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Of course, parents would prefer it if the little ones came home from school excited, did their homework conscientiously, voluntarily and without much effort, and studied for various school exams without grumbling and without needing much coaxing. At the latest, however, when most people remember their own school days, it should become clear – the reality is different. Although some children still enjoy learning different things at first, this feeling diminishes after a while. But what is the actual reason for this? And how can parents support their children in learning for school without interfering too much or too little? And how can children also be taught independence in terms of learning?
Motivating Children To Learn
The Child’s Motivation Decreases – Why?
Learning success usually occurs when children are motivated to learn on their own. If they have to be persuaded to do so, and if they have to be reminded again and again, their reluctance to learn increases. It is then seen as an annoying duty. But why is it that children in the first years of school are often still highly motivated and acquire the school material inquisitively and voluntarily, but this motivation simply decreases after a while? Of course, this question cannot be answered unequivocally; after all, very few children can say for themselves why they no longer feel like learning or why their motivation has waned. From most you will hear: “I don’t enjoy it anymore.” / “It doesn’t interest me anymore.” / “It’s just way too much.” And that is perhaps the root of the problem: In the beginning, the school material still excites the children, they learn things they’ve never heard of and become interested in the new things on their own initiative. Grades and exams are hardly relevant at the beginning or are even not given until the third grade. Children therefore have more time to get excited about things on their own and to discover them in a more playful way than in higher grades. The school system is designed to motivate learning – but the curricula are very strict and the subject matter is so massive that it overwhelms some children. They are then no longer able to get enthusiastic and motivated for one thing, because the next thing is immediately pressing and wants to be learned.
As a result, the natural and innate thirst for knowledge falls by the wayside, or at least decreases significantly, and instead a feeling of frustration remains. This frustration can also be felt physically; everything in the children then resists new learning material. Psychological studies, such as the study “Lernen mit Spaß” (Learning with fun ) by the magazines “scoyo” and “ZEIT LEO” for which a nationwide FACT online survey was conducted, in which 860 children between the ages of 5 and 13 were questioned, support this picture. Almost half of all six-year-old first-graders stated that they still consistently enjoyed learning, while only just under 6% of thirteen-year-olds did. The question that arises from this – as long as the school system does not change drastically (which is not to be expected as long as there is no better alternative) – is: once children have lost the motivation to learn, can they “learn” it again?Also Interesting:
Can Motivation Be Learned?
To anticipate the answer: Motivation is greatest when it comes from within, that is, from within oneself. So somehow acquiring motivation doesn’t work for children any more than it does for us adults. In this sense, motivation cannot really be learned.
If children want to understand learning content from an inner drive, this is called intrinsic motivation. It contrasts with extrinsic motivation, which includes good grades, for example, or rewards from parents for achievements. Experts now agree that intrinsic motivation creates the ideal conditions for learning. People who are enthusiastic about something and show genuine interest instead of just learning something to get an A or a 2 on their report card at the end learn much better, faster and, above all, more sustainably. What you have learned is not immediately gone after the exam, but you retain it much longer and can refer back to it again and again.
Unfortunately, the strict curriculum does not allow teachers to foster intrinsic motivation in students by engaging more with individual students to see who is enthusiastic about what, why, and where what needs to be done to spark that enthusiasm if it is not there right away. Finally, this is where the role of parents comes in: while they can’t reteach or teach motivation to children, they can make sure that intrinsic motivation is more likely to emerge again.
In an older article, we already addressed the topic of homework and here the question of whether this is the task of the parents or of the child – although this question already implied that homework is of course to be done by the children. We were more interested in pointing out that parents can optimize the framework conditions so that doing homework is easier, while the child works independently. If they have questions or can’t manage on their own, they should be helped with a few tips and hints. But it’s not about mom and dad solving the problem at the end of the day, just so the child can score points at school with the result. Because that doesn’t help him at all in the end.
