Let me start this post by being exceptionally clear, I AM NOT in favor of bribes or constant rewards to bring out the behaviors we wish for our children. With that thought out of the way, If you read on, what I think you will find is an easy object lesson to encourage effort in a concrete kind of way.

Before the boys get up for the first day of school or any time we need a reminder, I put one Oreo in four different zip top bags and have a hidden stash with one Oreo for each child in another space that is easily reached.

When we sit down for our first lesson, I bring out the first Oreo bag and ask who would like an Oreo. All of their little arms fly into the air because this mom doesn’t ever offer treats before lunch. Without hesitation, I immediately smash the Oreo to absolute bits – beyond putting back together and honestly pretty far beyond pulling out of the bag with any success. “Who wants it now?” Dejectedly they all frown and shake their heads. It’s broken and not good for anything but pie crust or ice cream topping which they know better than do ask for at 8AM. We talk about how if every Oreo came out of the factory that way that no one would buy Oreos and that would be a sad day. We dive into the idea that sometimes our school work is finished like the obliterated Oreo. It is messy, without effort and downright depressing.

It’s time to pull out the second bag. I hold this one up and their eyes once again light up – maybe just maybe this one will be okay. I smash this one too but not as bad as the first one. There is cream squirting out and lots of broken pieces but you could sort of put it almost back together. While they admit they could eat this one they don’t usually want to try because it would be frustrating and messy. Time to revisit the idea that if all Oreos came out the factory like this no one would want to buy them. It wouldn’t be worth it. This is when our school work is sloppy but legible, answered in half sentences and rushed.

The third bag is held up and at this point the oldest one or two are starting to question my motives but they always follow along. I simply break this one in half. It’s almost right. It’s close to what we want to find when we open the big package but it wouldn’t be great for dunking which is why my kids want Oreos at all. If all Oreos came out the factory broken in half, people wouldn’t buy them as often as they do. When our work is almost great but not quite, we are hurting ourselves and keeping the best from others. With just a hair more, it could be great.

Then appears the last bag, this cookie gets to stay whole and everyone wants it. It is sweet and dunkable. It is well rounded and as it should be. This is the kind of Oreo people are willing to pay for again and again. We talk about what well rounded school work or life work looks like. How our effort matters because we deserve to get the most from our work and others deserve to have us give our best.

As our conversation continues, I pull out the secret stash of Oreos and hand them out along with milk. The kids dunk their cookies and talk about how sweet they are and how glad they are that the cookie is whole. We talk about how it is always sweeter to give our best and it is when we put all our effort into something that this can happen. It doesn’t mean that mistakes and wrong answers don’t happen rather it is about putting forth our best and giving our all to what we are doing.

Does the lesson end there? Not really. Every now and again, I will pull out an Oreo or two and reward a child who is exemplifying effort. Not every time I see effort and not in front of the other kiddos if it can be helped. It is a quiet thing – no pomp, no loud praise. It is recognition for hard work and a reminder of why we put high importance on effort. It is a way to say “I see you. Thank you for doing what you know is right.”

Does effort matter in your homeschooling? How do you encourage effort? Tell us in the comments.

Keep it smart. Keep it simple.