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Project Appleseed

Lighting The Fire: Ways To Motivate 

The Unmotivated Child

During their elementary years, children develop attitudes about learning that can last for the rest of their lives. Those who are challenged, stimulated, supported and encouraged often become motivated learners while other children, who may have had less support, can lack internal motivation. However, all young children still have the ability to develop an enthusiasm for learning with the help of their teachers, peers, parents and mentors.


Some teachers and parents use external motivation – in the form of rewards or praise – in order to encourage learning. But researchers have found that intrinsic motivation – natural motivation from within – leads to more rewarding and more satisfying learning experiences. In fact, children who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to retain information, more likely to build self-confidence, and more likely to engage in unguided learning.


How can teachers and parents cultivate motivation in unmotivated children?


  • Don’t replace a child’s internal rewards system with all external rewards. While praise, grades and other concrete rewards have their place, be careful not to create an environment where children completely rely on external encouragement and outside support. Instead, emphasize the rewards of learning something new, completing a project or doing a task well.


  • Find an appropriate level of challenge. When given the option, intrinsically motivated children choose moderately challenging tasks, while unmotivated children tend to choose easy tasks. It is important for teachers and parents to give unmotivated children slightly more difficult activities so that they can enjoy a sense of accomplishment when they are done.


  • Encourage self-evaluation. An externally motivated child will often ask teachers, ‘Did I do a good job?” while an internally motivated child will know when she has succeeded. Encourage self-evaluation by asking the child her options and feelings on play activities and by simply asking them how they thought they did.


  • Note the child’s interests and strengths. Fostering intrinsic motivation is much easier when the child is interested in the subject matter of if the child is gifted ion that area. Focus on a child’s interests while developing motivating – and then encourage the child to apply his or her new found confidence and enthusiasm to new subjects.


  • Give children ample time to explore activities that they have an interest in. Children best develop motivation when they are given time to be engrossed in activities and when they are given a chance to finish activities that they have started. For these two reasons, it is vital to give unmotivated children the time and space to deeply explore their work.


  • Be a model of intrinsic motivation. Children often learn by example, and learning self0-motivation is no different. Share your rewarding learning experiences and passions with you students. Also take part in your students’ activities and explore with them – This is a hands-on to model motivation from within.


According to the National Association of School Psychologists, all babies are born with a strong sense of intrinsic motivation – the wish to explore, discover, learn, excel and succeed. The foundation for motivation is always present. Parents and teachers must simply encourage and support this innate gift.

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