It’s a similar story with motivational tips for learning – it’s not about telling kids that they need to pull themselves together and sit on their butts and that motivation is important. Instead, intrinsic motivation should be fostered by offering the offspring better learning conditions than can sometimes be found at school:
- Nothing is worse than discovering the supposed futility in something. If children realize that learning Latin is pointless, for example, because basically no one still actively speaks Latin, parents should show them how close the old language is to Italian, Spanish or other Romance languages. With the prospect of an Italian vacation soon, where the child can then order the pizza and ice cream himself, learning may become a bit more fun.
- School is important – but it’s not everything. Many parents ask too often what school is doing, what the grades are, what the teachers are doing, what the classmates are doing, etc. Many students get tired of this. They would prefer to switch off first after school and think and talk about other things. So part of the “motivation strategy” is to find your own measure of when school and learning can be addressed and when the child should be given space to rest and find himself.
- It is also important to take breaks between the learning units themselves. At school, these often last only a few minutes, then the head is challenged with 45 minutes of new and completely different material. At home, the breaks can be much longer and better used. Sports or another hobby provide compensation and let the children start the next learning round with new motivation.
- For many children, the very word “learning” is associated at some point with effort, overcoming, stress, and so on. Parents should get creative and perhaps talk more about finding out, discovering, experimenting. Especially when it comes to science, an appropriate approach to motivation is better suited than talking about classical learning.
Making Learning Fun
Positivity And Confidence
Not only in learning, but actually in most things that children don’t necessarily want to do voluntarily and of their own accord, it’s important to make them enjoy the process – whether it’s playing sports when they actually enjoy sitting in front of the computer all day, or getting dressed or brushing their teeth and similar things. When learning for school, the fun aspect is often lacking because for many children the prospect of success looks so bad. Either the other students are always a bit better or the last grade was demotivating. Then there’s the aforementioned “what’s the point?” effect. To get kids out of these thoughts, they need to be taught confidence and positivity.
This, in turn, works best by getting children back into a more playful approach, gaining insights and succeeding in the process. The classical learning for school can be connected with other things or supported by them. Specifically, we are talking, for example, about educational games, experimental kits and, indeed, computer-based forms of learning. They all have the potential to promote playful, everyday and, above all, independent learning in children. If children become aware of their competence through experiments that they work out themselves and thus gain autonomy, they will also find it easier to access other forms of learning and classical learning, or they will teach themselves the material in their own individual way and thus remember it better. In addition, children are often taught the basics of physics, mathematics, chemistry or biology through experimentation kits, for example, without having the feeling that they have to memorize something incredibly complicated.
Minimizing Doubts And Fears
Not only are there many children who doubt whether the subject matter will do them any good and whether they will ever be able to apply it in any practical way, there are also numerous children for whom the pressure and stress caused by exams becomes too much at a young age. Parents often don’t even notice and children are just as often unable to express their feelings and honestly say what is going on inside them. Often they simply do not have an exact access to these feelings. They only feel that something is wrong, that they are afraid to go to school or to take an exam, but what exactly it is about is not clear to them. There are many different ways to combat this excitement and fear of important exams. But, of course, children don’t come up with them on their own. And most teachers simply do not have the time or competence to deal with the psyche and feelings of each student. Children therefore need their parents to help them loosen up. To show them how positive thinking can help them fight panic and anxiety. Or what breathing techniques and exercise can do to get the brain working and promote receptivity. All these methods often not only bring children a lot of relaxation before exciting appointments and situations, they are even fun and can be used again and again in between. Furthermore, parents are required to reassure children that they need not be afraid of failure or anything like that, and that they will not be disappointed if they ever get a bad grade on their report card. First, children need to internalize this. They don’t learn for the report card, the parents or the teachers, but for themselves. For many children, this takes away another part of their fear.
Creating A Pleasant And Healthy Learning Environment
A pleasant and healthy learning environment is also crucial to ensuring that children do not lose their desire to learn at home and that learning becomes easier for them. This external factor is also part of the framework conditions, or the basic requirements or the basis on which learning itself can function better. What belongs to such a learning environment that promotes learning?
