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1,2,3 Marbles

July 25, 2012



Written by Marykate Wurster, mother of 3 wonderful children, Gladwyne, PA

I am always up for a new parenting technique. Some ideas I get from books such as my old standbys like 123 Magic and  Siblings Without Rivalry . Other concepts from articles, but my favorite and most recent idea came from a friend. I needed a new tool for my mom toolkit and a friend introduced me to the idea of “marbles”.

Here is how it works  – I have a mason jar for each child with their name on it. Every time they do something that I am looking to encourage or something we are working on, they get a marble. When their jar reaches a certain level there is a reward – it can be going out for ice cream or to a movie. I am not a toy store person but for some friends this works well.

I tend to do small incentives as the jar is being filled to keep them motivated. So for example when we reach the first line we will take a trip to our favorite penny candy store. And then the next line – out for ice cream (apparently I reward with food), and then once they reach the top, a fun excursion. You can also involve your children and ask them what they think would be a good reward.

I love it because it is so simple. I have used rewards charts for things like potty training but personally find them tedious. The simplicity of this system is its genuis. I have a bowl of marbles and throughout the day will plop them in the respective jars. I love catching my children doing something we have been working on and seeing how happy they are when I applaud them for a particular behavior. I occasionally take out a marble for something but limit that. I like to keep it positive. My eldest daughter, who is the moral voice of the family, finds this most unfair – to have a marble taken away that was earned. I understand her, and yet when I need to make a point, one will come out.

It works so well because it is immediate and tangible so children grasp it easily. The smaller rewards keep them motivated. A 5 year old waiting for her mason jar to fill may seem like a lifetime but small incremental goals / rewards gives her stamina along the way.

My sister, a former elementary school teacher, used this while teaching. Her concept was “Movie Marbles”. When her jar was full her students got to watch a movie with popcorn. If you are looking for a new way to motivate your children, I recommend this. It works! I am marbles about marbles!


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  1. Anne Schenendorf

      on July 26, 2012 12:16 pm

    I can not say enough about how much I love this idea. I taught in the inner city of Philadelphia for ten years and positive reinforcement was by far my most effective management tool. Marbles were a very affective way for me to implement this. For me I never took any out because teaching and parenting are different. I didn’t ever want to take a chance that another teacher(a specialist teacher or a substitute) would temove one for something I wouldn’t. For me it established trust. It is so simple but collectively chsngrs the outlook of your munchkins- children ot students. When caught sharing or trying a hard word, suddenly they do these things twenty times as much. For me, all it ever cost me was two movies a year. We voted on everything from the G movie I chose to the snacks and candy too. Let the cooperating and kindness begin…


  2. Marykate Wurster

      on July 27, 2012 12:19 pm

    So agree Anne about positive reinforcement – the more you catch them and praise them for behavior you want – the more you have that. And the more you focus on the negative the more that continues. Not easy to do sometimes – it seems unnatural to ignore the one who isnt behaving and focus on the 2 who are but I find when I do – it works. Basically they want our attention any way they can get it!!


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