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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Prize Box

Every Christmas, a former student of mine would give me a gift card for our local Target department store. The gift card was for a small amount, but I derived so much pleasure from redeeming it. I would visit the store and spend an hour and more just walking around looking at all the possibilities. Even though the amount might be small, I enjoyed the experience of looking through everything in the store and coming to a final decision about what I might buy. Along the way I might also add several other things that I would pay for from my own funds. This experience was the inspiration for the prize box.

I keep a prize box in my studio and I have found several different ways to use it. Throughout the year, I look for opportunities to add to my prize box. I find things in the local grocery store, in gift shops at museums or other local attractions, and even at flea markets. Anything that is $4 or less might be included in my box.

I have used the box in several different ways:
  • If a student earns a certain number of practice points in a semester, they have an opportunity to shop in the prize box. I determine what an acceptable number of practice days that a semester might include (such as an average of five days per week), and then I determine how many points that would be, perhaps minus one or two points to allow for family emergencies or times when practicing cannot be done because of family trips or vacations that cannot include the violin.
  • Sometimes I have allowed group class attendees to pick out of the prize box if I am trying to encourage group class attendance. The word spreads!
  • Any time a student does something special, like play a special recital or other event such as a graduation recital, a fiddle contest, or a school talent show, I reward the student's efforts by suggesting that the student pick a prize out of the prize box.
I have included these sorts of items in my prize box:
  • Small boxes of crayons.
  • Coloring books.
  • Bottles of soap bubbles.
  • Whistles, clickers, kazoos, and harmonicas.
  • Card games, musical or otherwise.
  • Coin purses.
  • Small kaleidoscopes.
  • Glittery pens and pencils and pen/pencil toppers.
  • Different numbered die or colored spinners.
  • Stickers! Lots of these! Sometimes I find small books of stickers.
  • Tiny games.
  • Books with special marking pens that contain invisible ink that will reveal secret words in the book. Many of these books include mazes, and the correct path is revealed by the special ink pen that comes included with the book.
  • Dot-to-dot books.
  • Small reading books.
  • Small stuffed toys (I have to find these on sale to make them affordable for the prize box).
  • Tiny, jeweled or glittery treasure boxes.
  • Pencil sharpeners. Kids actually like these, especially if they are larger or colored.
  • Markers.
  • Jacks and marbles.
  • Balloons. One day a student picked this out of the prize box and proceeded to blow up balloons for everyone and make balloon sculptures. We had fun also getting the balloons all full of static electricity and sticking them all over each other.
  • Water pistols. Yes, this can be a lot of fun on a hot Texas group class day. Instruments must be put away first!
  • Small puzzles.
  • Small wooden toys.
Every year I visit two special places on the Oregon coast during my summer vacation before the Sunriver Music Festival. I check in at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, Oregon and spend about an hour in the factory's gift shop. I find a gold mine of prizes that I purchase and take back home to Texas. I also visit the "Funky Monkey Toys" in Florence, Oregon and purchase a lot of small items there also. Then when I return home in late August, my local grocery store chain HEB has many other items on sale in the school and toy section. Austin also boasts several teacher specialty stores, such as Teacher's Heaven, where I can buy fancy pens, pencils, plastic animal-shaped counters, dice, spinners, flashcards (and in colors too), pencil toppers, fancy pencil erasers, and stickers.

As you go about your regular routine, keep an eye open for possible prize box items. There are many items that are $2 or less, but I sometimes allow myself to go as high as $4 if there are some really worthwhile items at this price.

My favorite thing about the prize box is watching how long kids take to sift through all the items in the box until they finally select the one item they will take home. Just as I spent a lot of time wandering around Target as I considered what I might buy with my gift card, so my students spend a lot of time weighing each item in the prize box before they finally pick the one treasure that they want that day.

It is so fun to watch this as a teacher. It is also fun to watch students peek into the box after a lesson to see what might be there and what might be worth coming to group class or practicing in order to earn it. I am teaching the value of working to earn something. And it is fun for me as well!

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