Happy new year! Welcome to our January newsletter! As always, we provide an overview of what is happening within our childcare community. This month we will focus on fostering motivation for young children.
Topic of the month - Fostering intrinsic motivation for young children
New year always calls for new resolutions but the motivation to keep at it and stick to them to produce a change in one’s life isn’t always so easy or straightforward. Much more so for young children who are still developing self-regulation skills. As children start to learn their way through the world, the urge to learn and their motivation is fundamental to how they progress on their learning journey, their level of mastery, achievement and even the quality of life they may lead.
Figuring out young children’s sources for motivation early on can help parents and early childhood educators know best how to nurture their children and provide them with rewarding life experiences that fuels not just their education but inspires lifelong love for learning.
Motivation in Infants and Toddlers
As soon as they are born, infants are already fueled by motivation to learn about the world. Through suckling a pacifier, they learn how to best position it to soothe themselves and know when their mouth isn’t in full control of the pacifier. This type of motivation called mastery helps infants and toddlers learn faster and be in control of the objects or their environment.
As infants and young children learn using mastery motivation, research also shows that mothers and caregivers who are not quick to interfere or respond, allowing the child to discover and explore on their own, encourage these children to become more competent and have a stronger drive to learn using mastery motivation. Meanwhile, parents and caregivers who lead children while playing, having a hand in every object a child plays with can lessen a child’s need for self-discovery and motivation.
When it comes to motivating children, there are two types of motivation, depending on where the reinforcement comes from–external or internal.
Extrinsic motivation refers to external rewards a child receives upon completing a task or activity. This may come in the form of stars, praise, words of encouragement, clapping, trophies, medals, food, or activity. Extrinsic motivation, used moderately, can boost a child’s self-confidence and self-efficacy which in turn translates to better self-esteem. It gives a child immediate feedback on his behaviour.
As children are also still developing in terms of abstract thinking and rely mostly on their parents and primary caregivers like their ECE teachers for cues on how they are doing, extrinsic motivation can give them a concrete sense of their development and achievement. It can be a milestone mark for them to see how far they’ve come along on their development and learning journey.
Meanwhile, intrinsic motivation all stems from within a child. The desire to accomplish a goal comes from themselves, to satisfy their curiosity, be in control of their environment or achieve autonomy and independence. Intrinsic motivation, when harnessed properly, can be a potent fuel that gives a child the drive to accomplish great and good things in their life. With intrinsic motivation at play, simply doing the task is already a reward in itself.
As infants learn about their environment, mastery motivation pushes them to gain control over their senses, objects in their reach and their environment to some extent. Infants and young children see gaining control or achieving their desired outcome is enough motivation for them to keep on trying to learn how to manipulate an object and get their desired result.
How to Harness Intrinsic Motivation
Appropriate development-oriented toys and activities
While an infant may worry about their pacifier, a toddler will find it more stimulating and challenging to tackle a ring set that needs to be arranged sequentially to fit a cone or another object. Meanwhile, a preschooler may find fitting shapes into a framework boring but following instructions of a simple recipe will certainly be more exciting and enjoyable to learn.
Giving children the opportunity to learn and progress to age- and skill-appropriate activities allows them to challenge themselves and push them to not only learn but master to become more self-autonomous, effective, and independent.
Calibrated level of involvement and support
While parents may feel the need to always be there for their children, especially infants who are more prone to cry to react to any kind of new stimuli introduced to them, stepping back and letting infants discover and explore on their own can be so empowering to their intrinsic motivation to learn.
As children grow, parents and caregivers ought to know when to step in to provide support and when to step back and let children come up with their own solutions to the problem. Letting children mull on their solutions, figure out how things work, and search in their environment for ideas can hone them into solution-seeking individuals who strive to overcome challenges and obstacles in their way.
Parents and caregivers are encouraged to provide more support and involvement during two phases: while the activity or task is being done and after a failure. During an activity a child with a short attention span can be redirected back to the task at hand by asking questions about what they’re currently doing. A parent or educator can also help them think in the right direction to solve a problem.
While getting success after accomplishing a hard task should definitely be praised, it’s more important for a parent or educator to provide support after a child fails to complete a task. Rewarding their effort and not the result can give a child the will to try again, restore their confidence, and renew their interest in the failed task. Having the parent or educator step back in at this crucial time reinforces the child’s intrinsic motivation to master something they haven’t mastered yet. It also dissipates the frustration and shame a child may feel for failing.
Scaffolding is a type of support parents, early childhood educators and other caregivers can give to a child while doing a task or activity. Using scaffolding, an adult ensures the child never loses interest in an activity. They also make sure that the activity can be broken down into steps or phases which can be easily solved by a child. If they are stumped by a step, the adult can pose questions to allow the child to explore possible solutions and discover the right one on their own. This encourages the child to develop their self-regulation, problem-solving, and intrinsic motivation.
