As home educators, most of us spend a good bit of time thinking about how to better motivate our children to learn. Carrots and sticks, personal interests, just the right curriculum materials…what’s the key to helping our children be motivated learners?
It’s interesting that the great Teacher Himself connected learning to serving:
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” That’s Matthew 11:29.
We don’t often think of servanthood as a motivator to the young learner, but it’s there in front of us all the time. We teach little Susie to follow a cake recipe so that she can serve the family by producing a dessert. We teach Josh to capitalize and spell correctly so that he can serve others by writing a note of encouragement to a friend or a letter to the editor.
If the purpose of a Christian’s life is to serve God and others, then we parents need to recognize the relationship between learning and service. Note that in the verse above, Jesus says to take the role of servant first and learner second. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me. Take the responsibility to serve and I will make sure that you learn what you need to know.
One of my high school teachers once told our class that studies show we only retain about 3% of all the information we are taught in school. If that’s true, what determines what we remember and what we forget? I think a big part of the answer lies in what information we use and don’t use. Use it or lose it. I learned to balance a checkbook in eight grade as a 13-year-old. By the time I got a checking account five years later, I had long since forgotten how to balance it. Use it or lose it.
Most people have made an unconscious decision about life by the time they are through puberty. That decision is whether to be a servant or not. To serve others or to serve myself. If I choose to serve myself, I will seek to learn only what interests me. If I choose to serve others, I will be interested in the right things. I will learn what I need to know to make me a more successful servant. Kids who choose to serve themselves gravitate toward video games and whatever music is popular with their friends. Kids who set their sights higher seek out more useful pastimes.
It’s one of the fascinating contradictions of life that those with servants’ hearts often end up in leadership with others serving them. Those who approach situations with a desire to help others are usually the ones called upon when someone is needed to take additional responsibility. The guy with the servant’s heart can be trusted with that.
Jesus was trying to get this across to his students. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” ~ Mark 10:43—45
It’s because she wants to serve her family better that a mom studies nutrition and money management. It’s because a dad wants to serve his family better that he learns the intricacies of managing a home and the functions of his job.
Maybe the trick to motivating our kids to learn lies at least partly in teaching them the fulfillment that comes in serving others. If we can teach them that in the context of the home and family, surely it will spill over into their attitudes toward church, their jobs and their community. Maybe the key to motivated learning lies in more than carrots and sticks, star stickers and grades. Maybe it’s much deeper than that, far down in the human spirit. Maybe the key to learning lies in an attitude of the heart, a decision made early in life. Jesus said to take on the yoke. Maybe that’s the place to start in teaching our children.
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