Attendance Incentives and Contests

Incentives and contests can be effective when part of a larger school or district effort to understand and address barriers to showing up for school every day.

Keep in mind, the goal is not just to award perfect attendance for a semester or the school year, since the children who struggle the most will soon be left out. And perfect attendance recognition could encourage students to show up when they are too sick to be in school, which is even more problematic now given Covid.

A few guidelines for developing incentives:

  • Think through the behaviors you are seeking to cultivate or change and ensure incentives are designed to do so. Read this blog post.
  • Consider awards for shorter periods of time so that children and families can feel successful.
  • Reward “behavior,” not people.
  • Include the learner in choosing possible rewards so they can be rewarding to the students.
  • Create incentives for families, not just kids, especially in elementary school and preschool.
  • Offer incentives, e.g., gas cards, grocery cards, food baskets, that help to address common barriers to getting to school.
  • Build in recognition for teachers and staff who successfully motivate students to show up and engage families.

Incentives also don’t need to be costly. Consider simple things—recognition through certificates or assemblies, extra recess time, being allowed to wear street clothes vs. a uniform, lunch with your favorite school staff person, even dancing in the hallways.

When working with high school students, provide a certificate or letter demonstrating they have a habit of good attendance, which can be used when applying for jobs. Businesses can donate gift certificates or movie tickets.

Local Celebrities and Sports Teams

Local celebrities and sports stars — whether professional athletes or college standouts — can be great role models for promoting better attendance.

One of the easiest ways to recognize attendance is greeting students and families when they arrive every morning. Teachers, caregivers, parents and other community partners can also serve as greeters, helping to create a warm, friendly and caring atmosphere to start the day.


Contests can be fun activities that encourage attendance and student engagement for students at all grade levels. Use community events to celebrate winners to build awareness as well as engage families.

Sponsor a poster contest: Let students of all ages convey the importance of attendance.

Sponsor a video contest: Let your students, especially those in middle and high school, create videos or PSAs that the community can use during attendance month and beyond.