After an intense summer of traveling on Picture HOPE, I've had to trade in my badge as stay-at-home (or even work-at-home) mother and admit I have a full blown full time job. This means all the creature comforts of being home with kids--eating cereal together, going on bike rides, watching movies--are giving way to more focused, planned times of connection. I'm making dates with Carter, setting up set times to do certain things with Madeleine and negotiating big time with the calendar about when we can be together and how we can connect.
This leads to a certain kind of insanity that I didn't anticipate before I took on this new work. For example, who gets off a plane and then jumps in the car with her kids to drive four hours to the beach for 36 hours? The new advocate of quality time or this newly minted working mother, that's who.
This is a big shift, let me tell you, not only for my kids, but for me as well. I chose staying at home because my husband agreed it was the best thing for us and because I believed quantity always trumps quality. Now? I'm singing a different tune, but mostly because I have to. How else to explain to myself that this is temporary, that even with these big changes, everything is going to be okay?
Where do you fall on the quality vs. quantity continuum? I'd like to know I'm not the only mama having to redefine her philosophy and her parenting strategy this late in the game.
Kris and I are attending the Blogher Conference in Chicago this weekend. If you're a blogger and here, too, we'd be delighted to see you at the PBS Parents table and chat about what you're up to with your kids for the rest of the summer. If you're home this weekend, check out our sister blog Booklights and join the conversation about your favorite children's books.
Last Wednesday I wrote about the problem of rewards to mixed reviews from the fans of PBS on Facebook. Some thought my perspective was reasonable--mostly because of personal experience with children in school settings where intrinsic motivation is almost favored by educators looking to cultivate a love of learning. Others thought my take was naive, impractical, and at worst, unfounded in scholarly research. For those readers who wondered if there are any documented grounds for leaving rewards behind, let me offer up these articles, studies and a little clarification.
Extrinsic rewards may help a child (or adult) cultivate interest and follow-through in a new skill, but these kinds of rewards may also damage or diminish the quality of the intrinsic motivation already naturally present. Our lack of faith in a child's built-in motivation to learn something new may cause us to limit our efforts to create environments and circumstances where innate interests can develop and thrive. Read this Stanford University study on undermining children's intrinsic motivation.
Rewards, especially when given in the form of praise, can distance a child from his most valuable resource in achieving success--an understanding of the efficacy of effort. Rewards and praise place a child's sensor for what's working outside herself--an effective tool if you want a docile child or an obedient employee--but the ability to access, monitor and employ personal effort will develop children who can succeed under pressure AND self-direct in the absence of visible incentives. Read this New York Magazine article highlighting the work of psychologist and researcher Carol Dweck.
Temperament has more impact on the effectiveness of rewards than the incentive itself. Alfie Kohn (whose ears must be ringing after this week in the comments at Facebook PBS) has well-documented research highlighting the role of rewards in motivating school children and employees. He concludes that responsiveness to rewards is most widely effective with populations that are highly motivated to start. In other words, if the thought of working on commission makes you cringe, all the incentive in the world is less likely to make bring your best effort to the task and help you actually succeed. Read Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn.
And one last word on rewards: Many commenters pointed out that the whole of our society is founded on rewards systems of one kind or another. Teachers issue grades. Employers cut paychecks. Parents dole out m-n-ms and gold stars. While I agree that this is how we've agreed as a nation to move each other forward, I believe real innovation, creativity and cultural shifts happen when there's time and space to discover the deeper motivations for not only what we do but how we want to do it. If we're not willing to build some reward-free zones where our children can experience the value of effort, free-thinking and internal motivation, I'm not convinced we'll be equipped to make the changes that are sure to come as bricks and mortar institutions adapt to an increasingly light and fast digital world.
Getting a little worried that school re-entry is going to be brutal with all the bike riding instead of book reading? Here are a few little activities that are a gentle, playful reminder of the kind of structured learning your kids will be asked to do in the coming school year.
And it's never too late (I promise) to get back on track with the book reading for summer--these helpful tips and a quick trip to the library are all you need to get your early readers remembering how much they love the page as much as the pool.
Okay, I hear some sisters are breaking out the candy in hopes of getting some little people on the potty along with some practice at making the grade so they'll be ready to perform in the big leagues when the time comes. Well, I've got no complaint with rewarding kids for little things here and there to get the ball moving when it comes to cultivating interest in new skills, but I've found with my kids that the road to rewards is pretty slippery. Here's why I ultimately abandoned rewards as a way to get my kids on board.
