Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning

Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning

by Deborah Stipek Ph.D., Kathy Seal

NOOK BookFirst Edition (eBook - First Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now


Motivated Minds--a practical guide to ensuring your child's success in school.

What makes students succeed in school? For the past twenty years, the focus has been on building children's self-esteem to help them achieve more in the classroom. But positive reinforcement hasn't necessarily resulted in measureable academic improvement. Through extensive research, combined with ongoing classroom implementation of their ideas, Deborah Stipek, Dean of the School of Education at Stanford, and Kathy Seal have created a program that will encourage motivation and a love of learning in children from toddlerhood through elementary school.

Stipek and Seal maintain that parents and teachers can build a solid foundation for learning by helping children to develop the key elements of success: competency, autonomy, curiosity, and critical relationships. The authors offer both practical advice and strategies on understanding different learning styles for Math and reading as well as down-to-earth tips about how to manage difficult issues -- competition, grades, praise, bribes, and rewards -- that inevitably arise for parents and teachers.

Most important, Stipek and Seal help parents create an enriching environment for their children at home that will mesh with the school experience and become a positive, effective climate for learning.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466873438
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 06/10/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 333 KB

About the Author

Deborah Stipek, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized scholar and researcher in the psychology of motivation and is involved in shaping national educational policy. She lives in Sherman Oaks, California. Kathy Seal has written for publications including The New York Times, Family Circle, and Parents as well as for educators' magazines. She lives in Santa Monica, California.

Kathy Seal has written for publications including The New York Times, Family Circle, and Parents as well as for educators' magazines. She lives in Santa Monica, California.

Read an Excerpt

Motivated Minds

Raising Children to Love Learning

By Deborah Stipek, Kathy Seal

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2001 Deborah Stipek and Kathy Seal
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7343-8


Encouraging Your Child's Love of Learning

It was 1947 and Richard Feynman was burned out. Work felt like drudgery to the twenty-nine-year-old physicist, and he feared he'd never make any important scientific discoveries. So Feynman decided to continue teaching, which he enjoyed. But as for theoretical physics, he told himself, he'd simply fool around with it.

"I'm going to play with physics," he thought, "whenever I want to, and without worrying about any importance whatsoever."

A few days after that decision, Feynman was eating in the Cornell University cafeteria, when a student threw a plate toward him. (The Frisbee hadn't yet been invented.) As the dish traveled through the air, Feynman noticed that the red Cornell medallion on the rim of the white plate was spinning at a rate faster than the plate was wobbling. Calculating the motion of the rotating plate, he discovered that when the angle was slight, the medallion rotated twice as fast as the plate wobbled. "Hey, Feynman, that's pretty interesting," his colleague Hans Bethe said to him, "but what's the importance of it?"

Feynman had no idea. He'd figured out the equation the way someone else attacks a crossword puzzle or a Rubik's cube. Eighteen years later, however, Feynman would win the Nobel Prize for quantum electrodynamics — explaining, among other things, the peculiar "wobbling" motion of electrons as they orbit the nucleus of an atom. This work of "figuring out the equations of wobbles," as he put it, had begun as play that day in the Cornell cafeteria.

How very eccentric Feynman was — and not only because his preferred study nook when he later taught at Caltech in Pasadena was in the local topless bar. Feynman was unusual because he often pursued intellectual activities with no goal in mind other than his own pleasure. The prizewinning physicist had an extraordinarily high level of intrinsic motivation, the desire to learn something "because you want to" rather than "because you have to."

What you may not realize is that every child is born with a healthy measure of this internal motivation to learn, a seedling that can blossom into a full-fledged love of learning in school and in life.

Wired to Learn

Remember how busy your baby was when he wasn't sleeping or eating? Looking, grabbing, dropping toys over the rail of the crib — babies are perpetual motion machines, programmed to explore and experiment in a relentless drive to learn about their world from the moment they enter it.

