Let me get straight to the point: perfect attendance awards need to go. Research shows that they do far more harm than good. Read to learn why they’re so problematic. Then, check out the awards we SHOULD be giving to kids, instead!
Can We PLEASE Stop Awarding Perfect Attendance?
To demonstrate the problem with perfect attendance awards, let me start with a story. Once upon a time, I knew a boy named Bill. Bill made it all the way to his senior year with a perfect attendance record. Less than a month before graduation, his grandfather passed away. The funeral was on a school day. Bill didn’t go.
Weeks later, he walked away from his high school career with a piece of paper praising his perfect attendance…and a heart full of regret over missing his chance to say goodbye to his “Papa.”
He felt so much pressure to continue his pursuit of perfect attendance that he refused to take a single day off of work, no matter how sick he was. He felt like he owed it to his grandfather. That by choosing an award over Papa’s funeral, he had an obligation to make it really matter.
Bill had a heart attack at age 27. Thankfully, he survived. Needless to say, though, he missed work because of it. Bill took that as a wake-up call. He told me later that he was almost relieved that the universe stepped in and forced him to give up his lifelong pursuit of perfect attendance.
That’s just one example that demonstrates the problems with perfect attendance awards, and it’s not even the biggest issue. These awards stigmatize children with chronic illnesses who literally cannot go to school every day. They encourage kids to go to school sick, which means other kids get sick and miss school. They teach kids that it’s “all or nothing,” and that if you can’t be perfect you shouldn’t even try at all. Last, but not least, ironically, these awards can even lead to MORE absences, both in kids who receive one and those who don’t.
I could go on. If you’re curious, though, just search “perfect attendance awards are damaging our kids.” For now, I want to switch gears and get to the true purpose of this post: the awards we SHOULD be giving to our kids instead.
5 Awards for Kids That Matter Much More Than Perfect Attendance
Before we start, I just want to say one thing. I purposely left off awards related to high grades. Like perfect attendance, I just think there are other things that matter more than straight As. I’m not saying that kids who earn top scores through hard work don’t deserve the awards that they earn. Just that there are other things that are also worthy of recognition, and that these things matter more to ME and MY family.
“Shows Kindness & Empathy Towards Others” Award
A quote (pictured below) from @Maryfairybobrry on Twitter actually inspired me to write this post today. She wrote, “Can we replace the perfect attendance award with kind kids awards already? Coming to school when you’re sick or need a mental break doesn’t deserve applause. Including others, sharing a lunch with someone hungry, and not bullying others absolutely deserves recognition.”
I couldn’t agree more. I will always (always, always, always) prioritize empathy over good grades and perfect attendance. I would be so proud of my kids if they brought home a “Kindness” award! I’d also be proud of myself because it shows that I’m succeeding in my goal to raise kids who grow up to change the world.
“Persevered in the Face of Adversity” Award
If there’s one award that every single student in the entire world deserves right now, it’s this one. Children today face more adversity in the first five minutes of their school day than most of us did throughout our entire school year.
They’re dealing with a pandemic that’s completely changed when, how, and where they learn, and drills that teach them how to survive the unthinkable. They’re facing the greatest mental health crisis in generations, and exceedingly high expectations on top of all of that. The fact that they continue to persevere despite all of this deserves recognition, don’t you think?
“Enthusiastic About Learning” Award
Wouldn’t it be nice if we praised kids for their desire to learn as much as we praise them for how much they learn? I think that would encourage academic success so much better than punishing kids for poor grades, don’t you?
Honestly, grades don’t really even reflect how much our kids actually know. In most cases, they just reflect how well they memorize information. I’m sorry, but memorization and learning are NOT the same things. I would rather my kids show true enthusiasm for learning and bring home a C on the test than just memorize a bunch of random facts that they’ll promptly forget once they bring home the A.
“Outstanding Imagination” Award
I know it’s probably one of the most overused quotes ever, but I truly believe in what Einstein said about imagination being more important than knowledge because knowledge is limited by imagination encircles the world. In other words, imagination is boundless, limitless, and endless.
I believe that children should be praised for using their imaginations, especially in a world where they have fewer and fewer opportunities to do so
“Classroom Cheerleader” Award
We started with a kindness award, so let’s close with something similar. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to recognize the children that go out of their way to make others smile? I’m not talking about so-called “class clown awards,” which have a negative connotation.
I’m talking about kids who go out of their way to spread joy and optimism when they see someone having a rough day. The kids that always have a word of encouragement for kids they see struggling, or a “way to go” when they see others succeed. The kids who, to paraphrase Dolly Parton, see someone without a smile and give them one of theirs.
Bottom line, rather than just focusing on awarding kids for achieving some arbitrary grade, we should give awards that encourage our kids to be good people. I’m not saying that straight-A students don’t deserve awards. I’m not trying to take away someone else’s academic achievement (perfect attendance awards, on the other hand, just flat-out need to go). I’m just saying that there are achievements that matter at least just as much (if not more) than grades, and they deserve recognition, too.