Megg Thompson

The Marble Jar Strategy: Three reasons you DON’T want to use it

I taught Kindergarten for 10 years prior to becoming a behavior consultant. In those 10 years I definitely started many marble jars, kindness jars, manner jars, jars of all sorts to catch children doing a strategy I wanted to see more of. What I didn’t know was there were better strategies out there, better strategies that would transfer in to real life success. I thought, like many parents and teachers, let’s catch them being “good”. But, now, many years later, I realize they weren’t falling and I didn’t need to catch them, I needed to teach them.

Strategies for children need to come from LOVE to work to their fullest potential and to keep a child’s emotional wellness intact. The other side of LOVE is FEAR and, although, the marble jar strategy doesn’t exactly come from fear, it doesn’t come from love either. This is a hard one to digest. Open your mind as you check out these 3 reasons why the marble jar strategy just doesn’t work.   

1. Kids are more kind than they are less kind: When I speak professionally I ask audience members how many parties there would be in a day if we were TRULY and COMPLETELY honest with the marble jar strategy. The answer is probably upwards of 100.  Why 100? Because children are more kind than unkind but we don’t see all the kindness. We also don’t let children ask for a marble. If we gave a marble for all the kindness we saw throughout the day we would need a lot of jars and even more marbles. The jar would be full in 10 minutes. We would be broke with the number of pizza parties we would have to host. And then we start to be picky about what counts as kind. We are looking for extra special, super duper, fantastically tremendous kind, but we never tell the children that or what that may look like. We have a picture of what that entails but we never draw it out for the children. And extra kind can also lead to competition. So now we are stuck with confused and competitive children wandering our classrooms looking for marbles.

2. Fill the marble jar and teach? YIKES!: This is where we turned into Oprah Winfrey. We have to teach academics, scaffold play, teach social-emotional growth, follow IEP’s or cook dinner, do the laundry and pick up children from sporting events and we can’t keep it all straight AND divvy out marbles. During my teaching career we started many marble jars and after a month we (the teachers) lost focus. When the parties weren’t happening we turned into Oprah giving marbles left and right hoping to fill the jar by the end of the year. “You get a marble and you get a marble and you get a marble!” I always wondered if we inadvertently upset children because we started strong and ended so poorly.

3. Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation: Daniel Pink’s book called Drive looks at intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. When children are kind, how do they feel inside? Physiologically, what happens to their bodies when they are kind, proud, happy, disappointed, or angry. What is the reaction and social pieces that align when kindness is used? These strategies take time and patience. The best strategies usually do!

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