- Among the most important components of the right learning environment is the furniture with and on which the child can work. An ergonomic and comfortable desk chair and the right desk, which at best meet other diverse criteria, themselves are the be-all and end-all. After all, children have to sit at them for several hours now and then, even after school. If this causes back pain, learning is no longer fun.
- The materials used also make learning easier or more difficult. With good pens and notebooks and sometimes also with practical aids, such as useful learning programs on the computer, learning is simply more fun.
- The space in which a child spends time and learns also contributes to learning success and desire. A messy and chaotic room including a cluttered desk may be absolutely no distraction for some children, but for others it leaves no room for concentration. It is therefore important to first create order together with the children and then start the learning unit.
- Part of the prepared room should also be good air. Regular airing also provides a breath of fresh air for the brain cells.
- Quiet is also important so that children can concentrate intensively on one thing for a longer period of time. Parents should therefore avoid vacuuming the apartment, for example, while their offspring are trying to prepare for an important exam. Not only is the noise distracting, it can also make children feel that they are not being taken seriously.
Practice Time Management
Some tips and sayings are part of the standard parental repertoire, but children should still hear them from time to time. One of these is the saying: Don’t do everything at the last minute! Because the tendency to procrastination is greater than ever in times of distraction by not only ordinary toys, as we parents already know from our childhood, but above all by digital media. If children put off learning until shortly before an exam, not only is the amount to be learned in a short time significantly higher, the pressure sometimes also increases extremely and no longer allows them to learn with a clear head at all.
So parents should sit down with their children and come up with a time management plan. Components of this can be:
- An overview plan with all possible dates of exams and submissions, etc.
- A learning plan with units of a specific time and amount of learning that will be done per day.
- The determination of a certain time at which learning takes place, in order to get used to a routine that at some point is no longer perceived as a constraint.
- Purposefully set breaks and what can possibly be done during them to recover.
- Times at which it is agreed that there will be no learning here, such as shortly after lunch or directly after school, etc.
Try Out Sensible Learning Methods With Each Other
Some children don’t have a problem with the actual learning at all, but it just doesn’t want to bear fruit properly or doesn’t work as it does for the others. This may be because the method used to learn is an individually unsuitable method. In this case, why not just sit down with the offspring and try out some diverse learning methods with each other? Most people belong to a certain type of learner. One learns better what he hears or reads, the other what he sees and the last one again what he practically illustrates in some way, converts into movement or records himself etc.. Which learning type a child belongs to, or which media are those, over which it can memorize the learning material most simply and best, must be tried out. Parents can read out the learning material and observe whether the child memorizes things better in this way than if it simply grasps them with its eyes and by reading. On Geolino, for example, there are a number of learning tips for every learning type – whether auditory, visual, motor or communicative – that are well worth trying out.
Then again, parents can generally try to illustrate things with drawings or gestures. In addition, there are mnemonic devices, mnemonic bridges, learning with unobtrusive music in the background, and so on. Here it is important to become creative and to create and try out various learning atmospheres, with which the child can learn best at first sight, what he enjoys the most and where the greatest learning success is achieved in the long term.
Praise And Reward Correctly
Even though extrinsic motivation, i.e. motivation by parents, is by far not as important as intrinsic motivation, which comes from the children themselves, it is still important that children receive confirmation from their parents for what they are doing from time to time. It is not even a matter of praising or rewarding in a certain way, but of not doing so in a certain way. Specifically, children should not be praised and rewarded only when they bring home a success, write a good grade, or when their report card says how well they did and how great everything was. Instead, children should be praised when they try hard and make an effort. Success usually comes naturally when learning begins to be fun, because the child notices that something is happening, that he or she is making progress, and so on. In the same way, it is important not to demotivate children when they fail by scolding them or punishing them in any other way, but to cheer them up and encourage them to do better next time. It doesn’t matter if, by the way, a certain gesture is made by the parents to cheer them up, as well as to reward them: It is always nicer to eat ice cream or go to the movies together with the children, for example, than to reward them with material things. Otherwise, there is a greater risk that children will only learn for a computer game, new sneakers or even a gift of money, but will no longer develop any interest in what they have learned.