Motivation and Marshmallows

November 30, 2012

Pink and White marshmallowsMany moons ago, in 1972, a landmark study was done by Walter Mischel of Stanford University using marshmallows to assess the ability of preschool children, ages four to six, to delay gratification.

Children were placed in a room by a researcher, and each was given a marshmallow. The children were told that if they could wait until the researcher came back into the room before eating their marshmallow, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. Then the researcher would leave the room for fifteen long minutes. (Remember how long fifteen minutes seemed to you when you were a preschooler?)

The results? Some of the children resisted eating the marshmallow—others didn’t. Out of the roughly six hundred children who participated in the study, only one-third were able to resist the call of the marshmallow and receive a second one as a reward.

While the original purpose of this study was to confirm a hypothesis about delayed gratification and age, this experiment has been repeated many, many times to prove or disprove various other hypotheses.

In fact, Mischel performed a similar experiment on the island of Trinidad using chocolate bars in order to see if ethnicity had any effect on delayed gratification. He found that while ethnicity did not, social and economic status did. Isn’t that fascinating?

But what fascinates me even more is a follow-up study that Mischel did on a group of the original “marshmallow children.”

Researchers interviewed them years later and discovered that those who were motivated to hold out for the second marshmallow, exhibiting self-control at a young age, had become more successful as adults than their counterparts who had given into temptation.

What does this study say about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

The kids who waited those fifteen long minutes weren’t thinking intrinsically, were they? I mean, they weren’t focused on the good feeling they were going to get from successfully waiting out the researcher. No, they were looking to the end goal which was two delicious treats instead of just one.

They were able to see the big picture which enabled them to demonstrate self-control.

They definitely liked marshmallows, right? It wasn’t that one-third of the children hated marshmallows. We can say they were motivated extrinsically—but one marshmallow wasn’t enough. One marshmallow just didn’t make sense when they could have two.

This study reveals that some children aren’t satisfied with what just anyone can have; they want more, and they will do what it takes to get more of what they want—in this case, marshmallows. They weren’t trying to make anyone happy by their choice. They were just doing what came naturally: “Well, if I can have two, why settle for one? This is easy! All I have to do is wait.”

The other, larger group of children apparently couldn’t see the big picture. They could only see what was before them: a fat, squishy, deliciously-tantalizing marshmallow, and the motivation to get twice as much out of the deal just wasn’t there. They gobbled up the first marshmallow (although some of the children played around with their marshmallow first, licking it a bit and holding it in their hands before giving in), and their reward was only one marshmallow.


From this study, it was concluded that those who had the ability to wait for gratification became more successful adults, and I am assuming that by successful, the study means better jobs and all the trappings that go along with such things, which may not be everyone’s definition of success. A pretty impressive study and conclusion, nonetheless.

Danggit. Now I really want a marshmallow or two!


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


Motivation and the Time for Change

November 29, 2012

In the last few posts I’ve been taking a look at motivation, and I’ve been sharing some things I’ve gleaned from Dan Pink’s fabulous book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. To get the full feel of this particular post, you may want to read a couple of my previous ones.

From a business standpoint, Mr. Pink makes the point that business needs have changed over the past century. During the Industrial Revolution, our country needed workers who could perform rote, manual, repetitive work quickly. Gradually, machines began to take over functions that before had belonged to humans. Because many jobs were void of creativity, companies used the “carrots-and-sticks” method of extrinsic rewards.

Today, however, our economy has shifted to where a lot of industries require innovation and creativity to stay competitive. The carrots and sticks don’t work so well in this type of environment, so a shift must take place in the business world to create a new kind of motivation that goes beyond the external rewards so effective not long ago.

Job satisfaction really wasn’t to be expected in the past. Work was work, and people worked for a paycheck. (Many country music songs reflect this, don’t they?)

Not so anymore. Mr. Pink gives many examples of companies who are changing their structure and policies to reflect a concern for employees and their needs. Business owners are beginning to get it that certain things motivate more than others.

Micromanaging is on the way out.

