Have you ever found yourself completely engrossed in an activity?  Perhaps you were reading a good book, painting, performing home repairs, or cooking a special meal.  Try to recall how you felt.  Perhaps you felt interested, you were concentrating hard.  If you were truly interested in the project, it’s unlikely you felt tired.  On the contrary, you may have even felt more energetic than usual.  

All children experience this feeling of engagement and motivation with one activity or another.  Some children are especially interested in numbers, others in animals, others in sports, others dig in the garden for worms and insects and yet others could curl up in a corner and page through books for hours on end.  As parents and teachers, we sometimes wish we could channel a child’s energy to learning a certain skill or ability, such as reading.  The truth is, many times we can.  We simply need to look for the right work for the child.

Discovering Your Child’s Motivation

Just as some activities keep us engaged and interested, others bore us to tears.  Imagine performing a job that you don’t enjoy.  When completing this activity, you probably get bored and tired quickly.  In the words of Maria Montessori, early childhood educator and doctor:

“Fatigue also is caused by work unsuitable to the individual.  Suitable work reduces fatigue on account of the pleasure derived from the work itself.  Thus the two causes of fatigue are unsuitable work and premature interruption of work.” (Maria Montessori, ‘What You Should Know About Your Child’)

What does this mean?  It means we need to follow the child to find an activity related to reading that is appropriate for her.  For example, the child who enjoys looking for insects should be shown books about bugs, worms and insects!  Perhaps this child could make her very own insect book, drawing and coloring pictures of bugs and tracing the names of each.  

It also means that we are patient. We can model the behavior we want to see in our children.  If they see us reading and enjoying books, they may become interested.  If we show them the benefits of learning to read and the joy of reading, they may also learn to enjoy it.  However, we must be sure that we are not forcing them to perform tasks that will make them tired and bored.  This will make the activity unpleasant for both child and parent and worse, it will destroy any motivation the child may have had to learn.

Finally, Montessori suggests that a child engaged in working should not be interrupted. Imagine how upset you would be if you were almost finished cooking a fabulous meal, and your mother came and said “Time to go to the store!” While it’s not always possible to accommodate our learning children, we should make every effort to respect the time they spend doing their work – playing and learning.

Your Role

As a parent or teacher, it is your job to initiate the possibilities of learning.  Invite your child to read a book with you.  Invite her to draw pictures and enjoy tracing words.  Show her a game, such as Nell, where she has the opportunity to learn letter sounds if she likes.  Cut out cardboard letters to spell her name and show her how each letter sounds and how to put them in order.  Keep it light-hearted and fun.  Search for her motivation and as long as your child is interested, discover activities together that will lead her to read.

Once again, Dr. Montessori’s advice is helpful:

“The instructions of the teacher consist then merely in a hint, a touch—enough to give a start to the child. The rest develops of itself.” (Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook)

How do you motivate your child?

For more suggestions for fun games to play with your child, check out these posts about teaching your child to learn to read with games.