Motivation Within (Part 1)

Charlotte Mason

Image via Wikipedia

Charlotte Mason introduced a now famous motto,

“I am, I can, I ought, I will.”

Notice – every phrase starts with “I”.

Intrinsic motivation is found and sustained within the person.

Internal motivation does not need incentives from others.

When education is “an atmosphere, a discipline, a life,” Charlotte Mason points us to a higher form of education;

not just a learning process,

not related to classrooms, studies or methods,

stars chart, percentages, grades and results,

but an attitude of learning

assisted by a character devoted to education as a part of the individual’s life.

Charlotte Mason called upon parents and teachers to inspire their children.

Star charts, sweets, stickers, grades, gifts and rewards are all lovely, but are external motivation. Children engage in activities because adults tell them to, or to please another party.

These activities are “extrinsic motivated.”  The reward comes from outside the child and it has to be provided by someone else, and has to be continually given for the child to stay motivated.

While it works, and for some children it has exceptional results and is enjoyable, I found that it does not bring about the character traits I am trying to instil in my children; namely to bring them to desire to do their best and meet the highest for themselves.

I read an excellent article Motivating Learning in Children,

adapted from “Early Childhood Motivation” from National Association of School Psychologists.

“Young children learn from everything they do. They are naturally curious; they want to explore and discover. If their explorations bring pleasure or success, they will want to learn more. During these early years, children form attitudes about learning that will last a lifetime. Children who receive the right sort of support and encouragement during these years will be creative, adventurous learners throughout their lives.”

“Since intrinsically motivated activity is more rewarding in and of itself, children learn more from this sort of activity, and they retain that learning better. Intrinsically motivated children are more involved in their own learning and development. In other words, a child is more likely to learn and retain information when he is intrinsically motivated – when he believes he is pleasing himself.”

Further on they describe behavioural characteristics that show a high level of motivation in a child.

(And beneath each point I have added how Charlotte Mason’s principles encourage a high level of motivation.)

  • Persistence –  A highly motivated child has the ability to stay with a task for a reasonably long time.

Ms. Mason advocated fairly short lessons.  She encouraged children to complete their work perfectly, with excellence.  She believed in discipline and developing good habits.

  • Choice of challenge – Children who experience success in meeting one challenge will become motivated, welcoming another.

Ms. Mason’s education was built upon “Living Books”, exposing children to great ideas communicated by great minds, allowing the child to make relationships of these ideas.  She wanted minds to nourished upon great ideas. She did not want the educators writing ‘twaddle’ and simplify books for children.

  • Dependency on adults – Children with strong intrinsic motivation do not need an adult constantly watching and helping with activities.

Ms. Mason insisted that the educator moved out of the way.  “Teaching must not be obtrusive.  Avoid lectures. Don’t get between the child and great minds.”  (Vol. 3, p. 66)  She did not want teachers to explain too much, nor give grades, or rewards.

  • Emotion – Children who are clearly motivated will have a positive display of emotion. They are satisfied with their work and show more enjoyment in the activity.

A Charlotte Mason education provided children with short, happy lessons, and afternoons free for leisure.  Her education included great music and art, a love and appreciation for poetry and nature.  She encouraged the development of good habits.  Through narrations the child expressed his thoughts and ideas.  She said schoolwork should, “convey to the child such initial ideas of interest in his various studies as to make the pursuit of knowledge on those lines and object in life and a delight to him.” (Vol. 2, p. 247)

We need to differentiate between motivation through incentives or by inspiration.

We prayerfully need to find out how we inspire our children to say, “I am, I can, I ought, I will”

There is so much more!  Next post, I would like to discuss strategies to intrinsically motivate our children.

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7 thoughts on “Motivation Within (Part 1)

  1. I saw you at Shona’s blog, and look whom I see, my friend Amy and Jimmie too…small world the Internet, ha!
    I have to come back to your blog and read some of your posts with time. I’m glad I found you.


  2. This is so important and so hard. I don’t know HOW to instill motivation even though I try to. And there is a balance between motivation and doing a job just because it’s your duty/requirement. I guess that’s still motivation — doing it despite the distaste.


  3. Nadene,
    I love this post. And while I theoretically agree, I do use strategic rewards in my family. I don’t do stickers or star charts, but I feel that it doesn’t hurt to give rewards, we just want to guard against it becoming the primary motivation. I’ve thought some about this recently, but not extensively. My first thoughts were about how God Himself rewards us! Granted, it isn’t based on our own performance, but still, we have those precious promises to look forward to which in itself is a big external motivator! So, I’m looking forward to thinking and reading more on the subject! 🙂

    amy in peru


  4. My husband and I are part of a research based group through the U of Washington in Seattle. We are learning new ways to parent our “out-of-bounds” child that has neurological special needs.

    I would like to suggest the book “The Incredible Years”

    My husband and I are 54 & 59 and this is our late in life child which we have been forced to re-learn everything we thought we knew about child rearing.

    One thing I noticed in the article you refer to is that it states that rewards should be limited. If we can agree that a reward is something that we only get for an “effort” not a state of being such being cute, smart or good – then I think we can agree that if we were always given a reward for an effort then our efforts would be greatly increased. I think that is the whole idea of motivating a child – increasing their efforts.

    I would have agreed totally with this article just a few months ago but we have seen an unbelievable increase in total effort and compliance in our 11yo son.

    Of course the long term goal should be to ween the child off rewards (and by reward it is meant to include the parent recognizing the effort with a “good job on the …., your are so focused on that…., I like the way you were so careful, kind, generous and so on.) but every child will need that initial parental guidance to sustain a long term effort.

    I agree that getting and keeping a child motivated should be a primary concern and thanks for bringing this up for discussion.



    • Ada, thank you for your comments. “The Incredible Years” program you referred to seems very successful.

      After teaching for 10 years where we used rewards such as stars, stamps and grades, I found myself reproducing similar strategies at homeschool, and so I prayed for ways to motivate my children intrinsically. Charlotte Mason presents many principles that can achieve this.

      As all children differ and every family and home is unique, we need to prayerfully parent and mentor our children to be inspired to be and to do their highest for the Lord. This is an ever-changing process. I join you in seeking the best ways.


  5. This is really interesting stuff.
    I had taken the girls back to the wee Christian French school where they’d been to learn French and we were visiting one of their teachers and some school friends. (when they were there full-time, we still insisted that they were home-edded, merely using the school as experts in French – lol) The teacher is lovely and had a box of ‘gifts’ for rewards. Everyone decided that my 2 were allowed to choose something from the box. There were star charts on the wall and all the external motivators. And because I respect the teacher I was chatting to her about it and she answered, ‘well, we have to (do the rewards, start charts etc)’. A thought flickered through my mind, perhaps I should be doing this too.

    Guess what? It is well out of my mind now and I’m looking forward to hearing your strategies!


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