I want to share with you the three components that Pink believes will revolutionize businesses upon implementation, but first I want to say that these three components are precisely what can also revolutionize education in America. Keep that in mind as you read over the following needs that employees (and students) have:

  1. Autonomy. Pink states that “our ‘default setting’ is to be autonomous and self-directed.” People should have control over “task (what they do), time (when they do it), team (who they do it with), and technique (how they do it).”
  2. Mastery. Pink’s definition of mastery is “becoming better at something that matters.” Businesses who want to be on the leading edge should give employees responsibilities and tasks that are not too hard and not too easy so their work will be suited to their abilities and just challenging enough to promote steady, personal growth.[1]
  3. Purpose. Believe it or not, some companies are actually looking beyond the bottom line and are seeking to make contributions to others on the planet. In the past, purpose was seen as “ornamental” to many companies, meaning it wasn’t the goal, but if it turned out to be a byproduct, that was a bonus. New policies that allow employees to pursue purpose will motivate folks because “humans, by their nature, seek purpose—to make a contribution and to be a part of a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.”[2]

Just as Dan Pink dares business owners and companies to rethink their outdated methodologies of managing employees in order to maximize human potential, creativity, and overall purpose in their lives, so I challenge educators and parents alike to rethink their outdated methodologies of micromanaging children in order to maximize the human potential for creativity, genius, and purpose in their lives.

Here’s a cool link to an RSA animation of Drive:  It’s worth your time, I promise.

[1] Daniel H. Pink, Drive, p. 222.

[2] Daniel H. Pink, Drive, p. 223.


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.


What About Grades?

November 25, 2012


Grades are a controversial subject. Is our whole educational grading system out of whack? Should we suspend grading students’ work altogether? Of course not. We need a system to evaluate how much a student has learned so that he can be given feedback, hopefully positive. That said, I don’t think taking grades is necessary in every subject every day.

Grades fall into the extrinsic motivation category. Some students are very motivated to work for an A. If parents set the expectation for their young student that he will learn his lessons to an A level, and if the student has the tools necessary to learn to an A level, the student should be able to meet that expectation. When we praise the student for his achievements, motivation to continue working hard is the result. However, we can’t set expectations that are not attainable for our children. Frustration will be the result in such a situation.

In the realm of home education, we have the opportunity to break tasks down into manageable pieces or skip over material the young student isn’t yet ready for and wait until he is developmentally ready to tackle it.

Contrast that with the first-grade classroom where a student’s readiness to learn phonics or tell time is not taken into account. If the textbook says it’s time to tell time, and he is not ready to tell time, he will receive a poor grade which will in turn lower his self-esteem. Receiving a bad grade is one of those “sticks” that Dan Pink talks about in his book Drive, while the promise of an A is a “carrot.” This is a common situation. Yet psychological research has shown that students do not respond well when they are bribed with carrots or threatened with sticks. In fact, the result is they tend to lose interest.[1]

In addition, comparing students to other students via grades is hardly fair, in the classroom especially. It is common knowledge that children do not all learn at the same rate, so why lump them all together and grade them according to how they compare to the other students in the class?

In the home-education environment, children move at their own speed (which is generally faster than the speed of a thirty-student classroom). Children are not corrected in front of other children, which is important to self-esteem. If a young child does not completely grasp a concept, the parent-teacher will catch it right away and can correct the situation early on, before the student is labeled a “slow reader” or “not a math whiz.”

Grades are not always useful metrics, and I don’t advocate their usage as anything besides a yardstick against which a child can measure his own progress.

While I certainly want my children mastering their material daily, sometimes they have to work harder to achieve mastery than they do at other times. Understanding becomes the goal, not simply getting an A.

Self-propelled kids understand that yes, they can do well independently, and they don’t want to lose that freedom by neglecting to reach mastery. Self-teaching is a freedom, but it is an earned freedom. If my students are not showing mastery, I will be looking over their shoulders to find out why. They don’t like being restrained in this manner.

Grades are not the ultimate goal for self-propelled students; freedom to work independently is.

Some kids read better than others, and as a result, they are able to progress quickly. Some kids may read well but be less gifted in logic. All kids have strengths and weaknesses. All kids have subjects they like more than others. The secret to motivating our children to learn is not to teach them that the goal is an A. We must go further than that and help them see the big picture: self-effort is rewarding. If you work harder, you’ll get further, faster. Making progress becomes an extrinsic reward.

Grades are a necessary evil in the classroom because a teacher lacks the time to teach everything to each student’s level of mastery. Unfortunately, some students become accustomed to failing which over time causes them to resist learning altogether.

Then there are the higher-achieving students who barely need to break a sweat in order to make all A’s. Remember those “smart kids” in high school who didn’t even have to study? They might not have it so good after all. When they are faced with a challenge that does require their utmost concentration and effort, they may actually taste failure because they haven’t been conditioned to put out more than a minimum of effort.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again. College is often a rude awakening. The motivation to work hard was never developed in these students because everything came easily, so when they actually need to pour on the effort, they can’t dig down deep and find the resolve to truly work for the sake of learning. That is unfamiliar territory.

