Ways to Motivate Learning in Preschoolers

Yes, I am at that stage already. My son has graduated from toddlerhood and is now considered (formally speaking) a preschooler. Soon, he will enter the world of formal education and it's my job to prepare him for that transition. Since he was 2, I would regularly get him art supplies, educational coloring books, a fresh supply of modeling clay to nudge him into that direction in that preparation for school.

My partner and I had an interesting conversation regarding the son of one of his coworkers. He was about my son's age (just a few months older) and my partner was surprised that he could not recite the alphabet but, was a whiz at video games. The mother of the boy complained that she could not get her son away from his gadget nor motivate her son to learn.

If you want to inspire unmotivated children and give them the opportunity to UNLOCK their fullest potential, there are simple and effective ways to do so.

So, how can you motivate your preschooler to learn? Here are some ways to help you motivate your child.

1. You have to make an effort to make it FUN.

According to a study titled, Evaluating Preschool Children's Preferences for Motivational Systems during Instruction, the 'play area' was selected over all methods of motivational learning among the preschoolers. Therefore, if you want your preschooler to learn willingly, you have to make an effort to make things fun. One strategy is through game-based learning and doesn't necessarily have to be technology-based educational apps. It could be through board games or simple card games (flash cards). The use of games as an educational tool provides opportunities for deeper learning, development of non-cognitive skills and cognitive skills, and motivates children to want to learn. Games provide an atmosphere of pleasurable learning and because they are entertaining provide the added benefit of motivation to engage young children in the learning process. It is also effective for team-based learning particularly for school or classroom setting because games make students competitive. Thus, students strive to perform better or at a higher level in an effort to win.

2. Pursue his interests and focus on his strengths when teaching.

When learning engages young children to delve into the areas or subjects of their interests, learning becomes, pleasurable and fun and motivates the child to engage more in learning. Encourage him to further explore the topics that currently fascinate him (changes from time to time so be ready). My son is currently enamored with the solar system, so much so that he even knows how to say the planets in Spanish. I have bought him posters of the solar system and recently have made an online purchase of a DIY model of the solar system (couldn't find anything at the toy store). Looking into buying him books about the solar system when I go to the bookstore. All the clay I buy him is shaped into Saturn, his favorite.

For a preschooler, focusing on your child's strengths is a form of positive reinforcement and leads to a healthy emotional and academic development. Face it, everyone plays to their strengths and we enjoy doing things that we are naturally good at. Same goes for children. If you focus on their weaknesses, it will only lead to frustration and your child will lose the desire to learn. Your child might be good at simple arithmetic but is great at science topics. Congratulate him for doing a good job with science.

3. Allow time for free play with others and allow for imaginative play.

Children are children and they will always want to play. Controlling them into learning and studying all the time is counterproductive. They may lose the desire to learn because they are forced to learn or because they have to do it all the time.

Instead, give your child the time to just be a kid. Let him go out and play with others, let him role play, let him get dirty from making all those mud pies. Playing with his peers teaches children the value of friendship and enhances social skills. Playing itself opens a whole new world of possibilities and can be a great instrument for learning skills and lessons that can not be found in textbooks.

Make learning FUN! Image credit: Pixabay

4. Share your enthusiasm for learning.
One thing I've noticed, when I participate and include myself when doing arts and crafts with my son, he becomes excited and more willing to participate in finishing a project. Young children have a short attention span and when they have to do things on their own, they find it boring and tedious. Now, if you help and show enthusiasm for learning or doing a project, children become a willing participant and always want to hurry to get a project done.
As a parent, take every opportunity (without being a pushover) to discover new information, indulge in a small project, or find new things to do. Provide as many opportunities for you and your child to explore and interact together. Enthusiasm rubs off and even if it seems like we are "going to school and learning" all over again when your child sees that you are excited, he will be excited too. Your child will begin to share your enthusiasm for learning too.

5. Put your child in the driver's seat.

As parents in a child-centered society, we tend to hover. I, for one, am a helicopter parent, I'm always lurking. But, we also have the job of teaching our kids to become productive adults in the future. And with this job comes the responsibility of teaching them about independence and how to make decisions. Thus, we also have to give them options.

Let your child decide what he wants to learn and to voice out their desires. It's important to guide children but it is also important to let them have control of their learning experience. Does he want to engage in sports, learn how to play an instrument, or indulge in art? Let your child decide what makes him happy and provide the support he needs. In making these certain decisions and having your support, he will be willing to do and learn as much as he can. Choices are what make your child his own unique person. By removing a child's freedom to choose for himself, you also are discouraging him from learning what he wants. My son loves art, so I make sure he has all his supplies and clay to encourage him to do more.