How to Apply a Reward System Fostering Intrinsic Motivation
One motivation isn’t necessarily better than the other. It’s just that intrinsic motivation can be more long-lasting and provide a steadfast source of motivation for children all throughout their life. It can make them more resilient and resourceful even and especially after failures in life. That is why a reward system from their early childhood is a great opportunity to instil intrinsic motivation early on.
This is not to say do away with extrinsic rewards like awards, stickers or stars but to also strengthen children’s motivation from the inside with non-material rewards. If there’s anything great about working and molding young children’s motivation, they already come equipped with a strong sense of mastery motivation.
Employ an intrinsic motivation reward system by doing these 3 things:
1. Give an appropriate level of support while a task or activity is being done.
Engaged children do not need that much encouragement anymore. Instead, focus on children who seem disinterested in the activity (it might be that the task is way above their skill level or they missed a step or their mind is elsewhere). Ensure the activity is a good fit for the children’s skill level while also providing enough challenge for them to overcome.
2. Praise the effort and not the result.
Letting a child know that trial-and-error is a key strategy to solve most things, whether it be in school or in life. Acknowledging a child’s effort in solving a problem task or activity gives them a signal that they’re on the right path. It also helps build their confidence and understanding about what matters is their persistence and perseverance in trying, and not just about the result.
3. Observe when a task or activity is already above a child’s skill level.
Understand that some children learn faster than others and they may need a more challenging task to stimulate and motivate them. Being observant of your children’s levels can help in giving continuous mentally stimulating activities that never dampen their enthusiasm.
Parents and early childhood educators have a big role to play in harnessing a child’s motivation. And how you do this affects the child not just for a few years but for life. As a new year unfolds, turn resolution into resolve and motivation into a strong, immutable driving force that empowers and inspires children to become lifelong learners.
0-12 month development
The search for what causes SIDS
Author: Amanda Ruggeri
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) remains to be the leading cause of death for babies, claiming about a 100 lives per year in Australia.While Carmel Harrington, a SIDS researcher, has found a biomarker in infants who died from SIDS, scientists have continuously worked to find out the real cause for SIDS.
Read on and find out how to best protect your infant while sleeping and prevent SIDS here.
1-2 year development
Why parents are baffled by eco choices
Author: Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Trying to parent sustainably with the environment and future of a child in mind can lead parents into a rabbithole fraught with mind-boggling eco-choices. But when examined closely these choices still aren’t as sustainable as one might think. Taking one sustainable step after another may also mean having a parent redouble their efforts and getting used to a new way of life.
From secondhand nappies to baking cookies, find out how one mother started her experiment on sustainable parenting here.
2-3 year development
Misleading food labels contribute to babies and toddlers eating too much sugar. 3 things parents can do
Authors: Jennifer McCann and Miaobing (Jazzmin) Zheng, Deakin University
According to an Australian National Nutrition Survey, 2-3 year olds have been consuming about 8 teaspoons of sugar a day due to the readily available ultra-processed foods. Consumption of these high sugar foods such as bakery goods, sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, breakfast cereals and even toddler milk contribute to a child’s increased daily sugar intake.
As a parent, find out ways on how you can safeguard your child against excessive sugar intake in this article.
3-4 year development
How kids can learn to master risk
Author: David Robson
Children are the most important but vulnerable beings who only seek more and more independence as they grow. While parents and caregivers can watch over them, no one else can make decisions for them all the time. Teaching children how to assess risks and decide for themselves which one will lead them to safety. At each developmental stage, a child learns a different way. Young ones do this by vicariously learning from their parents and other adults around.
Learn more how you can teach your child to master risk here.
4-5 year development
The 5-minute daily playtime ritual that can get your kids to listen better
Authors: Becky Harlan & Summer Thomad
Want your child to listen better and follow your instructions better? Paediatric psychologist Roger Harrison says all it takes is a 5-minute child-led play. By playing along with your child one-on-one and having them lead how the play goes, the child gets to receive positive attention and builds attachment to the parent or adult present with them.
Read more about how a quick 5-minute child-led play can make your kids listen better here.
Drink of Density
Drink to the new year with this delicious density experiment using different juices to show how density affects liquids segmentation and dispersion. Let children choose their favourite juice drinks and see which one floats to the top.
Start the year with this sensory activity will delight kids of all ages as they explore colours and feed their sensory curiosity. From measuring the amount of rice and colour to mixing basic colours to achieve secondary or tertiary colours, children will certainly love creating their own sensory material.
Make children wonder with delight as they see frankenworms (more like gummy bears) dance, and wiggle in a glass full of fizzy water. There might be a 15-minute wait before the worms come to life so take note of the wait time. Better yet, maybe have a prepared glass and another one they prepare themselves so they can anticipate the same effect in their glass.
Start the new year with a magical STEM experiment using mylar tinsel from your Christmas decor and a PVC pipe rubbed against your hair. Through a harmless static electricity produced from the friction, amaze little children with levitating orbs.