Giving kids material that is challenging—not too easy or too difficult—is the key to full engagement in high school and beyond.

[1] Daniel H. Pink, Drive, p. 37.


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

Pink on Motivation

November 24, 2012

The “discovery” of intrinsic motivation occurred about fifty years ago in the middle of the twentieth century. Since then, scientists have been experimenting with the causes and effects of this type of motivation, and what they have learned is fascinating.

Dan Pink recently wrote a book about motivation entitled simply, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. If you are interested in doing your own research on motivation, Pink’s book is a must-read. I was floored as I turned page after page and saw that his research concerning motivation and the business world closely matched my own research concerning motivation and the business of education.

He primarily discusses the flaws in our reward-and-punishment system in business, but his findings most certainly apply to the traditional reward-and-punishment system found in education as well.

One of the basic tenets of Drive is the fact that external-control systems, for the most part, don’t work. Scientific research has clearly demonstrated this, yet businesses and organizations still use the “carrots-and-sticks” method of motivation and “if-then” rewards. “Carrots and sticks” refers to dangling carrots as motivation and beating with sticks as punishment, not literally of course.

If-then rewards are various kinds of bonuses that are given when performance goals are met. Drive discusses these kinds of extrinsic rewards in great detail, concluding that rewards and punishments are less than effective in the twenty-first-century business world where creativity and thinking outside the box are becoming essential.[1]

On the other hand, Drive talks a lot about the types of rewards that are effective when used appropriately. In the realm of education, there are appropriate types of rewards for various ages and stages. The younger the child, the more extrinsic the motivation will be. It is okay to offer gummy bears to my second grader if she gets all of her math page correct the first time around. She is learning basic skills. She will benefit from a little motivation to get her checking her work.

However, my high school freshman should not be working extra hard on her algebra in order to get gummy bears. At this point, she should be intrinsically motivated.

Is extrinsic motivation a good thing? Pink has much more to say on this subject, but for our purposes here, we’ll conclude that extrinsic rewards can be a good thing if used in appropriate circumstances with the young child. Intrinsic rewards should gradually take the place of extrinsic ones as a child matures.

Feedback is the one type of extrinsic motivation that should remain: all students, no matter their ages, will benefit from positive, heartfelt feedback that is very specific. Young children should be offered plenty of praise as a reward for their hard work, and older students definitely need to see that we appreciate the way they do their work with excellence.

Telling our children what exactly they just did to make us proud or happy or satisfied is completely necessary. Positive feedback is a reward that costs us nothing except time, but it is invaluable to our children’s emotional well-being.

We’ll talk more about motivation tomorrow! I’m so motivated to talk about motivation, I could jump up and down! 🙂

[1] Daniel H. Pink, Drive, p.17.


What Type of Motivation Do You Need?

November 21, 2012

Types of Motivation

Let’s dive into a little psychology here. There are two simple types of motivation: that which comes from the inside or the outside.

That was easy, wasn’t it? Okay, well, that was the simplified version. Let’s go deeper. The type of motivation that comes from things or forces outside of you is called extrinsic motivation. The other type of motivation is a little more complex, and it comes from inside of you: intrinsic motivation.

If you are intrinsically motivated, you do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it. For example, some people enjoy working on cars in their spare time, and they do it for the sense of pleasure derived from messing with cars. Many of us are intrinsically motivated to pursue hobbies, which are a perfect example of doing something for an intrinsic reward: the feeling of a job well done.

What kinds of things do you do for the sheer joy of being involved in the pursuit? I’ve heard of some women who are intrinsically motivated to clean their homes; they do so out of the sheer joy of having a clean house while, others need to be bribed with something delicious in order to get the job even started.

I was intrinsically motivated to clean the little one-bedroom apartment where my husband and I lived right after we were married. I couldn’t sleep if there was anything that needed to be ironed. I would stay up until everything in our little love nest was perfect according to my high standards.

Motivation shifts and changes over time, however. Now I need a healthy dose of extrinsic motivation to get me to clean and straighten because I am old and tired. I will usually think of a way to reward myself when the work is done, and then I’m more motivated to get busy working.