Independent children are said to have an "intrinsic" drive to learn. 

6. Listen to your child and encourage open communication.

When children feel that their feelings and concerns are not validated, they tend to disengage. Encourage your child to speak up and express his opinions and listen to him and validate whatever his concerns whether you agree with him or not. Studies show that good learners know that their opinions matter and feel reassured that they can be open without being judged, discouraged or ignored. Anyways, it's tough to ignore my son. He will repeat himself and make sure his concerns are known to the point that he's in my face.

Also, allow them to evaluate their own accomplishments. Asking them what they think of their own work is a great way to encourage open communication and a means to provide them with self-confidence.

7. Encourage learning through fun worksheets or game-based educational apps.

Game-based learning isn't a new concept. In my time, there were board games to play with but now, there's technology.
Educational apps are wonderful tools and valuable resources to enhance the learning experience. Not only does it enhance a child's non-cognitive skills, but it also provides opportunities for deeper learning. When a child is actively engaged with a game, he experiences the pleasure of learning a new system. These games provide the added benefit of motivating children to learn new concepts and ideas and to be competitive.

I do suggest to constantly monitor your child when a gadget is in use and to direct him to educational apps. Games can be advantageous but, as I discussed before regarding my partner's co-worker's son, there are educational games that are better suited.

8. Recognize and celebrate achievements.

I heard a person complain about parents wanting to celebrate every little achievement of their children and that it seemed it was as if parents were celebrating mediocrity. Apparently, that person isn't a parent. And to tell you the truth, if my parents actually celebrated a bit more when I made an achievement, I probably would have strived even more to do better in school. Simply put, a rewards system. Sometimes, extrinsic motivation may be the key to gear your child towards learning. Some parents may disagree with me, but positive reinforcement, whether it stars on a colorful chart with a reward when they reach the end or just a few words of praise, keeps kids motivated to achieve more and actually, to challenge themselves. Young children need positive reinforcement as a motivation to learn. Although positive reinforcement is advantageous as a motivational tool, parents should be cautious about using the reward system all the time. One major concern is that children may end up doing a task because of the reward and not because he is interested in what he is doing. Another concern is too much praise or rewards can cause dependency. Parents should be able to recognize what achievements merit a praiseworthy gesture. One noteworthy tip, rewards or praise should be based more on the child's effort and persistence to accomplish his task.

9. Focus on what he's learning.

My parents when I was a child were more concerned about my performance in school rather than what I was learning. It felt as if they couldn't care less with what my teachers were shoveling in my brain just as long as I came home with a spotless report card. They only interfered when I got a bad grade and it usually meant I would be grounded until I got my grade/s up to par.

Let's take a step back from performance rating aptitude tests and focus our attention to what our children are actually learning. Ask your child what he's learning or doing when he does his homework. This will show you if he's actually retaining information and understanding what he's learning. To be honest, I was actually a great test taker. As for understanding what I learned or was supposed to learn, I actually only understood 60% of what was thrusted into my brain.

10. Allow your child ample time to finish.

Sometimes, parents can get impatient and may want to finish a project quickly so, they can move on to another. Usually this means that parents often interrupt to "offer" their help. This can actually be counterproductive because your child may learn to depend on you and not himself.

Giving a child enough time to complete a task at hand teaches him to be persistent. My son gets easily frustrated when something he's doing doesn't meet his expectations. I usually urge him to try again and to not hurry. Of course, sometimes after many attempts, he still can't figure out what to do, I extend a little help just to give him a clue. In the end, he finishes with a big smile on his face.

11. Lastly, make every day a learning day.

It may sound a bit too much but, it isn't. Young children are naturally curious and tend to explore, discover and learn from everything they do. Whenever or wherever possible, allow your child to explore, ask questions and make connections with what he finds. Help him identify, categorize, classify, and describe what he sees and experiences.  If his exploration brings him pleasure, he'll want to learn more. Making every day a learning day will help your child develop the willingness and motivation to learn wherever he may be.

During the young formative years of a child, children form attitudes about learning. As parents, our goal is to support the development of motivation so that there is a proper foundation for optimal educational growth. Let us help them discover, explore, and experience the world and immerse themselves with gusto.

Time flies so fast... I will soon have a little boy who'll be going to school.

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Related Links:
Ways to Motivate Preschool Kids by Maggie McCormick via Living the Bump
Motivating Learning in Young Children from the National Mental Health and Education Center
12 Strategies to Motivate Your Child to Learn by Becton Loveless from Education Corner

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