5 Sweet Classroom Rewards that Aren’t Food

This post was originally shared on Ophea’s blog. View the original post here.

Rewards can be an effective way to encourage positive student behaviour in the classroom and around the school. When enforcing or revisiting desired behaviours, small rewards can often help students establish the activity and encourage maintenance of the new behaviour, with self-motivation eventually taking over, and outside reinforcement no longer being necessary.


Last week I was asked by a Hamilton elementary school’s Health Action Team to support their “Random Acts of Kindness Challenge” by teaching Kids Yoga to the classes which had demonstrated the most acts of kindness during their school wide challenge. This creative reward was suggested by their Public Health Nurse and selected by the students on the team. The day was fun for all and this creative idea aligned with the schools focus on healthy, active living, and mental health promotion.

While food rewards, specifically candy and other treats, are often used because they are inexpensive and easy to come by, these types of rewards can reinforce unhealthy eating habits, and undermine children’s diets and health. Providing food based on performance or behavior undermines Health and Physical Education curriculum instruction related to the healthy eating topic area. This includes expectations on making healthy food choices, as well as internal hunger and thirst cues, by encouraging children to eat treats even when they are not hungry.

Countless alternative rewards can be used to provide positive reinforcement for student’s behavior and performance. Consider these fun ideas when thinking of options for non-food rewards in your classroom.

1. Pick a different seat for a day. Students change desk locations with another student in their class. Consider letting students decide the arrangement of the desks for the day – who knows, you might like what they suggest and keep it!

2. Join another class. Individual student winners join a friends class for one special subject area (e.g., Phys.Ed., Art, Science).

3. Treasure box of fun school supplies. Individual students pick an item out of a treasure box with prizes that would support them during their school day including stickers, pencils, erasers, markers etc.

4. Theme dress day. If students wear uniforms consider a “no uniform for the day” pass for individual students or the entire class. Consider other theme days for the entire class including safari, favourite musician, sport star, or story book character.

5. Family night activity bag. Individual students take home for the weekend their choice of a “Family night” bag borrowed from the teacher including “sport night” (contains various balls and athletic games), “lego night” (containing various lego pieces and kits), and “movie night” (containing age and message appropriate movies).

So Teachers, how do you keep your classroom rewards healthy?
Share your thoughts in the comments below or send me a tweet @CatchingHeather!

Celebrate a Healthy Valentine’s Day in Your Classroom.

Chocolates, and cupcakes, and candies – oh my! There certainly isn’t a sweeter classroom celebration than Valentine’s Day. As a teacher I always tried to come up with creative ways to take the attention off of treats and onto fun celebration themed physical activity. Luckily Pinterest makes finding these creative ideas so much easier. So, here are 6 ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a healthy and active classroom.

1. Fruit Smoothie Fun.

A fruit smoothie station would be the perfect opportunity to reinforce healthy eat and have a whole lot of fun. Frozen fruit can be used and loading in the berries will give your drink the perfect pink glow. The straws in this photo are cute too. Students could create their own straw decorations (e.g., lips, mustaches, rainbows, or snakes).

2. Apple Core Sandwiches

This idea was one I’ve never seen. Without the heart I love it for it’s nutrition levels and high levels of fun – the heart, that just puts it over the top. I might suggest you prepare the apples – many alternatives to peanut butter exist so depending on your school needs, consider swapping that ingredient out.

3. Candy Alternatives

My favourite is definitely the Minion or the banana. Not all healthy, but definitely all creative.

4. Heart Shaped Animals

Having pre-cut hearts would certainly make this task run more smoothly with the younger kids. Why not team up some older students with younger ones to support cut the hearts and build community within your school.

5. Mason Jar Lights

Excellent for older students and can easily be supplied at a doller store. With younger students, again consider having hearts already cut, or teaming younger students will older ones for support.

6. Heart Toc-Tac-Toe

Students can create their own hearts – or set of hearts – and use them in either this cute version of tic-tac-toe or for a target game similar to bocce.

Celebrate a Healthy Halloween in Your Classroom

Halloween is one of my absolute favoruite holidays. Growing up we joked that our family celebrated Halloween in a similar style to how many families in our neighbourhood celebrated Christmas, and as an elementary school teacher, of course I carried this excitement into the classroom. So here are 4 tricks and treats for a healthy and active classroom  Halloween party.

1. Take the focus off of food.craft

With a little creative thinking and action your classroom party can have a lot to do with fun, while having little to do with food. Activities such as transforming the classroom into a haunted house, for your own students or others, a costume contest or school wide costume parade or even Halloween themed crafts can create a fun event that doesn’t include a sugary crash. Consider some of these non food activities for your next party: Top 5 Halloween Science Tricks and Classroom Halloween Activities for Any Grade.

2. Play some Ghost-ified Games Instead.

Halloween creates copious amounts of added energy to any classroom environment. So why not harness that energy and get kids moving! Give some of these games a try at your next classroom party!

  • Pumpkin Bowling: Use a real pumpkin pumpkinand in small groups students take turns rolling the pumpkin at a spooky target. Consider having multiple games set up at once to maximize participation, and definitely do this one outdoors!
  • Pumpkin Relay: In small groups students complete a regular running relay to instead of passing a baton, they pass a pumpkin. Consider having your class walk/run/move in various Halloween inspired ways (e.g., mummy walk, zombie hustle, monster shuffle).
  • Ghoulish Freeze Dance: A favourite amongst my students. Play some Halloween themed music and students move and groove to their hearts content. At random intervals stop the music and students must freeze in a ghoulish shape. If students are caught moving by the graveyard keeper they move to a second area and continue the game. Students flip back and forth between the two game spaces, because the point is to have them moving! Not sitting on the bench out 

3. Offer Inedible Treats.

Instead of providing your students with a day filled of sugary snacks, why not offer some items that are useful in the classroom? Consider providing Halloween themed pencils or Halloween shaped erasers. Stickers and vampire teeth are also a fun alternative to sweets. These items are much easier to come by now. Check out your local dollar store or party supply outlet for even more fun inedible options.

4. Try Some Healthy Haunted Snacks.dip

Even the healthiest party still needs some treats, so why not let your students sink their teeth into some healthy Halloween themed snacks. Whether it’s a veggie platter shaped like a mummy, or a black bean dip and guacamole grave yard, there are ways to keep your snacks healthy and fun. Check out this Pinterest board of Healthy Halloween Snacks and Activities.

How do keep Halloween healthy for school and at home? Share in the comments!