How To Select A Preschool That Cultivates Your Child’s Motivation

One of the greatest challenges of early childhood educachild readingtion is not only making sure children learn their numbers and letters, but also preserving their inner love for learning – their motivation. Perhaps the biggest key to academic success, motivation is an essential aspect to cultivate in your preschooler. Academic-based preschools have been criticized for their diminished opportunities for children to develop their creativity and problem-solving skills. But are they reducing their motivation to learn as well? We talked with Dr. Deborah Stipek, author of Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning, and Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education, to learn more.

The early years are crucial to nurturing the foundation for a child’s lifelong love of learning. Fortunately, motivation is not something you have to teach your child. “Kids are born with motivation,” Dr. Stipek says. “What we have to worry about is not taking that away from them.” If you’ve ever observed toddlers in action, you’ll notice that they love to interact with and manipulate toys and objects – while it may look like they’re just playing, Stipek says, it’s also how they learn.

Stipek and coauthor Dr. Kathy Seal advise parents to choose a preschool that embraces a play-based, child-centered (or child-led) approach – allowing the child to direct their own learning experience, rather than the educator telling them exactly what to do and how to do it, which can squash the child’s curiosity and motivation. In the classroom, students should have the options of choosing from a variety of activities and projects, with the educator guiding them by asking questions and pointing out details of interest.

Research confirms Stipek and Seal’s advice. After observing and assessing preschool children in formal and highly structured settings (with the teacher instructing the children exactly what to do) and in play-based settings (which used a child-centered approach), Stipek found that children in the first type of program exhibited lower levels of self-confidence, competence, and pride in accomplishments than those in play-based settings. Moreover, children in those classrooms expressed greater levels of anxiety about school.

Though a play-based program is less rigid than one that is academic-based, Stipek makes it clear that play-based does not mean lack of structure. “Some people endorse the approach of letting children do what they want to do all day long, and I don’t think that’s fair to the children because they can learn a lot of things with the involvement and guidance of the teacher,” she says. Parents should understand that a child-led approach simply means that the child guides their own learning, with the support of the instructor. A good teacher is active and involved with the students, asking questions, focusing their attention, and helping them understand and interpret what they see.

Preschools should also embrace the core elements of motivation: control, competence, and connectedness. A good educator gives the child control over their own learning by letting them choose what they wish to do and not constantly hovering over them while they do it (but being near enough to help the child if needed). Teachers and parents are often tempted to closely monitor children as they do their work or activity, and this can cause stress to the child and reduce their perception of control over their learning. By allowing them to work independently, the educator encourages child to take ownership of their own learning, which inclines them to perform better. Dr. Stipek writes, “Children enjoy academic work more when they feel they are doing it because they want to, not just because they have to.”

A good preschool also builds children’s feelings of competency by giving the child age-appropriate activities that are challenging yet manageable. A curriculum that is too difficult for a child deflates their confidence in their abilities, while a curriculum that is too easy will not adequately prepare your child to handle struggles later in their academic career.  When your child feels capable of success, they are willing to tackle challenging problems with greater persistence, especially when they form deep and supportive relationships with their teachers and peers.

Children also thrive in learning environments when they have strong connections with their teachers and classmates. Parents should choose schools that foster close bonds between the teacher and the child, as well as with classmates look for low student to teacher ratios, active educators, and abundant opportunities for your child to interact with other students.

Finding a preschool that cultivates your child’s motivation will take some time we encourage parents to tour multiple schools, and even consider visiting a school more than once to really observe the dynamics between children and teachers but once you do find one the benefits pay off immensely in the long term. Because what really prepares preschoolers for future success is not just academic knowledge, but a lifelong passion for learning that will lead them to enjoy their journey through the academic years and beyond.

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11 thoughts on “How To Select A Preschool That Cultivates Your Child’s Motivation

  1. I do like the idea of letting children have control in what they are learning. Especially because it will help them figure out what they like and dislike and hopefully make them more passionate about school. However, I can also see it backfiring and having the kids decide not to do anything but play. So, how do you balance the two, especially in preschool?

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    1. James, my twin boys have been in a pre-kindergarten program for the last school year and they have absolutely enjoyed learning. I think that allowing them to have some control over what they learn is important, because it teaches them to have initiative. Another way that education can backfire on children is to not allow them to have control, which will make them feel forced and so that will take away their desire to learn. I think that it is important to give children a good amount of control over what they are learning. However, to avoid that leading to kids not doing anything, it is important to make sure that all of the learning caters to the children through fun and games. http://www.advantagelc.net/pre-kindergarten-programs

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      1. I can see your point. I definitely don’t want to force learning on my kids. If anything that will make them hate school. I think games are probably the best way to do this. I still worry though. I suppose that is just natural for a parent.

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  2. Preschool is the perfect place to help kids love learning and hopefully, get them to continue their education for years to come. Learning is important and I really like that you stated that because so many people take it for granted or forget that it is something really important. One thing I really like is that you can start kids out young so that they can figure out how learning works and hopefully develop that want to learn.

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  3. I loved your tip about looking for a learning environment that provides opportunities for your child to make connections with other people. I think it’s important for children to learn how to do that young so they don’t struggle with it later in life. My daughter needs to start preschool, so when I look for a program I will be sure to look for that. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I agree that you need to cultivate an inner love and motivation for learning. That is possibly a nursery school teachers most challenging task. I appreciate your insights on how to cultivate the learning.

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  5. I like that you talk about control and allowing for kids to work independently. I think that is such an important part of the overall learning process, especially at the beginning. Allowing them to work by themselves in preschool or daycare just teaches them an early skill that they will need later on in their schooling. That should definitely be something that you keep in mind when you are searching for the right place for your child.

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  6. I agree with the point you made about one of the hardest parts about early childhood education is channeling a child’s motivation. It’s cool to see that there are schools that are dedicated to making this happen for children. I’ll have to show this to my sister and brother in law and see if it can help them find a good preschool for my niece and nephew.

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  7. My daughter is very advanced for her age, and I want to get her into a preschool that challengers her, so that she doesn’t get bored in school. I really like your point abut how a good educator will teach them self-control, so that they don’t have to hover over them all the time to make sure they do what they are supposed to. I also want her in a classroom that will make it so she can make new friends with her classmates.

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  8. I believe that the sooner a child starts their education, the better off they will be in their lives. I like how you point out that one of the greatest challenges of early childhood education is preserving the child’s inner love for learning and their motivation. Finding a preschool that takes this seriously is important to me because I want my kids to love going to school and love learning. I’ll have to do my research and find a preschool who values this as much as I do!

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  9. I agree with you when you mentioned that preschools should embrace core elements of motivation such as control, competence, and connectedness. I’ve heard that preschools that exhibit these qualities experience a higher rate of success and that their students feel more confident in learning. My son is going to start preschool later this year, and it’s so tricky making this important decision!

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