Intrinsic Motivation Characteristics to Foster for Strong Learning Developments into Later Years

Young children are born with an innate curiosity to learn about their world. This intrinsically instigate learning is often called, 'Mastery Motivation'. Patterns of motivation are established at an early age. The early childhood years are crucial for building robust intrinsic motivational orientations which will last a lifetime. By the time many children reach school ages, much of their motivation have been lost or replaced with extrinsically motivated learning strategies and habits. Preschools and elementary schools have been critically contributing to such negative motivational patterns in children. This can be changed by recognizing certain behaviors during early childhood years, from 3-6 years old.


Important Factors to Support Positive Motivational Behaviors


A number of behavioral characteristics are indicators of high motivation to help children develop these motivational characteristics:


Persistence: ability to stay with a task for a reasonably long period of time. While very young children cannot concentrate on one activity for an hour, there are still measurable differences in the length of time that young children will engage in an activity. Highly motivated children will stay involved for a long period of time, whereas unmotivated children will give up very easily when not instantly successful. Children learn persistence when they are successful at a challenging task. The art in building persistence is offering hands-on challenging, but not overwhelming tasks.


Choice of Challenge: children who experience through meeting challenges will become motivated, welcoming another to build further resilience. These motivated learners will choose activities that are slightly difficult for them, but provide age-appropriate challenges. When they successfully complete such tasks, children gain a high level of satisfaction. Unmotivated children (those who have not experienced early successes will pick something that are very easy and ensure instant successes. With such easy successes, children feel only a very low-level of satisfactions because they know that the tasks offered little challenges. The challenges for parents are helping their children find age-appropriate hands-on task challenges while still allowing choices within limits (also know as freedom of choices).


Dependency on Adults: children with strong intrinsic motivation do not need adults constantly watching and helping with activities. Children who have a lower-level of motivation or are extrinsically motivated need constant attention from adults and cannot independently function. Since Mastery of Independence is an important aspect of quality learning in Montessori education, dependence on adults significantly limit concentration and hinder children's ability to thrive in prepared classroom environments as inevitable learning patterns or outcomes. Parents can increase the likelihood of their children's building independent motivation by providing purposeful materials and activity engagements that develop children's natural creativity and curiosity in learning developments. Materials may include encouragement for children to innately invent their own thought process or creative hands-on works, rather than depending on an adult to show or tell them what to do.


Emotion: children who are clearly motivated will have a positive display of emotion. They are satisfied with their work and show more enjoyment in the activity. Children without appropriate motivation will appear quiet, sullen, regress, and bored. They will not take any apparent innate desire in their hands-on activities and frequently complain. Parents become the best role model to moderate children's moods. The cranky, whiny voices are usually good indicators that children do not feel very confident about themselves and need to transition into new activities, or alternative options in learning challenges.


Childcare and school institutions can be instrumental in the strengthening children's Mastery of Motivation during early childhood years. Parents and educators can begin to team-up in finding ways to foster strong motivational support for children to further carry positive intrinsic behaviors into later years of learning developments.