How do you motivate a child to do homework, practise the violin, or do any other activity they deem uninteresting? The secret may be to reward them — surprisingly, with neat information.
Photo by qwrrty
GeekDad's Garth Sundem cites a study by Northwestern University researchers which found that 3- to 5-year olds were motivated to complete a boring task (putting golf tees in a pegboard) if they were promised they'd get to learn something new about a strange object or animal. Believe it or not, learning that a make-believe creature "has a tail that makes a rattling sound to scare other animals away" was even more motivating to the kids than stickers.
The reward of information leverages children's natural desire to learn, possibly keeps them more engaged during a boring task, and doesn't seem to reduce intrinsic motivation (the way toys or other tangible incentives do).
The information has to be good, though. When given just a description (the tail bounces up and down), kids were as motivated as being given nothing.
Sundem says he's arming himself with all sorts of neat stories about the violin:
how a violin works, what is the concertmaster's role with the conductor, why Stradivarius violins are the bomb, what is the difference between sound waves, light waves, ocean waves and earthquake waves, and of course why scantily clad college girls would do best casting off on rope swings with straight rather than bent arms. You know, all the causally rich information a 7-year-old boy wants to know.
Now if only there were enough interesting stories about cleaning a room or washing the dishes.