Homeschool Positive Reinforcement

One of the biggest challenges you face as a parent is getting your children to behave well. This can become especially difficult in a homeschool setting, where your child is not only navigating your home’s rules and expectations, but those of a more formal learning setting as well. Let’s explore how we, as parents can help our children stay on track and develop a low-stress homeschool through the use of positive reinforcement.

What is Positive Reinforcement?

Rat Brain
Would it feel as bad if you had this rat brain?

Positive reinforcement is a concept in a theory called Operant Conditioning, commonly attributed to the work of psychologist B.F. Skinner. The overarching idea of Operant Conditioning is that behavior followed by good consequences is more likely to be repeated, and behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is less likely to be repeated. One type of these consequences is positive reinforcement.

Skinner found that when he put a hungry rat in a box with a button that caused food to dispense, the rat would repeatedly push the button to be rewarded. By performing a desired behavior, the rat received a reward, and repeated the desired behavior.

Maybe we like to think that we’re above this type of conditioning. After all, the experiments were done on rats. Well, I hope it doesn’t hurt your ego too much to find out that our big human brains aren’t so different from rat brains, particularly when it comes to learning. The principles of Operant Conditioning have been supported repeatedly over the years, including in people.

Benefits of Positive Reinforcement

There are plenty of benefits to using positive reinforcement in your home classroom. Here’s just a few:

  • A positive learning environment
  • More engagement from your child while they chase the reinforcing reward
  • More confidence from your child as they know what behaviors are good and encouraged
  • Your child knows you care because you’re actively focusing on him/her

Examples of Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement can be as simple as a “Good job!” or a much more organized system. These are some of my favorite ways to implement it:

  • Sticker Charts (YAY!): When your child performs the desired behavior, they can earn a sticker to go on their chart. Visual learners excel with things like this because they can see their progress. You can slowly reduce the frequency of the sticker reward as your child shows improved behavior.
  • Level Systems: Create a system of ranks that your child can earn for repeated success. Think of it like earning xp in a game to level up, and each level needs progressively more xp. Each level can be accompanied with a reward like a small toy or a snack.
  • Verbal: Don’t underestimate how powerful verbally acknowledging good behavior, giving a high five, or a smile can be.
  • Special Jobs: Your kids crave interacting with you. You can reward your child by letting them work with you on a task or activity. Maybe they can help you cook dinner or bake cookies. Or, you could let them choose where to go on your family walks.
  • Marble Jar: Every time a desired behavior is shown, add a marble (or whatever else) to a jar. When it’s full, your child gets a reward. This can be great for siblings or the whole family to work together to earn rewards.


Punishment: Your instinct might be to resort to punishment, like timeouts or taking away toys or privileges, but does this work consistently? Intuitively, you probably know the answer is no. Punishment has a few of problems: 1) Your child isn’t necessarily learning what behavior they should be doing, only what not to do, 2) It can lead to aggressive behavior from your child (harsh punishments can lead to resentment), and 3) It creates an atmosphere of fear in your home. I’m not saying that punishment doesn’t have its place on occasion, but it absolutely shouldn’t be your only option for modifying your child’s behavior.

Negative Reinforcement: This works similarly to positive reinforcement, except your child is “rewarded” by the removal of a negative situation. For example, if your child learns their multiplication tables, they don’t have to do a certain chore they dislike. Research has shown that negative reinforcement works well for encouraging certain behaviors as well. This is similar to punishment, except you’re still trying to reinforce desired behaviors. Punishment is about stopping a negative behavior.

Wrapping Up

Positive reinforcement should be your go-to method of encouraging good behavior in your homeschool. It has a long track record of good results in large classrooms and in parenting in general. If you’ve fallen into a habit of punishments and threats to get your child to work in your home classroom (no judgement, it happens), I hope you strongly consider giving positive reinforcement a chance at removing the negativity hovering over your lessons.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can learn more about positive reinforcement in the classroom. If you liked this info, check out my newsletter, where I’ll email you all my new articles and learning games. As a thank you, I’ll send you my free state-by-state homeschool guide.

Do you have great positive reinforcement methods you use in your classroom? I’d love to know what’s working for you!

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