Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Rewards

What do Montessori Guides mean when they talk about intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards?

When a child accomplishes a task or finally figure something out, we want to hear:

“I did it!”

Children are born with an innate curiosity to learn.  The early years are crucial for establishing intrinsic motivations.  In the Montessori environment, guides focus on strengthening this motivation in children.

Many times, this is used by parents and educators for compliance.  Achieving compliance is easier than getting engagement.  Compliance however, is short lived.

Extrinsic Motivators

Extrinsic motivators are influences from the outside:  rewards like stickers, stars and m&m’s.  These types of motivators work in the moment, but rarely have a lasting impact.  INstead the impact is fleeting:  it can get children to act, but not to change for the long term.

Intrinsic Motivators

Intrinsic motivation comes from the inside, from the child experiencing the joy of  their own accomplishment and being able to say:  “I did it!”.

How do Montessori Guides do this for children?

By providing choices – instead of using rewards, Montessori Guides provide children with choices that generate intrinsic motivation and engagement.   For example:  Would you like to set up the chairs for lunch or place the flowers on the tables today?

By connecting – actively showing interest in what children are saying, doing, or demonstrating an interest in themselves.  It is amazing how impactful being genuine and supportive can be.  I have found this also works very well with teenagers.  While a Guide may not necessarily share the child’s level of interest in something, by listening, remaining engaged and truly hearing what they are saying creates trust and furthers engagement.

Give Feedback – Instead of providing empty praise, (every job is not a “good job”), Guides will provide more genuine feedback suchs as “I can see you put a lot of thought into that”.  Another approach Guides use is to ask a child to tell you more “Which one is your favorite?” or “Why did you choose that pattern to make the circles?”, for example.

Independent thinking – Encourage children to work on a certain skill and report back to you.

Self-Direction – Everyone, especially young children feel a larger sense of accomplishment when they are able to do something all by themselves.

Remember this:  We really have all day with them!   

Make the time in the busy schedule to not be in such a hurry!

Allow time to put on jackets.  Allow time for a friend to help a younger friend instead of doing it quickly yourself.  It is ok if it is not perfect.

Think Positive – Have an “I-Can” attitude.  Children truely can and they want to!

When creating a culture based on engagement, choices and connection, the discipline and punishments start to disappear from the classroom environment.  You will also find the children picking up your language and phrases then using the Guide’s language with their peers.

Go on, give it a try!  Be consistent and often.  Try one on for a while, watch it stick, layer in the next and then the next.  Your classroom culture will change before your eyes!

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