Intrinsic Motivation

“The goal of early childhood education should be

to activate the child’s own natural desire to learn.”

— Maria Montessori


Meet Carolyn!

Carolyn is almost 9 years old and a third year student in Lower Elementary. She likes her glasses (“they’re just for fashion”) and reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales, graphic novels and fantasy stories. She tells us a little about what drives her.

When you wake up at the beginning of the week, what makes you want to get ready and go to school at Good Shepherd?

I like to get to school after the weekend because that’s when we get new jobs. When you go in you never know what you’ll get. It’s good to be the agenda reader because you get to run the community meetings and that’s fun, or I like to be in charge of the glue sticks. Everyone has to ask you for a glue stick and you have to ask what they’re using it for. It’s a big responsibility so that the glue is used appropriately and we don’t waste that classroom resource.  

Was there ever a work that you saw other children doing, and you were so excited that you asked your guide for the presentation?

When I was in Primary, I really wanted to do the tea work. So I asked the teacher for a presentation and I started making tea for my friends. It was a fun to have a tea party in the middle of school! Now when I make tea for myself at home on the stove, I always ask my mom and dad if they want some. When my mom says, “yes,” it feels nice because it’s fun making the tea and I enjoy doing something for my mom.

Are there any works that you’re looking forward to right now?

Well, I like to research. We’re going to get to do free research during Thanksgiving week if we have our parts of the plant follow-ups done to make sure we understand them. I’m working hard right now to finish those up. But I’m not sure what I’m going to research yet - I’m interested in a lot of things so I haven’t decided.


What drives the very youngest child to pursue language? Is it a promise of ice cream or a gold medal? Of course not! The young child listens to her family’s conversation, absorbs and tirelessly practices phonetic sounds, which soon become words, which soon become complete thoughts, which soon become non-stop narrations and enthusiastic “Why?”s, which finally become parents tiredly enjoying the peace and silence that comes after tucking their precious new talker into bed at night. But why? The child does not need to be bribed or pushed by parents to attempt language; the drive comes from a natural desire for connection and participation in the world. This intrinsic motivation inspires behavior that is propelled by an internal reward.

There are several ways that each Good Shepherd Montessori School classroom environment encourages intrinsic motivation in our students. The environments themselves are carefully prepared to provide children with the challenges and tools to achieve success through independence and concentration. Each child and her particular needs are recognized by the guide as unique and are approached as such. The classroom offers opportunities for collaboration through peer teaching and shared work. The Montessori lessons and materials build upon themselves, providing the child a reason to want progress in difficulty level and the ability to see what he is working towards.

The brains of children are built with an innate curiosity about their world and to want to learn, function and succeed. By trusting the prepared environment and the child’s natural curiosity and drive, and by downplaying external rewards bestowed by adults that qualify successes and influence the direction of exploration, the child’s own intrinsic motivation is free to direct her on a path to finding her own passions and purpose, or as we would say at Good Shepherd Montessori School, her cosmic task.