• Motivating Learning in Young Children

    Young children learn from everything they do. They are naturally curious; they want to explore and discover. If their explorations bring pleasure or success, they will want to learn more. During these early years, children form attitudes about learning that will last a lifetime. Children who receive the right sort of support and encouragement during these years will be creative, adventurous learners throughout their lives. Children who do not receive this sort of support and interaction are likely to have a much different attitude about learning later in life.

    A number of behavioral characteristics are indicators of high motivation. Here are some of the important factors and some ways to help your child develop these characteristics.

    Persistence is the ability to stay with a task for a reasonably long period of time. While very young children cannot concentrate on one activity for an hour, there are still measurable differences in the length of time that young children will engage in an activity.  A highly motivated child will stay involved for a long period of time, whereas an unmotivated child will give up very easily when not instantly successful. Children learn persistence when they are successful at a challenging task. The art in building persistence is in offering a task that is just challenging enough, but not overwhelming.

    Choice of challenge is another characteristic of motivation. Children who experience success in meeting one challenge will become motivated, welcoming another. These motivated learners will choose an activity that is slightly difficult for them, but provides an appropriate challenge. When they successfully complete such a task, children gain a high level of satisfaction. Unmotivated children (those who have not experienced early success) will pick something that is very easy and ensures instant success. With such easy success, children feel only a very low level of satisfaction, because they know that the task offered little challenge. The challenge for parents is helping their child find an appropriate challenge while still allowing the choice to be the child's.

    The amount of dependency on adults is another indicator of motivation. Children with strong intrinsic motivation do not need an adult constantly watching and helping with activities.  Children who have a lower level of motivation or are extrinsically motivated need constant attention from adults and cannot function independently. Since independence is an important aspect of quality learning, this dependence on adults will greatly limit children's ability to succeed in school. Parents can increase the likelihood of their child's building independent motivation by providing toys and activities that play to the child's natural creativity and curiosity. Often, these are the simplest, most basic playthings: blocks, little plastic "people," a toy car or two, and crayons and paper. These things encourage children to invent their own worlds rather than depending on an adult to entertain them.

    The last indicator of motivational level is emotion.  Children who are clearly motivated will have a positive display of emotion. They are satisfied with their work and show more enjoyment in the activity.  Children without appropriate motivation will appear quiet, sullen and bored. They will not take any apparent pleasure in their activity and will often complain. As a parent, you are probably the best judge of your child's moods. That cranky, whiny voice is usually a good indicator that a child doesn't feel very good about herself and needs a new adventure of some sort.