I use penny boards as a visual reward system for students who need quick positive feedback on their tasks. Penny boards are fast and inexpensive to make at home. All you need are the following to learn how to make a penny board.
It’s easy to learn how to make a penny board. And it’s easy to use in the classroom or in other settings like tutoring. Penny boards work well for students with special needs like Autism, Down Syndrome, and ADHD.
- Pennies (3, 5, 10, 20, or however many pennies your student will be working up to for their bigger reward.
(If you’re not a fan of reading instructions, you can watch the video instead)
1. Find cardboard that is blank on both sides that is a good size to hold in your hand. It doesn’t need to be exact. I used a panel from a shipping box I had lying around. Nothing fancy.
2. Cut your pieces of Velcro. You can use pre-cut Velcro dots if you like instead but I like buying a big roll because it is less expensive overall.
3. Add one side of the Velcro to your cardboard, leaving room for a title at the top. Make sure to pick either the hard side or the soft side, but don’t mix it.
4. Add the other side of the Velcro to the pennies. You might want to keep your pennies lined up nicely if it will bother your kids if they aren’t lined up perfectly.
5. Attach your pennies to the board with the Velcro.
6. Label your penny board.with your markers. I like using fun fonts. You could also print out a label and use a glue stick to attach a colorful label.
Using Your Penny Board
When you introduce your penny board, it’s important to remember that the pennies won’t be motivating in and of themselves to start with. When I introduce the penny board, I pair each penny with a small food reward like a skittle, M&M, or piece of cookie. As we continue with the penny board, I gradually phase out the food rewards. Pairing the penny with the food over time eventually makes the pennies on the board motivating for the kiddo. Make sure to continue to use verbal praise and tell the student what they did right.
Once they reach their penny goal, immediately give them the the reward they were working for. One of my students likes to work for “squishy toys.” Another kiddo works to play with Lego blocks. The penny boards really help them understand that they are working towards getting to do something they want. They work hard for me using the penny board and they always find their efforts pay off.
A Word of Caution
Avoid taking pennies away that students already earned. It feels unfair to them to loose what they already earned. Instead, be patient and remind your student what they are working to earn.
While it can be difficult to resist the urge to punish negative behaviors in this way, you’ll find there are unintended consequences for you. What happens when they have no pennies left? Will they go to negative pennies and have to pay back debt? Eventually you will have to find a different way to correct behavior when you run out of pennies. Be fair to your student and yourself. Don’t jeopardize the relationship you are building together by taking away pennies. Over time, you’ll likely find it’s just not worth it.
Let me know in the comments if you liked learning how to make your own penny board. If you make one, take a picture and share it on Instagram and tag us! We’d love to see it.