Here’s something not everyone knows, and it begs reminding, in our vast world of education:
All Humans WANT to learn. Brains WANT to function. Students WANT to succeed.
Imagine a school environment where choices are made based on the needs and wants that come from within the child. That’s intrinsic motivation, the unsung hero of Montessori Education. It’s the experience from which creative ideas flow, where a student finds their passion in life, their purpose.
There are three main types of intrinsic goals: the desire to master a material or concept, to outperform or keep up with others, or to impress and/or work collaboratively with others. No sticker chart, no pizza party, and no shame or consequence can give that to a child. Children WANT to learn, to explore, to know. We are lucky.
Intrinsic Motivation vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behavior arises from within the individual because it is intrinsically rewarding. Children are born with innate curiosity and desire to learn.
Extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards such as money, fame, grades, and praise. This type of motivation arises from outside the individual, as opposed to intrinsic motivation, which originates inside of the individual.
Here’s an exercise for grown-ups. Write down two things you do every day. The first task is something that you want to do, and the other take is something that you have to do. What’s your motivation? Is it from inside of you? Your drive? Your wishes? If I do this, I’ll feel great about it. Or is it from an outside source? If I don’t do it, there’s a consequence. Which task is more enjoyable? Which task makes you feel like a more authentic person? Which is more satisfying?
Intrinsic Motivation for Montessori
How is this cultivated?
- The environment is built for success for each age group. The “prepared environment” is designed for independence, coordination, concentration, and order. Children are ready to learn, because the space is ready and available.
- Come as you are. Teachers in Montessori see each individual child and their needs, respective of others. Imagine being yourself, throughout your educational journey, and what you would do with that acceptance.
- Reflection: When a skill is mastered, or a task completed, we reflect. How did that feel? Now that you know (how to read, how to add, how to be pro-social), what does that feel like to you? What can you do with this knowledge? The child is able to explore their own successes, instead of receiving outside praise or rewards.
- Collaborative Classroom. Children are encouraged to give lessons to peers, share their knowledge, or reflect on their work together. Giving lessons furthers the mastery of a child’s own skills while communicating wordlessly from teacher to child, “you are capable.”
- Skills in Montessori build on one another. Children are 100% ready for the next skill introduced by displaying complete mastery of the previous skill. It’s highly motivating to move forward with difficulty level.
- Acknowledgment over praise. A Montessori Teacher is skilled in recognizing an accomplishment without adding extra opinion or judgement. “I see you’ve finished the entire bead frame equation, and you did it independently!” A smile and acknowledgment wins motivation over praise. Praise qualifies each accomplishment with an adult opinion, whereas acknowledgement leaves the child free to feel their own pride within each lesson.
Thanks, and until next time!
About Jessie Beerman
Jessie has been a Montessori guide, ages 3-6, for 12 years, and has been a Montessori Parent for nearly 10. She has three daughters, ages 7, 7, and 9. She enjoys thinking and writing about keeping the home life consistent with Montessori Primary education.