Why praise doesn’t pay off

As a Montessorian I always am amazed to see how my students are always seeking my approval. Whether it is a drawing or work in the classroom, I will be asked, “Do you think I did a good job?”  It is really sad that they do not have the confidence in themselves to know that if they did their best then that is enough.

When I look at society, though, I totally see where it comes from. Kids are constantly being rewarded for things either through verbal praise or treats. Now please don’t get me wrong, at this point in my life, I have no children. I am sure there will be a time in my life when I am willing to bribe my future child with a million dollars to get them to do (or stop doing) something. But there is a huge difference between school and home.

According to Maria Montessori, this type of motivation has no place in the classroom. Montessori talked about something called “Intrinsic Motivation”. This type of motivation is one that comes from within the child and ourselves. It can be seen everyday in my classroom, but most recently I observed it in one of my four year old students.

This particular student has had a hard time being motivated to choose work in the classroom. Especially, something that she had not previously mastered. I decided the way to help her would be to find something she had never done until I found one that sparked her interest. After working with her on new language, geography, and science works,  I decided to venture into her weakest subject, math.

I asked her to pick a work and to my surprise she chose a box full of subtraction problems. I sat down with her and showed her how to do the work. I walked her through four or five problems until I felt she was ready to try some on her own. As I moved away from her rug and observed her, I saw something I had not seen from her in over a month. It was a look of joy. She was really enjoying herself and she would have done all the problems in the box if she had enough time in the school day. That feeling she had when she was doing those problems was exactly what Montessori meant by intrinsic motivation.

I challenge you to motivate your child to do things for themselves. Teach them to appreciate the things they are able to do without the verbal confirmation from others. When they ask if you like their drawing, turn the question around on them and ask, “Do you like it?” By teaching a child to help themselves you are teaching them to be young independent thinkers for the future.

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