Rewards set you up for constant negotiation. No problem if you're raising a future lawyer (cough cough Kris), but not the happiest of things to live with on a day in day out basis. Do you really want argue with your kids about whether or not your price for this grade or that mastered skill is worth their effort?
Rewards shift the focus to the outcome versus what can be gained in the process. What prize can compare to the experience of gaining mastery over something difficult or new? My kids could obsess on what they'll get when they finish, but I'd rather they set their eyes on the prize of solving a problem or learning something new for the sheer joy it brings.
Rewards train kids to gauge progress by an external measure instead of learning what's right for them. I want my kids to be the judge of how they're doing--and I believe with or without the reward to push (or repel) them--they already know. This is an important skill that can only grow when we give them the chance to deeply engage in the task instead of fixate on the outcome.
Rewards steal the happiness you can get from doing something well just because you want to. My kids are truly miserable when I bring my praise to the mix--especially when they are engaging in a skill-building activity that they chose on their own volition. There's nothing more exciting than watching your own skills deepen--rewards divert you from the real prize of learning how to do something you chose completely on your own.
Rewards undermine your intuition which may give your kid essential information about where their interests and talents truly lie. How many jobs have you had because the paycheck was right or the benefits couldn't be beat? How many of those same jobs ended up having absolutely nothing to do with your core interests or talents? Let's give our kids a leg up by letting them experience their true potential without roping them into a rat race that will ultimately leave them feeling less talented or free.
Rewards are ultimately demotivating as inevitably the joy of the prize doesn't quite seem worth the effort. This is a real shame because kids need to learn that the act of learning is a reward in and of itself and rewards completely minimize a task's intrinsic non-material payoff. I think a lot of the time our kids miss out on lots of possiblities simply because they've been confronted with a reward for mastery that hardly seems worth the trouble.
Do you use rewards with your kids? Where do you draw the line?
Play hide and seek.
Love a good thumb war.
Know how to dance.
Want you to watch them put on a show.
Need to know.
Want to have more play time.
Never want to go to bed when you ask.
Love to learn.
Love to laugh.
Need to play.
Need to be.
I'm home from a twelve day trip to Rwanda, trying to reconnect with my own kids while recovering from playing with kids halfway around the world. Glad to be back and wondering what's new with the sisters. We're exactly at the halfway point of summer. Are you ready for it to end or just starting to hit your stride?
If your summer days are needing to dial down to something a little calmer, a little quieter, check out this sweet button hunt for all your kids who are beyond needing the heimlich maneuver every five seconds. A perfect past time for your favorite sorters and sifters.
Having a bout of doubt about the next round of development tasks for your "terrible" two, your super spilling five year old or sassy school girl at seven? Let the scariest parts be your guide all the way home with this sweet story from master storyteller and mom Meg Casey.
Knit Simply Knit mama Amy has a lovely photo essay about her summer evenings that will remind you these later bedtimes are worth it all. And if you're looking for summer nighttime fun, here's a little game that will make for lots of flash light fun.
Here's hoping your summer days (and nights) are especially sweet this weekend.
We had our tent exactly ten years before it ever made its way out of the box onto a real campground. The first time we camped, Carter spent the entire time looking like this:
While the rest of us responded like this while he complained and cried ALL DAY long:
It was no fun, let me tell you.
Two years later, I'm happy to report, we recently had a very positive camping experience that I'd love to share, but before I do, I'd love to know how camping works with your family. Did you grow up in a camping family? Do all your kids like to camp, or do you, like me, have a wild card on your hands who's been known to fall apart when encountering anything new and potentially overwhelming?
It's almost the last day of school (or so my kids tell me every morning) and excitement is high about the freedom of summer. They are envisioning endless visits to the park, spontaneous runs for ice cream and hours on end with me jumping and playing in the pool. I'm seeing me frantic, running back and forth from my home office to their part of the house where they happily eat snacks, make messes and watch way too many shows on the computer, while waiting for me to find something for all of us to do.
Anyone else out there cash-poor for camps and worried about how to keep the kids happy while getting your own work done? Let me know I'm not alone in the comments below.
Here's to your favorite funny face makers this sunny May weekend! If you're looking for good reading material this weekend, here are our favorites from the week:
How do you handle your media preferences for your kids when they're off at someone else's house? Movie critic and mom Sandie Angulo Chen offers this media playdate protocol for the next time screens are part of the fun.
Want to hear what our favorite media experts have to say about kids and screens? Check out this complete guide with sage advice for kids of all ages.
One Silicon Valley mom reviews famous kids and famous mothers who have something to say about where they came from and where they're going. Read her balanced perspective on the way our children view us.