How can I motivate a child extrinsically?

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What are the best ways to motivate a child in learning?


John Holt used to say that you "cannot motivate a child from the outside". All good learning comes from within. He adds "you can either threaten a child or bribe a child". He is largely correct as explained in Pleasure of learning.

This does not mean that parents, teachers or educators are impotent. To some degree they can influence motivation using the following tools:

  • modifying child's environment (e.g. by choice of books available)
  • conversation that affects knowledge, its valuations, and the learn drive
  • judicious employment of the push zone (e.g. to encourage a switch from a less educational to a more educational videogame)

Other than that, a child can be "manipulated" with his reward system. However, all rewards or penalties that are not knowledge-based may backfire with mistargeted conditioning. This may result in the ultimate suppression of the learn drive. In particular, grades at school are a motivator with a whole array of negative side effects.

The best non-specific source of learning motivation is massive learning itself.

This FAQ expands on the content of "I would never send my kids to school" by Piotr Wozniak (2017)