Excitement for and love of learning is what all parents and teachers want for their students. As a teacher I find nothing more exhilarating than having my students’ eyes twinkle with excitement or laugh with delight during a lesson.
Because children are innately curious, they are usually eager to embark on a learning challenge if they feel a sense of safety and that they can take risks. If students know it is safe to try, they have a greater expectation that they will succeed. There is actually a neurochemical released in the brain associated with fear that will inhibit learning. Stressful and challenging activities can be embraced by students as long as they know it is safe to try.
Another component to motivating learning is to have the task or challenge relevant, according to Kathleen Cushman, author of “Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery.” Her findings from years of interviewing students were that students need to feel that the learning task matters and has a value. Her group of teachers, students and scientists developed eight conditions that they felt were vital for learning. The first is for the student to feel that he is okay and the second is for the learning to matter. Beyond the first two the list expands to requiring the activity to be active as well as having to use the skill or knowledge being acquired. The students need to feel that they are being stretched. They also feel the importance of having a coach and mentor. Finally, they need to be able to reflect and think back on what was learned and be afforded the time and opportunity to plan ahead to what will come next.
How to motivate your child
There are a lot of great resources for teachers as well as parents ,too. All parents want their children to thrive in school and become lifelong learners. The parents’ role in their children’s academic success often comes in the form of helping their children with homework and school projects. After school is out for the day, children are often busy with sports and after-school activities and homework comes on the heels of a full day. Working parents are also tired after their full days and everyone wishes they could just kick back and enjoy each other. Motivation comes into play even more profoundly at this time. Children are motivated to play video games even after a long day. The reason children are drawn to video gaming is because there is no one to judge a failed attempt. They can fail and fail again during each subsequent attempt, all the while thinking that they can and will succeed. They like choosing activities that are challenging, never needing to be prodded, having keen concentration while on task and persevering for hours.
To harness this into ways to motivate children in school, parents can learn how to mentor their children in seven easy steps. The Parent Institute (parent-institute.com) has put out a guide called “7 Proven Ways to Motivate Children to Do Better in School.” The Parent Institute has many other guides as well. The guide for motivation is geared for middle school but the steps are true for all ages, and the younger the child is the easier it is to establish habits for learning. There are also six 5-minute video case studies that parents and children can watch in which other students describe the process by which they were able to master a subject at whatkidscando.org.
As parents and teachers we need to learn what it means to be a coach and facilitator to our children. We need to have meaningful conversations where we are active listeners to what they feel is relevant. We need to create an environment where our children feel safe during the trial and error process while having high expectations that they will eventually succeed. If our children can learn in this type of environment, they will not only be motivated to learn, they will become lifelong learners.