Your two-year-old's "I do it," or your three-year-old's endless string of "Why?" and "What's that?" (in my daughter's case, "Waas sat?") questions, or your four-year-old's repeated attempts to draw a dragon also reveal this inborn desire to learn. Although your five-year-old insisting on methodically tying her own shoes when you're late for work may seem self-centered or annoying, she's simply driven by a powerful innate force to master this new skill. The preteen whose Tetris sounds drive you crazy as he determinedly advances "just one more level, Mom!" is likewise propelled by an inner drive to conquer the computer game.

Most children enter kindergarten similarly driven — excited about learning to read and write, enthusiastic and eager to learn about the world around them. As children grow, this inborn desire to learn can continue like a raging river, a gentle stream, or a tiny trickle. Sometimes it simply disappears into the mud. But you needn't sit back and watch your child's enthusiasm for learning vanish. You can have a child who looks forward to a history project or a chemistry experiment with the same thrill of anticipation she feels before the latest Disney movie or her league championship basketball game.


Learning is higher in quality when children enjoy it. University of Rochester psychologist Richard Ryan and his colleagues showed this advantage of self-motivation in a study of ninety-two college students. They asked them to read either a passage on a new blood analysis technique or one about how Rudyard Kipling's writing derived from his own experiences. Next they assessed the students' interest in and enjoyment of their passage. A few minutes later, Ryan had the students write on a blank sheet everything they remembered from the reading. (He hadn't told the students they would be tested.) The greater the students' interest and enjoyment in reading the material, Ryan found, the more concepts they recalled from the passage, and the better they understood them. A follow-up study showed that students' interest in material also helped them remember it over the long term. These studies demonstrated that self-motivated students learn more, understand it better, and remember it longer than other students.

Another psychologist tested several hundred students, ages nine to thirteen, in one private and two public schools. Adele Eskeles Gottfried, a psychologist at California State University, Northridge, found that the more kids enjoyed academics generally, the higher were their standardized test scores and grades in reading, social studies, and science. She also found that the more kids enjoyed schoolwork, the less anxious they were about it.

Other studies have shown that high-achieving students love learning more than other students and that self-motivated students are more likely to take on academic work that is difficult. They also perform complex tasks, which involve reasoning, inferring, and understanding, more competently than other students. UC Berkeley psychologist Marty Covington, who studied the academic motivation of 2,500 introductory psychology students, described his self-motivated students this way: "[They] feel poised and ready to learn and they seek knowledge above and beyond what's required. ... They discover knowledge actively rather than acquiring it passively."

"They wonder more than they worry, and they even say that learning gives them intense and uplifting feelings," adds Covington. Several intrinsically motivated students told him that learning even helped them make better life choices and increased their compassion, patience, and personal courage.


Learning can be so intense and enjoyable that it hurtles a student into a state that University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow." Flow is a feeling of passionate focus, a pleasurable time when work and play merge, when you concentrate deeply to overcome complex challenges. "I no longer notice my fingers, the score, the keys, the room," said a pianist describing his flow state to Csikszentmihalyi. "Only my emotions exist and they come through my fingers."

Most people "remember a time, no matter how brief, when they were swept along by a sense of effortless control, clarity, and concentration on an enjoyable challenge," explains Csikszentmihalyi. You can lose yourself to flow during a deep conversation or a game of chess, or while reading a riveting novel. Researchers have also observed flow in Web surfers who lose track of time while navigating through cyberspace. A student in flow is so involved with her work that she isn't aware of what is going on around her or that she's hungry or tired.

Flow doesn't occur often for most people, but it's so intense and pleasurable that one dose is extremely powerful. Be on the lookout for flow states in your child, because it's a sure sign of intellectual enjoyment you can encourage.

More frequently you are likely to notice your child's self-motivation in a milder form. Perhaps he'll dig into his math homework and feel a solid sense of self-satisfaction when he's done. Maybe your daughter will look forward excitedly to school because she'll have an art lesson with colored pencils, or she's eager to write in her journal, or enthusiastic about the new reading book. Maybe your child is the kind who simply likes "learning new things," or maybe she's the kind who gobbles up any book about horses.

