Treating Students Like Customers or How to Embed Pleasure in Mundane Schoolwork

Boy on playground

A good business understands that adding a little extra service or giveaway brings customers back for more. My little tire shop in a town with a population of less than 1400 builds loyalty among locals by tucking in little extras that make customers feel like they’ve gotten something for nothing. Vernon just balanced my tires ( a feat that required taking off every single filthy one and completely hosing out the built up mud. Tip: if your car is vibrating like mad try washing out the inside of your tires, it restored my car to smooth pleasure instantly.) When I tried to pay for this, he insisted, “Nah, you buy your tires from us. This is just part of the service.”

Getting a treat, a little something extra, makes us appreciate a business a little more. As adults we know that a business that gives a little extra service builds loyalty and boosts customer morale. That’s why banks give out calendars and towns build playgrounds (Psst, Tooby Park just got a nice facelift –see pic above.)

But, for some reason we are reluctant to “bribe” our kids to do school work. We think kids should do work because its good for them. And, to certain extent that is true. I’m not sure how I feel, for example, about going to the extremes of some schools that actually pay kids for doing well on tests. Yet, I know how just a little fun woven into basic school work can revitalize a child’s view of reading and writing.

My son for some reason had become reluctant to practice reading. One day when he began stomping and huffing as reading time began, I turned the tables by pretending to be a small child throwing tantrum.

“Daddy, I want a story.” I wailed throwing myself around in imitation of him.

He grinned warily at the sight of his grown mother writhing sulkily on the couch. (I prayed no neighbors would come over.)

“I want a story NOW!” And I plumped myself down with that day’s book. Soon he was happily sounding out the words. Every time his interest flagged, I would pretend to be a rotten, whining child that needed attention now. After that, for days, he insisted I be the little girl while he was the daddy reading to me. Reading has now become fun even though we no longer play that particular game.

Recently, I wanted to add writing to the list of things my Kindergartner did every day. He had already been practicing handwriting (and hating it) and I believed that a goal of one sentence of about 5 words a day at first was appropriate. But, I wanted some way to introduce it so that it would inspire him to enjoy writing.

I told him we were playing a hiding game. I was going to hide a chocolate chip (small toys would work, too) and he would have to decipher a clue to find where I placed it.

I started simply. “The chip is on the step.” He carefully sounded that out and wanted to know which step. “In the back.” I added. He quickly found that one.

“The chip is in the bath” (on a napkin, I hasten to add). He tracked that one down and delightedly gobbled it up. I did one more. Then I said, “Would you like to hide one for me?” His face exploded into a grin.

“Well, write me a clue.” Using the pattern, I had established with my sentences, he quickly wrote his own.

“The chip is on the bed.”

I was astonished at how carefully he wrote his letters. Normally, he can be careless and dash them out. But, having had to read my handwriting, he understood how important spacing and letter sizes could be.

Today, just 3 days into the experimental game, he wrote this sentence sounding out his own spelling.

“The chips are on the bodll [bottle] in the bedroom on the blak dresr [black dresser].” In three days, he more than doubled my expectations as to sentence length. Why? Because, it was fun. And, he greatly exceeded my expectations for neatness, working hard to make his letters legible and carefully putting in spaces between words. Why? because in applying writing to real communication skills, he understood the practical reasons for neatness.

As a teacher, I have repeatedly observed how a little extra effort to add imagination and pleasure to the learning experience works like the little extra effort a business puts into it’s service–it builds a desire on the part of the student/customer to come back for more.



  • I knew you were tricking me into reading your blog, I just didn’t know how. Now I get it, you talk about all my favorite things.

    I just got back from a fire call with Vern. A tree fell across the road and a telephone line. He sawed it up so it could be pulled out of the way. Just one more way that Vern pays his dues to live in this great community.

  • Vern is a great guy like all the guys at Redway Tire. I didn’t realize he was a volunteer fireman though. Somehow, I’m not surprised.

  • I think you’ve struck on a good point. The point of being a teacher is NOT to teach but to have your students learn. I always enjoyed those years with my kids when I could take them to a pond or the tidepools and get them interested. Ms. Monica still laughs when she notices sedimentary layers in rocks….I believe the phrase she uses is….”damn you Mr. Mervinsky”. She didn’t even LIKE Earth Science but learned because he made it fun, or at least interesting.

  • I like how you said that “the point of being a teacher is not to teach but to have your students learn.”

  • Growing up, my sister and I were never outwardly rewarded for doing well in school. I’m sure somewhere along the line, we were bought some little geegaw “just because” when, in reality, it was an under the table bribe.

    But, now that my sister is a teacher, she gives her students “school bucks” (or “classroom bucks” or something along those lines) when they do well. Every week, the kids can trade in these “bucks” for little trinkets and stickers and the like.

  • In Martial Arts, we have “Dragon Dollars” that kids can trade in for prizes. They love the idea. If students aren’t paying attention as well as I would like, I just catch one doing the right thing and reward her/him with a “Dragon Dollar.” The other kids start doing better hoping to get one, too.

  • What a great idea you had!

    My daughter is fifteen and an honor student, but sometimes I have to get her motivated to so something she doesn’t want to do. I usually try to point out what’s in it for her- a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment, or maybe just a good feeling that she persevered and finished what she started, and then we do something fun afterwards.

    I’m suddenly craving chocolate…

  • I’ve trying to eat healthy and avoid junk so I’ve been looking for ways to reward myself when I eat well–I’m thinking chocolate . . .

  • Kym, what a marvelous idea! Malachi is really doing great. Wish I had had your patience when I was a young mother.

    Now, would you pass the chocolate chips please?

  • I forgot to mention that I have always thought Tooby Park needed a LOT of help…I never considered it much of a park. I haven’t seen it since the new playground equipment has been added. That has to make it much more appealing.

  • They put up a beautiful fence now but somehow it all seems a little bland. Still, much better.

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