I am talking about literally asking for kids' time/attention by offering them candies: not giving them tasks about summing real candies, etc.
I try to teach math from time to time to my relatives of different ages and noticed that the main problem in teaching is just capturing kids' attention. Most of the time kids do what you ask them to do, but express their tedium, though they get really excited when it's something about candies. However I have concerns about usage of candies when doing math.
From math history I noticed that most natural mathematicians knew the whole school math before even attending school, for example from Wikipedia:

Gauss was barely three years old he corrected a math error his father made; and that when he was seven, he confidently solved an arithmetic series problem (commonly said to be 1 + 2 + 3 + ... + 98 + 99 + 100) faster than anyone else in his class of 100 students

(from paper source I have info regarding last problem is that Gauss had read Number theory textbook prior to school where exact same problem was discussed)
... and Pascal:

Pascal's father intended to save his son from doing math too early, but Pascal young secretly read Euclid's Elements and gave 3 additional proofs of triangles inequalities at age of 5

I guess kids can get motivated to do math just to help their parents to do their regular everyday job, but it's not an option for me, so the only left for me is to abuse the primal obsession for food ^^. Also, when there is more than one kid participating in doing math, competition factor will take place when kid who gets involved in a most energetic way is rewarded more as well.

I can't materialize my concerns about such approach, but it somehow unpleasantly resembles me of the way people train animals. Is it an appropriate way to treat people and especially young ones? Are there any research regarding such topic or maybe some well-known statement about it?

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    $\begingroup$ If you were a professional teacher you would know to not give students any food. Some kids may have allergies, sugar intake is not healthy, candies will likely be cheap and crappy, the parents may be against it, you may be sued. Many reasons to not do that. If they are not mature enough to learn without being treated like circus puppies, then just wait for them to get older. Alternatively, you may want to change your approach and style to teaching math, maybe it is just too boring. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ There is no long-term statistics (like, hundreds of years) regarding sugar substitutes, so I personally stay away from them. Also, they taste bad. Do not give anything "in exchange". Learning and having fun while doing that (or if not having fun, then having realization of doing something important) should be enough. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ Math from Three to Seven: The Story of a Mathematical Circle for Preschoolers is a journal, written by a Russian parent who ran a "math circle" for his children and children of his friends for several years. It is not a textbook, but may be of interest to you. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ External motivations are usually very ineffective in influencing the behavior of humans. I don't think Gauss learned arithmetic at an early age because someone offered him candy. $\endgroup$
    – user507
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Slaus: There are two pieces to this: (1) External motivations. I think this is a pretty widely accepted fact in motivational psychology or whatever. I'm not a specialist, but I don't think it's controversial. You can certainly learn more and more reliable info than I can provide if you just look up a summary/popularization of the research on this. [...] $\endgroup$
    – user507
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 23:31

1 Answer 1


My experience is small rewards and games (e.g. with candy) spark interest from the kids, in any sort of teaching/coaching, so math should be no different. It is not purely gluttony, but the sense of play with a reward, even small. Even with adults, it is very effective. For instance a cheap bottle of champagne, even with corporate execs making several six figures, will perk them up in a training session, especially if competitive. And the small reward somehow makes it more meaningful than just brag rights.

Note: This is more of a practical "ed" question, ape-psychology than a "math" question. But these are completely relevant here. As the human in the loop is part of the issue. Not just definitional correctness.

I don't see any issue with the sweets either. Then again, I brought jack knives to school as a little boy, because little boys love jack knives. No Columbine threat... ;-)

  • $\begingroup$ A bottle of champagne has no intrinsic value, it is just a token in a competition. When I was a schoolkid, my English teacher awarded red disks, cut out of paper, for participation and good answers. We counted them after the end of each lesson, then tallied at the end of each week. The tally was visible to everyone, so all kids could see who were the hardworking ones, and who was slacking off. But if you have just one kid, rewarding with tokens does not work because there is no competition, and rewarding with candies moves the focus from learning to candies, turning kids into circus puppies. $\endgroup$
    – Rusty Core
    Commented Sep 25, 2020 at 17:34

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