Motivation: Helping children find their why

He has the potential to do so much more…

She daydreams all the time and never focuses on the lesson.

He doesn’t care and it shows in his work.

How do you motivate an unmotivated child?

In truth, every child is motivated toward something.  It just doesn’t always line up with what the adults in their life want them to be motivated toward.  How can that be turned around?

I believe that the key to motivating a child is to help them find their why.

It’s hard to be excited about learning to read if you don’t see the advantage of it. But what if you know that being able to read means you will open a world of stories and fantasy? What if you learn it will challenge your imagination and creativity? What if you learn it will expand your world and take you places you may never be able to visit otherwise?

It’s hard to get excited about learning math if you don’t see the point of it.  But what if you learn to see it as a puzzle to be solved?  What if you see it as exercise for the brain?  What if you learn that it will help you make money, count money, budget money and buy things?

I don’t know what the why is that will hook your particular child with any given activity. But I think we need to at least help children see the reason behind learning and develop their why.  We need to present learning as exciting, challenging, mind opening and life changing.  Instead it is often presented it as something a student just has to get through to pass a test and make it to the next grade so they can eventually graduate and do what they really want to do.  That doesn’t motivate me… does it you?

What is your why?

Maybe we ultimately need to ask ourselves what the why is behind the work that we do.  If our why is to share the thrill of learning and becoming the best that we can be every day, then we need to ask ourselves if we are translating that enthusiasm and excitement into the lessons that we teach and the life that we model. Enthusiasm is contagious.

Listen to what Marva Collins, renowned teacher who is quoted in the book Mindset said to an unmotivated second grader in her class on the first day of school, “Come on, peach,” she said to him, cupping his face in her hands, “we have work to do.  You can’t just sit in a seat and grow smart… I promise, you are going to do, and you are going to produce.  I am not going to let you fail.”

There are lots of strategies that can be put into place to motivate a child.  We can use stickers and candy and treasure boxes of toys.  But in the long run these things lose appeal and research actually shows that they have an adverse effect on the desire to learn and grow.  Instead what if it is possible to nurture a growth mindset that will encourage kids to become life long learners ?  What if the answer is to truly see students as successful, enthusiastic learners and hold that space for them as they grow into it?

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