A couple of weeks ago, when the Haftorah included shirat Devorah (the victory ballad composed by the prophetess Deborah, from Judges 5), I asked my elementary school-aged children whether they had been required to memorize it in school. Turns out, this had not been asked of them. I decided to put the challenge to them, offering a financial incentive for memorizing the first 5 sentences. The approach worked; they studied it, and helped each other study it, and they succeeded.
I don't feel bad about offering money for learning; this is over and above their school obligations. I offered it again this week, to memorize the six sentences of Parshas Shekalim.
But this did leave me with a few questions:
1. I value my children's chesed higher than their intellectual achievements; should I offer financial incentives for shoveling someone's driveway, or volunteering with an organization? Or should that be considered 'basic' and not something which warrants special reward?
2. What steps should I take to ensure that the mitzvah retains its inherent value in their eyes, separate from the financial reward?
3. How do I ensure that they prioritize properly, so that mitzvos without financial reward (setting the table, being polite, davening properly) don't get shunted aside in pursuit of cash?
[Side note: From what I understand, recent neurological research shows that pre-teen children memorize better than they reason, and pedagogy which tends to memorization will be better than critical analysis at this age. Of course, they need to learn critical thinking skills, too, but this is my basis for emphasizing memorization.]