Rewards and Motivation: Keeping the Joy in Learning

Rewards and MotivationOne strong benefit to homeschooling is that we can bring joy to learning. We have the ability to engage the kids with activities, experiments, projects, books, play, field trips, and more. Homeschooling allows us to keep learning and education both creative and challenging.  And hopefully, we can help the kids find what they love doing, which is the very best reward of all!!

There have been a number of famous studies about intrinsic motivation — motivation that comes from the activity itself rather than from rewards.

What these studies have found is that rewards can make something less interesting and less engaging. And, rewards can even decrease someone’s ability to perform.

Here are a few studies that show the effect of rewards on kids:

1) Some third graders were told they would get a toy for working on some “games” (actually IQ tests). Those who expected toys didn’t do nearly as well as those who didn’t expect anything.

2) In 1973, physiologists from Stanford and the University of Michigan ran an experiment with children who loved drawing.  They asked the children to draw for six minutes.  Some were told that they would be rewarded for drawing, others were not.  The children drew; some were rewarded, while the others weren’t. Over the coming weeks, the researchers observed how often the children chose to draw of their own free will when no reward was given.  Those who hadn’t been rewarded spent about twice as much time drawing as those who had.

3) Here’s another study: A series of nearly identical faces were flashed across the screen. Seventy-two nine year old boys were asked to tell the two faces apart. Some of the boys were paid when they got the right answer; the others were simply told whether they were right or not. The surprising findings? Those that were paid made many more mistakes. That study was in 1961.

There have been numerous studies since then that also shown this trend to be the case.

The use of rewards actually increases anxiety over the task at hand. The ability to do higher-order thinking or create more complex relationships is hindered when the brain is stressed (for whatever reason).

Also, the reward system sets up an implied certainty — either success or failure. Since the learner wants to reduce the certainty of failure he/she will often choose tasks which they know they will be successful (rather than striving towards more challenging work). Often a learner will do exactly what is necessary to get the reward (the A on the test, the money), but nothing more. Thus, rewards actually discourage risk taking and creative thinking. People are less likely to challenge themselves.

What can you do instead of offering rewards?

  • Provide a sense of control and choice.
  • Keep learning engaging and support a sense of curiosity and fascination in the subject at hand.
  • Allow for self-assessment
  • Share success stories about others who have surmounted obstacles to succeed.
  • Work together with children to create learning goals.
  • Have positive rituals.
  • Provide lots of opportunities for creativity.
  • Allow for student control and empowerment in their learning.
  • have good discussions – think and talk about the tasks at hand
  • Try not to give praise (even if it’s a positive judgement, it’s still a judgement) instead increase your support, encouragement and affirmation (“you’re on the right track” or “give it your best effort”).
  • Encourage the learner to take risks and tackle challenging tasks.
  • Model problem solving (balance the checkbook in front of the kids, mentally add up the groceries as you walk through the store, calculate (aloud) how much you save in that 20% off sale)
  • Be enthusiastic – the more excited you are about learning, the more motivated your kids will be.
  • Explain why you love or are passionate about your job/hobby… finding new recipes, keeping up with a sports team, reading the latest best-seller. Explain how learning never ends!
  • Model the love of learning (read and write in front of the kids and share your enthusiasm… “Hey, listen to this!” type moments)
  • Instill positive belief in what they’re doing.
  • Give learners more choices (Allow them to pick from a list of ten problems, issues or topics. Choose this or that topic.)
  • Provide time for kids to talk about what’s important to them.
  • Make sure you have an emotionally-safe environment where it’s okay to make mistakes, ask questions and offer contributions.

Remember as educators, parents, and important people in our children’s lives we strive not to control, coerce, manage, or manipulate.  We want our kids to feel a sense of value in their work. We want them to feel excited, curious and compelled to know more.

In what ways have you brought joy and engagement to your homeschooling lately?

Here are some other posts that might bring you some encouragement today:

Homeschool Encouragement Posts

Homeschool Encouragment


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Happy Homeschooling! ~Liesl

2 Responses

  1. Kajal says:

    Hi Liesl, this is really great blogpost. I needed this inspiration specially with all that I have going right now.

    Keep writing.

    Thank you

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