Beyond the textbook
Does your child think school is a joke, a time for playing around with friends and only doing the minimum required for homework? Or perhaps your child does well in school, but only if you bribe them with things they want – money, video games, the latest fashions.

In that case, your child is probably not intrinsically motivated to learn.

They are most likely “doing school” because of extrinsic, or outside, factors, such as getting A’s from their teachers and/or money from you for getting A’s from their teachers. They don’t yet value education in itself, to see that knowledge brings things like power, enlightenment, the tools to succeed, and the ability to help others. Below are just a few ways you can foster your child’s self-motivation to learn.

Motivation from within

If you have been feeding your good grades and positive behavior in school with candy, money, and/or trips to cool places, try having an open discussion about education before you minimize or take away those external rewards. Start by telling your child that you are proud of her past accomplishments. Then ask how she did it. You may be surprised to discover that she already possesses some interior motivation. She might say learning makes her feel smarter or better about herself. Follow up by discussing how education has changed your life for the better. Give examples from your academic and personal life of how knowledge has gotten you intangible rewards, such as better health and self-esteem.

Create a knowledge thermometer

To create the positive feeling that comes from learning something new (an internal motivator), make a knowledge thermometer in your home. On a long sheet of butcher paper or the white side of wrapping paper, draw a thermometer about 5 feet long. Instead of creating a temperature scale, section-off the thermometer with numbers increasing by 10. Leave the tall column empty. Finally, post the thermometer in a frequently used room in your home.

Each day after school, have your child use a red marker to indicate the number of things she learned. For example, if he learned three facts from history, one skill from math, and one way to use a colon, fill the thermometer to the section halfway between the 1 and 10 mark on the number line. Test your child on the number of things he learned before he fills it. For more complex information (e.g., how to multiply fractions), have your child post a piece of graded work that demonstrates his knowledge near the thermometer. Once your child sees how much he learns each day, his pride will increase as the red column grows.

Revel in the process

In order to get your child excited about learning, she needs to see that learning is exciting. If up till now you have forced your child to learn multiplication facts and/or spelling words by copying them 10 times each, your child may view learning as a chore, something to do before playing Def Jam Rapstar. Therefore, give your child realistic learning experiences where the fun is apparent. Create a science project or compose a speech together, and point out the fun you two have in the process. Think of other ways to make learning more realistic and creative. For example, you can show your child how to add fractions by combining the amounts of ingredients in recipes. When your child has fun during learning, she will soon see that the actual process of learning is a reward in itself.

Share the knowledge

One of the enjoyments of learning is being able to share what you know in order to benefit others. Your child can easily tutor a younger sibling or cousin. If your child has learned to research information using various search engines and library systems on the Internet, have him teach a senior who is not as technologically advanced to do the same. If your child has learned to solve percentage problems, ask him to pass that knowledge along to an adult who finds it difficult to calculate sale items (e.g. 20 percent off) or restaurant tips. When your child sees a positive outcome in someone else’s life from what he knows, he’ll appreciate learning all the more.