Are we wasting time motivating children?

I’ve been thinking about a quote by Jean-Jacques Rousseau on motivating children.

The training of children is a profession where we must know how to waste time in order to save it.”


This makes sense to me if I think about all the times I’ve patiently explained something to a student at MagiKats. The time just ticked away in the background. Eventually, the student ‘got’ it, smiled at me, and we moved on.

Motivating children to do their homework

At MagiKats we’ve motivated students for more than a decade to complete MagiKats homework tasks. But how did we do it? Keep in mind this is on top of homework they get at school. Astonishingly, pretty much all of them agree to do the extra homework we give them!

As far as schools of thought on motivation, there would seem to me to be four options:

  • Telling them to get on with it (also known as ‘the quickest way’).
  • Doing their homework with them.
  • Offering rewards for the completion of homework.
  • Advising when asked, but not being a ‘helicopter’.

Which method motivates children to do homework?

No particular method is best or worst. The first probably applies if you’ve done all the other ways (at some point) and now your child will just get on without you. At MagiKats, our Maths and English workshops most resemble the fourth point. I guess the reason is, we are there to mentor our students, not tutor them. We find the strongest motivation to do well lies in having someone assure you of the right answers without pushing the solutions onto you. Too quick? Too fast? Too pushy? That approach destroys motivation.

What are the benefits of the advisory approach?

That’s easy – ownership! When students understand they are going forward, they seem to want more and more. The MagiKats advisory approach nicely fits for school routines and household chores too. Letting kids be part of a household ‘team’ (and not just viewed as the ‘guests’) leads to the idea ‘one day you could be running your own household’. This is ownership. This is empowering.

How to explain all aspects of washing the dishes, doing laundry, or even preparing a family meal is a patient challenge. But it can be done! When the jobs are underway, remember to stand back and not be too available. Don’t cramp their style. Let them do it! (You could always quote Rousseau in the background.)

So, are we wasting our time motivating our children? Absolutely not!

From the team at MagiKats HQ