Motivating Children

By Leah Davies, M.Ed.

Young children develop attitudes toward learning from the significant others in their lives. If parents or other adults nurture a child's self-confidence and curiosity, and provide resources that invite exploration, they instill the message that learning is useful and fun. Children, who observe adults being enthusiastic toward education and coping positively with setbacks, will likely follow their adult role models and pursue knowledge as well as persevere when faced with failure.

Through school attendance, children develop beliefs about their abilities and acquire skills to cope with new situations. A teacher's perceptions of how children acquire information and their expectations for their students' academic success can have a profound effect upon children's motivation. Educators need to believe that their students can learn and challenge them to reach their potential.

Low-ability or disadvantaged children and students who have learning or attention disorders must work hardest to succeed. Yet, they often have the least incentive to do so, since high-ability students are the ones who receive the most positive feedback. It is important to note that when children experience many failures, their attitude toward learning often deteriorates. Although younger children are likely to make an effort to succeed, older children may view trying and not succeeding as more negative than making no effort at all.

How can educators foster motivation in children?

  1. Provide a caring, supportive environment where children are respected and feel a sense of belonging.

  2. Believe that every child has the ability to learn.

  3. Involve children in making classroom rules and consequences that are clear and understandable to all.

  4. Emphasize children's strengths; do not dwell on their weaknesses.

  5. Get to know your students' interests, talents, goals, and the way each learns best.

  6. Treat each child fairly; exhibit no favoritism.

  7. Use consistent discipline and maintain an organized, calm classroom that is conducive to student concentration.

  8. Vary your teaching methods and make the lessons interesting and enjoyable. For example, play a game like "Jeopardy" to review a unit or a form of Bingo to learn new words.

  9. Network with other teachers to plan and adapt lessons to meet the students' needs.

  10. Define work in specific, short-term goals that can help children associate effort with success.

  11. Assist students in seeing that failure is not usually due to lack of ability but to ineffective study habits.

  12. Teach children helpful study and time management skills.

  13. Help children understand that it is not always easy to develop proficiency in a subject; it takes time and effort.

  14. Make expectations clear and provide feedback and credit for work well done.

  15. Refrain from offering nonspecific praise for little effort (see past article, Effective Praise).

  16. Never embarrass or ridicule a child.

  17. Assign homework that is specific to the educational needs of the child.

  18. Expect low-performing children to accomplish achievable tasks.

  19. Enhance the status of "doing one's best" and provide group recognition for effort and/or excellence.

  20. Emphasize cooperation rather then competition; support opportunities for students to help one another.

  21. Assist children in dealing with frustrations by helping them discover ways to cope with problems.

  22. Provide the opportunity for all children to lead a classroom activity.

  23. Avoid practices that discourage student initiative. Instead of offering help when none is requested or giving the answer, ask questions that encourage thought and offer suggestions of how to find a solution.

  24. Use tangible rewards sparingly. Keep in mind that they may negatively effect children's pursuit of learning for pure pleasure.

  25. Provide intangible rewards for unusual student effort or success. For example, a child may receive extra computer time, choose a book to be read to the class, assist the librarian, lead a class game, or eat lunch with the teacher.

  26. Remember that many low-achieving students deny the importance of studying and stop working to avoid the shame of having tried and failed.

  27. Understand that when students refuse to begin or complete their work, or copy from another child, they may be doing so to protect their self-image (see past article, Understanding Self-Esteem).

  28. Establish a close working relationship with parents of children who are struggling. Together determine ways to provide a routine, decrease distractions, and help their child acquire good study habits at home (see, Guidelines for Educator-Parent Conferences).

  29. Encourage parents to assist their child in forming healthy habits such as getting enough rest, eating well and exercising so that they will be ready to learn at school (see past article, Overweight Children).

  30. Realize that no teacher is perfect or does everything well. Discover your strengths (see past article, Coping With Stress -- Tips for Educators), learn from your mistakes, and concentrate on doing your best.

Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website []. 2/04

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