We see variation in our children because the desire to learn isn't uniform or consistent. It can be passionate or mild, steady or erratic, joyful or merely satisfying. But all forms of self-motivation have two qualities in common: like solar energy, they're self-renewing and they are inside your child, propelling him to learn.

As a parent, you can play an important role in fostering this inner desire to learn, sometimes even an intense involvement in learning. Let's plunge in now and look at some basic strategies for maximizing your child's love of learning, or reviving it if she's forgotten how much pleasure learning can bring.

Nurturing Your Child's Desire to Learn

Do you remember how determined your baby was to learn how to hold her bottle, open a cupboard, and walk? She was single-minded because infants and toddlers are wired to develop the knowledge and skills they need to negotiate the world effectively.

Likewise, children's enthusiasm flourishes when they realize that academics explains the world and equips them to deal with it successfully. Unfortunately, however, school learning seems irrelevant to most kids today. If you don't believe me, try this experiment. Ask your school-aged child these three questions about any assignment:

• Why do you think your teacher wanted you to do this?

• What will you learn from this assignment?

• Can you think of a way you'll use this knowledge or skill outside school?

Most likely your child will look at you with a puzzled expression. That's because most schools follow their own internal logic: students work, take tests, and are rewarded or punished for their performance. Rarely does anyone explain how (or whether) the curriculum will help students lead productive, compassionate, or otherwise successful lives. Most kids can't even explain what skill they're learning, let alone its usefulness outside the classroom. When asked why they're doing an assignment, they usually answer, "Because the teacher told us to."

Research has shown how teachers inadvertently foster this disconnection between learning and life. When Michigan State University psychologist Jere Brophy and his colleagues observed elementary school teachers introducing lessons, they found that teachers explained the purpose of only 1.5 percent of assignments. During 317 introductions of new work, none of the teachers they observed said the assignment would help children develop useful or enjoyable skills. Quite the opposite: in 8 percent of the presentations the instructors explicitly said they didn't expect their students to like the work or do well on it! In only 3 percent of the lessons did the teacher show any enthusiasm or link the work to their students' lives or interests. In fact, several teachers made chilling comments like "This test is to see who the really smart ones are," or promoted anti-intellectualism with remarks like "Get your nose in the book — otherwise I'll give you a writing assignment."

But children are delighted when they discover that a concept learned in school explains an everyday experience. I remember my daughter, Meredith, enthusiastically explaining to me the pH of shampoo, and why we sometimes get a shock when we turn on the lights in dry weather.


You can nurture your child's desire to learn by helping him link book learning to the real world. The more kids see such connections, the more meaningful their schoolwork will be, and the stronger will be their interest and pleasure in learning.

Of course, before you can help your child see the relevance of schoolwork to life, you have to know what your child is studying. Some kids, especially younger ones, will tell you what they're studying. If, however, you ask your child what she is learning in school and she doesn't answer, ask her to show you her math homework or where she is in her social studies text. Don't hesitate to ask her teacher what the class will cover in a particular month, or for a general sketch of this year's topics. You needn't know every little detail, just enough to help you make the school curriculum meaningful to your child.

Once you know what your child is studying, you can help her connect it to everyday experiences. Here are some ways to do that:

Connect Science Learning to the Natural World

• If your second-grader is studying weather, ask him whether you should take your umbrella when you go out on a dark cloudy day, and why dark clouds predict precipitation. Ask him to predict whether it will snow during the night by tracking the temperature on the outside thermometer over the course of the evening.

• If your daughter is studying the earth and the solar system, watch a sunset together. Ask her where the sun is going. If you call from a trip in another time zone, ask her why it's earlier where you are. Or ask why it's already dark where Grandma lives, but still daylight at home.

Link Social Studies or History to Current Events

• If your son is studying the westward movement of European Americans, tell him about a local Native American tribe's request for gambling rights on their land.

• When your daughter is studying municipal government, show her a newspaper article on the budget cutbacks causing a reduction in local library hours or the elimination of the bus route she takes to her piano lesson.

