, “Do you want one, two or three gummy bears?” That was easy. The answer was definitely three. The teacher would also give him a specific choice but with a color that she knew the boy would want which was usually red.

Other times, the teacher would just give him the same thing that everyone was getting.

It is important for a teacher to understand what a student’s preferences are. Some students actually prefer working for a toy. With short attention spans, it is good to have lots of choices for a child. One child in the room loved this stringy squishy toy that lit up from Walgreens. Another child would work for five minutes and get time to play with a light up ball from Wal-Mart.

A timer was used to teach the child how long could play and how long he had to work. A simple work/play card provides an easy visual for a child with times on them. This helps students in special education classes and general education programs. The fact is that each child is unique. Any child may require some special modifications to make them reach their full potential just like Vance.

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at downpamg@aol.com.