I’ve noticed there are three reasons that all people, adults and children, begin learning about something:
Formal schooling is out of necessity. Children typically don’t learn algebra because they want to, they learn it so they don’t fail a course. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it de-motivates many children and adults. I know that the classes I was required to take gained much less of my attention and effort than my elective courses. Necessity doesn’t make for engaged students.
We also learn to achieve our goals. This is probably the best motivator I’ve ever discovered, at least in my own life. I have had two goals for several years: 1, to do living history, and 2, to do cross-cultural mission work abroad. These goals have pushed me to study history in ways I never imagined and to immerse myself in languages. I want to succeed at these challenges, so I do the research I need to grow. Goals motivate everyone – do you remember driver’s education, or premarital mentoring? We work harder at these things because we want the rewards. Psychology calls these “incentives.”
The final category of learning motivators is our interests and the things that make us curious. I’ve found these often go together with our goals – I’m interested in learning languages because of the goals I have. I learn about cooking because I’m interested in it. I frequently hear a news report on the radio that intrigues me, so I look it up later on the internet to gain more information.
This isn’t my most in-depth post, but I believe that studying what motivates us helps us to learn better. This is especially important for teachers and parents. Children typically aren’t motivated by a stack of workbooks and a checklist. In school, we’re studying how to teach using “constructivist” theory, which I’m realizing has been around forever. It’s the way things used to be done! A constructivist lets children explore, designs situations for the child to interact with, then helps the child process what they found (i.e. providing vocabulary for their discoveries). Mothers have been doing this for centuries through free play and work-beside-me chores.
I think it’s funny that the new learning theory for public schools is the same one that’s been used in homes forever. Kudos to you home-schoolers who’ve had the right idea all along.