Connect Literature to Real Life Experiences and Dilemmas

• William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the 1996 movie with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, piqued teenagers' interest in Shakespeare by portraying the tragedy as a conflict between youth gangs. You can make similar connections between the books your child is studying and his own experience, or a news event.

• If you don't have time to read the book, rent and watch the movie together after he's read the book.

• Or simply ask your child to tell you the story he's reading in school, and start a conversation on its relevance to your own or his experiences, to history or to current events: "Does that remind you of the time in kindergarten when you thought Jason wasn't going to be your friend anymore?" "That's how I felt when your grandfather died."

Point Out Math Applications in Daily Life

• If your daughter is having difficulty getting excited about her measurement unit in math, take her to her aunt's architecture office and ask her aunt to show her how important measuring is to her work.

• Show a fifth- or sixth-grader how proportions are used to compute baseball batting averages, how you have to add and divide fractions to double or halve a recipe, or how to use the math she's learning at school to calculate the increased value of the bonds you bought for her college fund.

• If you go to Canada or Mexico on vacation, involve your child in figuring out currency exchanges.

Make Connections That Are Meaningful for a Child

Make sure you connect schoolwork to your child's immediate or not-too-far-off experiences. "You need to learn how to add and subtract to balance your checkbook" won't mean much to a second-grader. And your eleven-year-old won't get excited about learning about the human circulatory system because "someday she may want to be a doctor."

Stay away, too, from general cheerleading like "You'll need to know this when you're a grown-up" or "I know you don't see now why you should learn this, but I know you'll be glad you did." Such well-meaning but abstract statements are more likely to elicit groans than pique interest.


Another way to bring school learning alive is to broaden your child's experience, by taking her to places like museums, aquariums, farms, and historic sites. (Virtual visits to a Web site count too.)

Here are a few examples of ways to infuse your child's school curriculum with the color and fullness of reality:

• If your daughter is studying a local Native American group, take her to a museum or mission.

• If she is studying state government and you don't live too far from the capital, take her to a senate debate, or help her find on the Web some bills on a subject that interests her.

• If your son is studying marine life, take him to the beach to explore the tide pools, or to an aquarium.

If you can't think of an enrichment activity, ask your child's teacher or a librarian for a suggestion.

Everyday experience enhances school learning too. You may not realize it, but those trips to the park, to a downtown with skyscrapers, and to Grandma's house, and the pet turtle or fishbowl your child has in his room all help him relate to what he reads and learns.

Broaden the scope of topics that your child is studying in school and bring them into your family life.

• If your daughter is learning about the Westward Movement, get an "Oregon Trail" game for her to play on her computer.

• When your son is doing a science unit on the desert, help him check out colorful and informative books on desert animals at the library. Read him one of the books at bedtime.

• If your daughter is learning about poetry, write a poem together, read poetry together from a book, or write out her favorite song and discuss its poetic features.

• Suggest your son ask questions about the historic event he is studying in school of a grandparent or neighbor who remembers it.


Excerpted from Motivated Minds by Deborah Stipek, Kathy Seal. Copyright © 2001 Deborah Stipek and Kathy Seal. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Authors' Note,
1. Encouraging Your Child's Love of Learning,
2. Loving Learning through Play,
3. Nothing Motivates Children More Than Competence,
4. Feeling Competent: As Important as Competence Itself,
5. Autonomy: Giving Your Child Choice and Responsibility,
6. The Power of Your Caring Connection,
7. Your Child Can "Get Smart" If She Works Hard,
8. Getting Smart or Looking Smart? Your Child's Goals Make All the Difference,
9. Rewards and Grades: Do They Help or Harm?,
10. What's Self-Esteem Got to Do with It?,
Appendix: Choosing a School That Will Promote Your Child's Love of Learning,
About the Authors,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
tharleman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
ABSOLUTELY THE BEST BOOK I've ever read on how to raise learners. The author expresses a balanced viewpoint on praise. Based on her own mistakes, this is an in depth analysis of what children need to retain learning skills with which they were born.