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How To Encourage Motivation
Dear Learning-SuccessTM Coaches:
What can I do to motivate my eight-year-old son to learn? Although he asks a lot of questions and is very curious about reptiles, animals, and insects, he's not interested in school subjects. I've tried all kinds of rewards and punishments, but I'm tired of thinking of new ways to get him involved in his studies. Isn't he ruining his future?
Thanks, Cathy
Dear Cathy,
The truth about motivation is that kids have it in abundance. It is their nature to be interested in the world and motivated to learn about it.

There are several ways to encourage and enliven a child's natural desire to learn. Over and over again, we find that the eager learner is revived when a child's strengths are accentuated and when they have freedom to pursue their interests. This is a wonderful opportunity to turn your frustration and confusion into learning success for your son.

Here are a few suggestions:
Stop relying on rewards, punishment, threats, and lectures. They aren't working for you, and research shows that they won't work.

Find out your child's learning style and yours also. The more knowledge you have about what works for him and what works for you, the more understanding and flexible you can be.

You and your son can choose a curriculum based on his learning style, especially his interests. The curriculum that looks interesting to you isn't likely to appeal to (or to be appropriate for) him.

Suggest that your son "major" in things he enjoys. This means that he will spend more time doing the kinds of activities that he enjoys and less time doing the activities that aren't as enjoyable. It sounds as if reptiles, insects, and animals are his major interests right now.

You and your son can determine daily schedules together. You will be surprised by how creative and receptive he is likely to be when he knows that he has a say in the things that affect him most.

When You Talk About His Future, Please Use Caution
When you talk about an eight year old ruining his future because he isn't interested in school studies, your fears are clouding your perceptions. The truth is that your son has about ten more years to learn the academic skills that he needs. Let him progress at his own pace. Not only will he enjoy the learning process, he will make steady progress.

Dear Learning-Success(tm) Coaches:
My daughter is seven years old and is not reading yet. She is very interested in books, loves looking at the pictures, likes to listen to stories, and she is very good at retelling and discussing them. Would I be able to help her with her reading if I knew more about her learning style? Thanks, Kris

Dear Kris,
Reading is a developmental skill. Some people are ready at four years old, some won't be ready to learn until they are eight, nine, or ten years old. There is nothing that we can do to make someone learn a skill that they are not ready for. The incredible stress we put on our children to start to read at four, five, or six years old is counterproductive as well as damaging to their self-esteem. and blocks further learning. Until we learn this as a society and start to work with the developmental readiness and learning styles of each child, more and more children will continue to be left behind.

You can help your daughter become a good reader by:
  1. backing off
  2. reading to her often
  3. providing tools that work for her learning style
Your daughter is giving some clues that she is a Visual-Picture learner. This means that she needs to have pictures integrated WITH letters to learn phonetic sounds.

If she likes to draw, she can draw pictures, tell you the story about the picture, and you can write it for her. She might want to experiment with typing the story from what you have written or write part of it herself.

What is most important is that you provide her with many opportunities to have successful, fun experiences with print and pictures in relationship to one another.

We know of many students who did not read until they were 13 or 14 years old. Within a year or two there was no difference between their abilities and those of children who began reading at ages five or six.

copyright 2003 VKHodson & MPWillis/Learning-Success(tm) Institute,

Email questions to or fax to 805-643-8633.