Setting goals for children - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 7 Old 08-07-2011, 01:31 PM - Thread Starter
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Recently I've been stressed over DS's reluctance/resistance about starting kindergarten. I think I know the root of the problem. He told me there are no toys, he doesn't want to work or learn, he just wants to play all day. Oh brother is he going to the wrong place, because he is going to a Montessori kindergarten. I know there's a Montessori forum but I'm going to make this about the broader issue of motivation. I know the real problem is he's unmotivated. He doesn't want to do anything that will require effort and work and patience, etc.  He doesn't have perseverance, which is a real shame. He's a very bright boy, if he would apply himself, he would do great things. He did go to preschool but it didn't challenge him, his teacher the very end of the year, that he was bored there and needed more stimulation.


In light of this I've been thinking a lot about setting goals for children,making him work for things more. Then I start thinking that's just bribery, rewards, punishment and I don't think those are true motivators. So how do you motivate a child who may need an extra boost to get moving? In anything, not just academics.

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#2 of 7 Old 08-08-2011, 06:51 PM
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Take a deep breath mom. He's FIVE. Do 5 year olds need goals? At 5, my son didn't want to do anything either.


Instead of thinking of him as unmotivated, how about thinking about helping him find his passion? This is particularly important for bright kids, I think, because they need a reason to immerse themselves and work harder.


Several things helped my son:

1. Time and maturity. At 5, he wanted to be able to do something now. He didn't understand the link between practice and improvement. I think it was just developmental. At 10, her certainly understands it. Last year, at age 9, he decided he wanted to play baseball. Since he was just starting, he was considerably worse than many of the kids. After the 2nd practice, the coach gave him a ball, said "take this home and throw it up on your roof and catch it as it rolls off. Do this until you make 25 catches." (we live in an area with predominately 1 story houses, so it was feasible). Darned if ds didn't go out on his own and do it. At 10, he asks me to play catch and wants to do pop flies, grounders and line drives. The kid works hard.

2. Having a passion. When he was 5, his passion was city buses. I swear that wanting to read bus schedules and destination signs on buses taught him to read. We would go down to the transit center (about a 15 minute walk) 2-3 times a week to watch the buses come and go. We'd read the schedules together. Because he desperately wanted to understand and be able to follow the schedule, he learned to read it.

3. Gentle reminders of how he has improved. Remember how last month, you couldn't even climb half way up? Look how far you've gotten now! I'm very careful to not overly praise my kids, but to focus on progress and effort.

4. Computer games. Don't flame me. Because computer games allowed him to go back and start over he learned that if he did things over and over again, he'd get better. He spent a lot of time playing "Bookworm Adventures Deluxe" (spell words to defeat opponents) in 2nd grade. It was OK if his character died. He could start over. For my son, that made him fear failure a lot less.


Now, ds still isn't as internally motivated as dd is in terms of academic things. I do have to remind the school to give him a teacher that will make him work up to his potential. If ds is bored in class, he'll sit quietly and daydream or watch the other kids. If dd is bored, she'll start telling the teacher everything that's wrong with how the class is being run. Guess which kid gets more challenging stuff?



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#3 of 7 Old 08-08-2011, 10:17 PM
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Are play and work mutually exclusive?  Do they have to be?  Are there any areas of intersection?


I don't know if I know the answer to that for everyone, but in my own life I find I am a lot happier, get a lot more done, and feel a lot better about what I do when I try to see how play and work can come together.  When I value the things I do for fun as good as work (ex. my hobby sewing and knitting), and enjoy the work that I do as something I do for my own enjoyment (ex. money earning activities as well as mothering and housework) - things just go smoother.  I even set more goals.  :)


Also, are you familiar with the book Smart but Scattered?  That starts with the premise that kids want to do well and if they aren't doing so well, it's because they lack the skills.  I find that I can help myself accomplish more when I think of motivation and perseverence as a set of skills that need to be developed rather than a moral value that I can only will myself to try and grow bigger.  Then I just get stuck in berating myself and wasting time.


The idea of 'Motivation' can encompass certain skills....

-being able to identify a task and break it down into smaller and more manageable steps

-being able to create an order of operations for a goal

-managing anxiety (which I suspect may be one reason why he is saying, "I want to play, not work."  Work, especially if it is presented as morally better and substantially different than play, might sound totally scary and daunting!)


There are all kinds of techniques to help with all of these tasks recommended in the book.  It is great!


*edit:  I also want to add that free play is known to help develop all sorts of executive function skills such as planning and execution, etc.  Play is children's work, etc.

