Let them play: strategies to motivate your child to learn

Today learning is more challenging than ever. As the world becomes more digitally connected, we do not get to hear these so often. E.g.: Hey! how do yellow and blue make green? or how to build a tree house?

Also, summer does not mean playing endless hours of old-school outdoor games or being amazed by a spider web. While many parents do everything to entertain and educate their children, the influence of television and other digital media on children continue to adversely affect their imaginative capacities and motivation to learn/self-learn.

The motivation that drives a person to do something can be of two types: intrinsic (self-driven) and extrinsic (external motivators). There are different ways to keep children’s love of learning alive.

A display of colourful wooden sticks (Image credits: Alexas_Fotos/Creative Commons)

Let children play: 

Children at their young age find everything fascinating, but at times experience complicated feelings of self-discovery and growth. For children, play is a means to learn. It is important to have ample play time – both structured and un-structured – as part of their daily routines. Another important thing is to always allow them to pursue an interest or passion. Given the opportunity, they can identify their interests and abilities that highlight their competence. This awareness will keep them inspired and curious about the rest of their lives. Activities like music, hikes on natural trails, road trips, DIY (do it yourself) projects, and talking and exploring with your children are some of the great ways to inspire learning.

Be a role model:

When your child is reluctant to learn, be patient to know your child and to understand her. What does she like? Whom does she like? What are her tastes and preferences? Find answers by asking questions and listening patiently. This practice is extremely important to become informed not only about what she likes but also her fears and concerns. You can nurture learning and influence your child by serving as examples. When they are curious about something or are stuck with a problem, try to brainstorm with them, not for them. With these simple tips, you’re one step closer to motivating your children and they will look up to you as their inspiration.

Be judicious about rewards:

Nowadays, rewarding children with tangible items such as toys, chocolates, ice creams or privileges like watching TV, access to wi-fi/internet, are the most common ways to motivate them. While this may work in some situations, this makes the child dependent on the transient stimulus and very soon they won’t get pleasure in these things and will crave for more. While these rewards are an easy way to get children to follow the desired behaviour, they do not aid in building character. Hence, it is essential to be watchful that offering rewards do not become habit-forming. On the other hand, activities like spending time together, a day out with the family, helping to complete a task or an appreciation for achieving a goal could be used as alternative meaningful rewards.

Practise specific and meaningful praise:

Always praise the effort that your child puts into completing a task rather than her talent. Research says, appreciating children for being talented strengthens a fixed mindset and moves them closer to having a sense of entitlement. Moreover, empty praises like “You are right!” or “Wow! You are so intelligent!” can fail to achieve its purpose. On the other hand, appreciating a specific effort in the learning process such as problem-solving or critical thinking or pro-activeness or compassion leads to long-term growth.  These specific qualifiers may be skill-based, action-based or value-based.

Set goals: 

Another great way to motivate children is by setting practical goals. Goals can be as small as following a schedule or waking up/sleeping on time, doing homework or cleaning their room, all of which can give a purpose and direction. Goals help to make plans, and planning makes one better organised, and being organised eventually helps one to be a better person.  Involving children actively in the goal-setting process instills a sense of responsibility.

Go beyond subjects: 

Close up of a percussion instrument with stick mallets. (Image credits: Pexels/Creative Commons)

Children are naturally detail-oriented and teaching them at their impressionable young age about soft skills like kindness and empathy can benefit their development. Interpersonal skills like building character traits, making amends, taking responsibility for mistakes are as important as excelling at Maths, Science and other subjects. Although this can be a big challenge, you can set them off on the right foot from a tender age by taking conscious steps and more importantly, leading by example.

Keep it real, let them fall flat once in a while:

Failing at something is traditionally frowned upon by society. However, this is one of the best ways and sometimes the only way to gain valuable experience. Although failure can be demotivating, it can also give insights about one’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to let children try various things, fail, try again and be persistent. This can help them in real life. E.g.: when they have to change a tire in the middle of nowhere, in fixing their bicycle, in learning swimming or even while learning how to cook. You can encourage autonomy (reasonable control) and let your child use her shortcomings to her advantage instead of being bogged down by them.

Let them be the teacher:

A meaningful conversation with children helps them take ownership. E.g.: let them take you through what they learned in class or let them apply their best approach and explain to you the steps in solving a problem. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn from children that there could be many solutions to a single problem.

Encourage out-of-the-box thinking:

A young boy plays with a kite at sunset. (Image credits: pikabum/Creative Commons)

Children are much more likely to learn and have better clarity of thoughts if the learning process is fun. When they get to think out of the box, they get to solve problems in creative ways. Adding enjoyable activities, interactive games, and mind-tickling puzzles into the learning process can not only educate young minds better but can also improve their learning outcomes in a lesser amount of time.  A developmental play is not only fun but also boosts children’s skills – physically, emotionally and cognitively.

Allow them to appreciate the value of delayed gratification:

We live in a world of instant gratification. Type a question on Google, an answer spits out in a fraction of a second. Go the ATM, cash is disbursed in a matter of seconds. Put a packaged dinner in the microwave, food is ready in a matter of minutes. Unlike our own childhoods, today’s children do not get to experience the joy of waiting for the desired outcome. Spend conscious time and effort in telling them stories of value – how long it takes for the food we eat to grow, what do successful people do, how does a house, a family or a character get built. Wherever possible, reinforce to them that the seeds they sow will bear fruit at their own time. This will keep them grounded and help them develop patience and resilience.

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Parimita Krishna

Parimita is a media professional and has been working in the overarching space of editorial and content-driven strategies. She is also a member of IEEE, an editorial contributor to Getty Images and a volunteer. Her endeavour over the period has been to work with underprivileged communities with a mission to up-skill individuals on digital literacy to create a sustainable environment, and work on the positive social and economic impact for them. She volunteered for the United Nations as an SDG Advocate to promote awareness about quality education and climate changes and its consequences at various levels. She is also a part of a nonprofit orgnisation.

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