“Marble Jar” as Positive Reinforcement for Social Skills

A behavioral strategy used in my pragmatics groups is a marble jar.  This type of positive reinforcement strategy was presented by the well-known and respected Jed Baker, PhD. (http://www.jedbaker.com/) in one of his conferences.

Several marbles are in a bag, and students work together to move all the marbles from the bag to the marble jar over the course of approximately 4-5 classes.   One or more marbles are moved into what I refer to as the “Super Friends” jar (a recycled water bottle) by each child when s/he is caught doing something a “super friend” would do (see next paragraph).  This takes the idea of Dr. Baker’s marble jar and pairs it with the idea of a super hero, which many children love.  Children are given numerous opportunities to earn marbles, and not only are the appropriate social skills themselves reinforced, but also the quality of the skills are reinforced.  For example, all students who helped clean up get one or two marbles for the jar, but one may get 3-5 marbles for being the person who cleaned up the most toys.  In addition, a child may get more marbles based on improvements in their own performance, such as a child who typically needs lots of reminders/assistance to clean up any toys but who today independently cleaned up a few toys.  That child would be given additional (say 3-5) marbles because this behavior was a big improvement which we really want to reinforce!  Children are reminded visually and/or auditorily that when all the marbles are in the jar, we have a special play/party day for the entire class. 

There are a variety of reasons for this in the class.  First, each marble is given to reinforce/teach positive social skills, such as those taught in our weekly social stories, those your child may specifically need work on, and/or those which make everyone a better friend (talking to/playing with others, working together, cleaning up/following the rules, using nice words/voice/touches, etc.).  Second, the special play/party day provides lots of practice at peer interactions within a play context, which is so vital.  Third, we have our regular “free play” for about 30 minutes, then each child gets a turn to pick a play activity that everyone does for about 15 minutes.  This provides opportunities for the children to explore toys they might not otherwise play with, to learn to accept other kids ideas, and to develop/encourage flexibility (given the change in our regular routine).

You can try this type of system at home too using a small container.  You may elect to use marbles like used here, or perhaps something like cotton balls or small pompoms, especially if you have little ones in your home.  In doing so, think about 1-2 particular new or emerging skills you want your child to learn/improve upon.  It helps to have a picture attached to the container (perhaps an internet image or even better your child successfully completing that skill).  Consider how often you will reward him/her.  Remember lots of reinforcement is especially important in establishing a new behavior.  You may wish to make this solely for your child or perhaps make it a family “marble jar.” A family marble jar allows for you and other family members to model correct and incorrect instances of the targeted behaviors for your family to reinforce other family members as well as your child.  This allows indirect reinforcement to take off some of the pressure from your child to always perform.  Make sure your child knows what motivating item/activity is being earned when all “marbles” are in the jar, and consider your child’s ability to wait for the earned item (a day, a week, etc.).  It is recommended you speak to your child’s support providers for specific guidance on the relevancy of this strategy to your child as well as specific suggestions for possible implementation.

By Mary Jane Fledderjohn, MS, CCC-SLP/L

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