Motivation can be defined as a state that mobilizes, directs, and maintains behavior (Woolfolk, 2010). It guides the interest of students towards new topics or ways of applying the knowledge already acquired.
During learning, motivation is the guiding arrow towards the acquisition of new knowledge (Rodríguez, 2006). In addition, it also helps to consolidate or complete the knowledge already acquired.
White-McNulty, Patrikakou, and Weissberg (2005) state that motivated students:
- Demonstrate a commitment to learning. This is crucial for their academic, social, and emotional development.
- Find schoolwork interesting and important, immerse themselves in their studies, and invest their energy in reaching their goals.
- Look for challenges and see obstacles as opportunities to grow.
- Show a positive attitude towards learning and the environments intended for it, such as school.
All of the above justifies the need to motivate children to learn and to think of strategies to achieve it. Indeed, motivated children are important not only in order for them to learning but also for their own benefit.
Motivation is the magic that makes children experience a genuine desire to learn. In other words, they don’t feel it as something that’s been imposed onto them. In this article, we present ten strategies for motivating children to learn.
Strategies to motivate children to learn
Before applying one or more of the following strategies, consider first if there’s something that’s discouraging the child from learning.
Secondly, you should identify any difficulties. Doing so will allow you to understand both the situation and the child, placing you in a privileged position to find solutions to any problems.
1. Follow the five “C’s”
For Adriana Ornellas (as cited in Sáez, 2020), the key to motivating children to learn is to carry out learning activities that include the five “C’s”:
- Context. Help them connect learning with previous experiences and knowledge, so they can relate the knowledge they acquire with their daily reality. It’s best to use concrete proposals with immediate application. For example, guessing how much things they’re going to buy are going to cost is a better option than giving them problems without any context.
- Creativity. Encourage creative resolution of real and meaningful problems. This process is motivating because it shows children the applicability of what they learn and its usefulness in solving problems.
- Curiosity. Ignite or awaken children’s interest in what they’re learning. This factor is an excellent mobilizer for the search for knowledge and learning in them. That’s because their interests drive them to seek answers.
- Control. Give children the opportunity to influence what they’re learning and to choose how they do it. With this, you help them to develop their autonomy and reinforce their ability to manage their own learning processes.
- Collaboration. Generate a spirit of cooperation, and interaction. In fact, teamwork makes children feel accompanied and supported in the process of learning.
2. Set small, concrete goals
To motivate children to learn, it’s necessary to set specific and not too ambitious objectives. For instance, try to get them to draw up a little mental plan that they feel able to carry out; otherwise, they may become discouraged. This strategy will fuel their motivation with a sense of accomplishment when they reach their goals.
To set goals or objectives, it’s a good idea to take into account their moods and attitudes. In fact, in many cases, you’ll have to intervene in these dimensions before focusing on fostering motivation for learning.
3. Adapt to each child
Each child has their own interests, dreams, needs, and learning styles. Bearing this in mind is important if you want to motivate them.
If you know what they like, what they expect, and how they learn, you can propose activities that connect with their ways of being.
4. Encourage playful exploration
Playing is a fantastic activity. Not only does it allow the little ones to have fun and immerse themselves in what they’re doing, but they also tend to learn as an end product. In fact, in childhood, where almost everything is yet to be discovered, it’s difficult to find a game in which children don’t learn.
You can gain a lot here if you know the characteristics of each child. Are they calm, or are they unable to sit still? Are they persevering or do they tend not to ever finish what they start? The answers to these questions will tell you which games to suggest.
In this sense, we adults can often be a little lazy and try to promote games that are in tune with our own moods or energy levels, when we want children to play.
5. Challenge the children
To motivate children to learn, you can use challenge as a strategy. Indeed, challenging them with an activity with which they can be successful will be particularly useful.
You should present challenges that they can achieve alone, or with a little help. That’s because nothing will be achieved if they have to face emotions such as frustration.
Recognizing the limitations of each child, and their strengths and weaknesses, will help you to be smarter in the challenges you suggest.
6. Give control to children
Children are more motivated when they can exercise some degree of control over the activity they’re doing. Therefore, it’s good to give them the idea that knowledge can be acquired in many ways.
You can offer them the opportunity to think and create new ways to solve a problem. Make them feel that they can decide about their learning and that they’re being listened to. This is essential for them to continue working with the idea that they’re at the center of that process in which they’re immersed.
7. Reinforce the process, rather than the result
Motivating children to learn can make them guide their behavior from performance and not from learning. However, be careful, because if you don’t do it properly, you might end up in a situation of intrinsic motivation.
The reinforcers that work best are those that bring their own feeling of satisfaction. You might say, “Like you, I’m really pleased with what you’ve done and the decisions you’ve made and how you’ve grown along the way ” or ” I ‘m really proud of your successes, but I’m even prouder of your failures, because you’ve really learned from them, so tomorrow you’ll be able to help your friends”.
Grades often don’t reflect what a child has learned, so they need to be praised for the process of learning. In this way, they recognize that what’s really important is what they do, and the effort they make, not so much their results.
As you’ve seen, you can easily reinforce them by “using good strategies on a project, staying focused, sticking with a project when obstacles arise, planning meditatively, paying attention to detail ” (Willingham, 2005).
8. Create a study plan
To motivate children to learn, it’s helpful to create a study plan. With this, they’ll be able to anticipate what they have left to do, in addition to evaluating what they’ve already done.
The plan acts as a compass. Therefore, children don’t have to spend any energy deciding what to study in any one week because it’s already laid out in the plan.
However, within this plan, breaks are important. That’s because it’s easy for children to become tired and overwhelmed. If this happens, they’ll feel discouraged by the same agent that previously motivated them.
In this sense, planning helps. It acts as a compass to let you know where you are, but also to avoid the children entering a dangerous zone of over-exertion. It’s always best to negotiate with children so that they can feel that they also have some control over their situation. In this way, you’ll also be helping them on their way to independence.
9. Value learning
Children participate in learning more actively when they understand what they’re being taught for, or why it’s important for them to learn a certain lesson. Therefore, you should constantly look for the opportunity to point out the usefulness of what they’re learning and invite them to think of other ways to use it in everyday life. This will motivate children because they’ll discover that learning is something valuable and useful in life.
Motivating is an art. It requires subtlety, but also decision, and intelligence but also enthusiasm. In addition, to motivate children, you have to accompany them along the path for a while or show yourself as available to help them. Indeed, they’ll always go further with you alongside them.