Happy new year to everyone! As I sit in my son’s study writing this blog, I cannot help but reflect on how thankful I am to have this opportunity to visit my children during this winter break. Furthermore, the theme of the conversations we have been having seems to centre around child rearing and his childhood experience, probably brought on by his impending parenthood in a few month’s time. He seems to have an insatiable thirst and questions around creating conditions so children can learn naturally. Obviously, his mother does not need encouragement to talk about something that is so close to her heart as learning has always been a life-long passion. Serendipitously, this was also where the parent group and I left off as we said good bye on the last day of school in 2012. Perhaps serendipitous is the wrong word, after all, we are an institution of learning, and if we don’t talk about learning, then why are we here and for what purpose do we gather?
On every last Friday morning of the month the KGMS parents host a coffee chat and invite different speakers to facilitate discussions on topics of interest. Since September, topics discussed have included anxiety, transitions, homework, and motivation. The last topic was mine to facilitate on the last day of school in December. The group of die-hards actually came ready to learn, and we explored the idea of motivation. It is commonly accepted, both among parents and educators, that we need to motivate children, and somehow it is our job to get them to learn, hence the need to devote the morning’s hour long discussion on the topic. However, as the morning progressed and as we started to delve into labeling our daily practices, both at home and at school, we cannot help but notice that much of our efforts are spent on input, doing things to externally ‘’entice’’ children to learn what we want them to learn. Most of us give rewards, praises, razzle dazzle them with seemingly novelty approaches – anything to get them to learn what we put in front of them. It didn’t take long into the morning for us to take pause, stop ourselves on our tracks, and question ourselves along the following lines:
· Why do we need to do things to children to motivate them? Is curiosity not innate?
· Do children or adults ever have to be externally motivated to learn something that they want to learn?
· Are praise and rewards necessary for motivation? What does research have to say about their effects on children?
· How do we motivate learners to persevere in face of difficult tasks?
The answers to the first two questions seem quite obvious – talk to any mother of a toddler, or teenager for that matter, and you have your answer. The terrible two’s are labeled as such because they get into anything and everything (!), much to the chagrin of all the adults around them. The curiosity that drives these little ones becomes the constant source of frustration as we trail behind them to make sure they explore safely. Fast forward a decade, many parents dread the teenage years because we fear that our adolescents will explore much of the tabooed topics behind our backs, and their curiosity will drive them to do things that are unsafe or that we do not approve of. So, the evidence is all around us that children, from infancy on, do not need motivation to learn, as a matter of fact, it is hard to keep up with their curiosity. So what is the problem? The problem lies in the phrase ‘’what we want them to learn’’. Seems to me we are not quite as successful in harnessing that curiosity in areas where the domain for learning is our agenda rather than their agenda. Therefore, the task in front of us becomes: How do we move ‘’what we want them to learn’’ into their agenda instead of ours? In other words, how do we work with the inner child to so that they see what we put in front of them is important to them, that it is worth persevering when things get difficult? It is clear that we need to shift what we do to motivate children from external to internal – work with the internal processes of innate curiosity, altruistic tendencies, and the inner drive to succeed. How do we support these inner processes so that our children’s internal self talk will continuously validate their self confidence and worth? Research is clear that if we give indiscriminate praise and reward, it will lead to a totally different line of thinking and internal self talk than if we give purposeful recognition to processes.
Needless to say, on that last morning of December before we parted for our vacation, we came to the realization that the questions we have raised deserve more in depth study than our chat mornings allow. Therefore, the parents decided to form a book study club to come together once a month to study ideas and recommendations that current published experts have to offer us. The first book that the parents decided to look into is Diane Gossen’s My Child is a Pleasure. Since Diane is coming back to work further with our parents in February, we thought it might be a good idea to study her book and review the concepts before her session.
The first study session is Wednesday, Jan 16 at 8:30 am at the school. If you are interested, please contact our Maplewood Parent Committee for more information.
Let’s learn together in 2013.