Fanning the Flames of Intrinsic Motivation - The Children's House

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Fanning the Flames of Intrinsic Motivation

by Britny Tollstam
Friday, November 18, 2022

A few years ago I developed an interest in woodworking. I purchased some hand carving tools and an instruction book on how to use them. I watched a lot of YouTube videos on the subject and joined a few woodworking groups on social media. Eventually, I was able to carve a very rugged cooking spoon. Not yet satisfied, I took a class on how to use machinery for woodworking. In doing so, I built a very rudimentary step stool. My quest to become a skilled woodworker was quickly diminishing with each piece I produced. I was not feeling satiated by my projects. I wanted to feel more intimately connected to wood and the art form of shaping it into beautiful objects. I was frustrated. I almost gave up. And then I stumbled upon a class that our local college was offering. The workshop was how to make a Windsor, comb back, rocking chair. The course description explained that techniques for planing, shaping, wedging joints, levelling, and assembling would be included. I was not particularly fond of the rocking chair style but I was excited by the idea of immersing myself in a woodworking challenge of this caliber. Finally, through this course, I was fulfilled in my woodworking exploration. By the time the class was complete, I had made a darn good rocking chair! I was both relieved and pleased. I also felt competent and encouraged to try a few other projects that had previously intimidated me.

The desire I had to satiate my call to action, in woodworking, came from an intrinsic place of motivation. Meaning that the challenge was not put upon me by an outside entity - extrinsically. I was able to lose myself in the work, and it felt good. I had an intense impulse to push through. I needed to feel and understand the whole experience from start to finish. I did not care one bit about the results, only the need to fulfil my urge to know more and do more.

When parents and educators know their children well enough, through observation and listening and questioning, we have a chance to match them with activities that inflame that intrinsic desire. We can help them arrive at a place where the motivation comes from within – and not because they will find praise or a tangible reward at the end. 

This is largely the aim of Montessori education. In the book, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, Maria Montessori states, “Notice that the child has a personality which he is seeking to expand; he has initiative, he chooses his own work, persists in it, changes it according to his inner needs; he does not shirk effort, he rather goes in search of it, and with great joy overcomes obstacles within his capacity.”

When an activity is met with that intrinsic value, and the child can own their course of learning, they are able to bring their knowledge and retention to a level beyond passive understanding. Where extrinsic motivation would bind a learner to that outside pressure or reward, intrinsic motivation brings a learner to a significant place of learning. A place where the lessons become ingrained in every fiber of our being and will forever change us. 

Can you recall a time when you were intrinsically motivated?