DD1 6/2009 DD2 5/1/2013-5/5/2013 (HIE) DS 3/2014
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#4 of 7 Old 08-09-2011, 10:59 AM
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And thinking about it, the early years of Montessori are a lot of living skills (pouring, cleaning, serving) that are going to look a lot like play. Personally, I would play up the fact that he will get to spend a lot of time doing his own thing. It's not like he's going into first grade where he's going to have to sit at a desk for 6 hours. (Heck, even in my kids' traditional school, there's a lot of time for play and movement in the early grades.)

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#5 of 7 Old 08-10-2011, 05:10 AM
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Well when my son was in K, he didn't want to go to school either and there's nothing wrong with that, IMO.  There were toys in his K class though, they had "center time" at the end of the day where they could just play.  At 5, there's not too much to worry about when it comes to attention span and patience, those things come with age:)

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#6 of 7 Old 08-10-2011, 02:04 PM
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Like a pp said, he's FIVE! It sounds like you are talking about a teenager.


I don't know about this Montessori stuff, though. Kids should be able to learn through playing. If he really doesn't like it maybe it just doesn't work for his personality and you can look for something different? 

Nik! Mama to Evelynn Rose 08/19/08 and Autumn Lily 11/02/10
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#7 of 7 Old 08-10-2011, 03:31 PM
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I think it's normal for a 5 yo to be apprehensive about starting school, but one of the best parts of Montessori education is the way it motivates young kids and focuses on their interests.  It's very student and community focused learning, so I wouldn't worry too much.


Kids apply themselves to what they love.  If you bore them, motivation generally goes out the window.  Few and far between are the individuals of any age who find motivation beyond the immediate satisfaction factor. 


That being said, my son was really under-stimulated by his school experience and still is in many ways, but we have found allowing him to choose an extra curricular activity and giving him additional research projects has really helped motivate him and keep him interested in the skills they teach at school.  For example over the summer vacation he has given us presentations every day when we get home from work, some of them about animals, some are building projects, and he has chosen to study Mandarin twice a week this year and take swimming lessons once a week. These are offered through the school I work for and he attends, so it costs us peanuts and he is really interested in langauges.  We found that if he has something to look forward to afterwards he is more enthusiastic about going to school.  Additionally we have found that setting goals has worked well for him.  He likes to feel like a productive member of the family and this started around 4.5 (right around the time of the hormone surge which oddly enough can seem very much like you have an instant teenager, no?), and he wanted his own money to control for snacks and toys.  We started by looking at what he wanted and we made a chore chart with what his dad and I felt comfortable paying him and he chose to earn or not earn what he wanted if we needed anything doing.  It gave him an immense sense of satisfaction the first time he cleared our little garden of dead leaves and earned his first salary.  He saved up for his own fish tank and now he saves all of his money in a jar in room so that he can one day open his own aquarium store, except he just borrowed out of it when we went to the beach this summer so he could get a snorkle and mask so he "could study the fish for [his] store in their natural environment" (we thought it was so cute, we split the cost with him so he could get a decent one).  He spends all his time reading about marine life and watching programs about sea life.  He has a focus of his own and it was all very organic.


I guess the point is that setting goals is a good idea but it HAS to be his goals and come from his motivation to get involved in something.  Your setting goals for him or coercing him to set goals is not going to have a huge impact on enthusiasm or attitude in my experience.


As a teacher I do not think it is my students' job to apply themselves.  It is my job to adapt my assessment of their knowledge to who they are.


So to sum up, I wouldn't worry too much about the not wanting to go to school thing.  Each year at the summer break my son declares himself done with school forever, having learned all he'll ever need to know and he is ready to start working.  And the first day of school comes around and he is incredulous that there could be more to learn, but after the first day, seeing friends and playing  and meeting the teachers he is usually very happy to be back, and we sweeten the pot with a little supplemental unschooling at home, which really helps to keep him from getting bored.  It might be a good idea to suggest to the teacher that she be prepared with extra puzzles, books, games for him to occupy him when he has finished his work.  I always (in fact on Friday I am going to meet her)  meet with his teachers before and give them a packet of brain teaser puzzles and books for him to read when he is done, because if not, he feels like it is so easy there is no rush and then he loses track of time and winds up not finishing at all and getting yelled at for holding up the get the drift. 

Rebekah - mom to Ben 03/05 and Emily 01/10, a peace educator, and a veg*n and wife to Jamie.
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