How Children Are Motivated To Learn

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boynewHOW CHILDREN ARE
MOTIVATED

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Children at this age are motivated by approval. They’re making
exciting advances in their physical abilities, and they look to
adults to affirm their new activities. Young children, particularly
toddlers, are motivated to learn new motor skills. Older toddlers
and 2-year-olds may be motivated by other children.

WAYS TO RESPOND

Show your approval of children’s new feats by saying things
like, “Look at you! You did it!” Provide a variety of
age-appropriate motor activities such as lightweight cardboard
blocks for stacking (and knocking down!), follow-the-leader games
and motions, and toys for pushing, pulling, or riding. Help older
children develop small motor skills by letting them cut rolled
sections of modeling clay using blunt, rounded scissors. Encourage
developing social skills. For example, help children push all the
chairs into a line and pretend to be a train-chugs, whistles, and
all.

AGE 3 to 5 years

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HOW CHILDREN ARE MOTIVATED

At this age, children are strongly motivated by other children.
They’ve progressed beyond the desire to be near other children to
wanting to interact with those children. Children at this age love
to pretend and act things out. Five-year-olds are motivated by a
desire to know more facts about the world around them. They often
ask “what,” “why,” and “how” questions to expand their ever-growing
knowledge and experience.

WAYS TO RESPOND

Children who regularly attend your children’s ministry will form
friendships at this age. Allow free playtime in each session for
kids to interact with one another. “I’m getting ready to go to the
movies,” a 4-year-old might say as she puts on a fur muff and
grown-up shoes. Help children learn more about their world.
Encourage imagination by asking them to tell you more about what
they’re doing. For example, ask, “What movie do you plan to see?
How will you get there? Who is going with you to the movie?”

AGE 6 to 8 years

HOW CHILDREN ARE MOTIVATED

These children are motivated by praise. Eight-year-olds may even
put themselves down hoping an adult will correct their assessment
with words of praise. Children are also motivated by action. They
love to tackle new challenges and often demand complete attention
from adults and children alike.

WAYS TO RESPOND

Motivate children to come to events with exciting, action-packed
names, such as Bible Safari or Sunday Adventure Club. Offer
children ways to get actively involved in lessons. For example,
have children build a human “wall” to help teach a lesson on
cooperation from the story of Nehemiah. Or lead kids outside to
march around the church to teach about the walls of Jericho. Praise
children for their successes and efforts. Vary your routine from
week to week to keep children coming back.

AGE 9 to 11 years

HOW CHILDREN ARE MOTIVATED

Older children are motivated by independence. They want to do
their own thing in their own way and time. Children want to
understand all that a task requires before they begin. Once they’ve
begun, they want to complete each task. As they approach
adolescence, children want people to notice and respect their
growing maturity. Children at this age are loyal to their friends
and identify themselves strongly with their peer group. They’re
curious about God and faith. Children may begin to ask questions
such as “What does God look like?” or “How can God be so many
places at once?”

WAYS TO RESPOND

Respect older children’s maturity by asking them to help with
younger classes. For example, have them present a finger play or
skit based on a lesson they’ve learned to a lower elementary or
preschool class. Nurture friendships by planning social events. Ask
follow-up questions to their questions about God such as “What do
you think?” Provide a Bible for each child. Teach children how to
use their Bibles so they can look for answers to their questions
about God any time.


Jennifer Root Wilger is the former associate editor of Group
books and curriculum and teaches preschool Sunday school.

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