Obviously, extrinsic motivation is the opposite of intrinsic. It is motivation that comes in the form of something concrete, such as a paycheck or a handful of gummy bears. A car mechanic may be motivated to go to work only because he receives a paycheck at the end of the week, not because he loves fixing cars. Originally, he might have gone into the field of auto mechanics out of intrinsic motivation; perhaps fixing cars was a hobby. As I said, motivation waxes and wanes.

That’s why it is not always a good idea to turn a hobby into a job. Something that was fun may suddenly not be fun anymore because now it is work. On the other hand, some people don’t perceive their jobs to be work at all because they enjoy what they do so much that they would do it even if they weren’t being paid to do it. That’s a wonderful situation to be in. That’s intrinsic motivation at its best!

What is a hobby? Generally, a hobby is something one does for fun or adventure during one’s free time. Is there any reason why studying and learning can’t be perceived as a hobby? I mean, when I presented my first child with little phonics and math workbooks when he was four years old, he was thrilled! For some reason, I did not need to bribe him to spend time learning. Learning was fun!

Babies are born, and they are immediately interested in the world around them. They are curious little things, aren’t they? Curious and sleepy and hungry. They spend their days eating, sleeping, and learning. A toddler is a little Energizer Bunny, always on the go, always wanting to taste, see, touch, feel, and experience. We can’t wait to teach our toddlers how to do things by themselves, such as feeding, dressing, and going potty. Tying shoes is a triumph for a child.

So why do we stop teaching them how to do things by themselves? Sure, they need instruction in the basic building blocks of written and verbal communication, but then they can be off and running on their own! Why can’t seniors in high school see pursuing their interests as a hobby? Why isn’t this the norm? It truly can be when a student has the self-propelled advantage!

Extrinsic motivation is not necessary to get my kids to dive into their school work each day. They just do it. Why? They know that they have to, first of all, because it is expected. No, they don’t bound out of bed in the morning, simply dying to get into their school work. It is still work. But they do enjoy learning independently.

It’s kind of like this: if we have to work, don’t we want to work the way we want to work, when we want to work, and how we want to work? Isn’t that what is so attractive about being self-employed? With self-learning, we give students the tools that they need, and then we let them work how they want to work, where they want to work, and the way they want to work. In other words, we give the gift of ownership.

It would be unrealistic to expect that our students will want to deep-dive into every subject, just as you and I aren’t wild about studying some things either, but when it comes down to it, education should not be something we shove down children’s throats. We should not have to offer extrinsic rewards, such as money or candy or what-have-you, in exchange for our students getting “good grades.”

The self-propelled student who is intrinsically motivated will work for the sense of a job well done. He will desire to work with excellence because he is working for himself, not for a parent or a teacher. That mindset makes all the difference in the world!


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

Entrepreneurship: A Natural Outgrowth of the Self-Propelled Advantage

November 20, 2012

Benefits Beyond Education

As self-propelled students, my first four high schoolers possessed the ability to get their work out of the way each day and still have plenty of time to pursue their interests. Nick started a website entitled Sticker Avalanche. He began teaching himself guitar, and he landed a part-time job locally.

I remember that he also began playing games such as Wheel of Fortune on his cell phone at that time. This was way before smartphones, and his was a little flip phone. Before you snicker, you should know that before he went off to college, he had won over two thousand dollars in cash and prizes!

One may question whether that’s a good use of time. I actually asked the same question, but Nick wasn’t shirking any responsibilities while winning stuff; he would play at night. Isn’t that crazy? A couple thousand dollars from a cell phone? He won everything from iTunes gift cards to a pair of mountain bikes to portable DVD players and random things like GPS systems. Some of what he won he sold on eBay for cash to put toward essential items, such as books for his freshman year in college.

Taylor also cashed in on the cell-phone games jackpot opportunity. Don’t think this was an easy thing for them to do, either of them! They ranked nationally in the games they played! They just had the persistence and the yes-I-can attitudes that didn’t allow them to fail. Within about fifteen months, the company that offered the awesome prizes began offering wimpy ones instead, but not before Nick and Taylor used their skills to win a whole lot of cool stuff due to their determination and perseverance.

Lauren, in her free time, developed a penchant for selling wholesale jewelry-making supplies on eBay as her source of income. She now has an online compan,, where she buys wholesale and sells at a profit. Her secret is volume selling, and she takes customer service seriously. She knows how to treat people kindly and with respect, which has won her loyal repeat customers.

And these are just the things my kids did that I remember. LOL I’ve got the memory of a banana peel.

Did my husband and I teach our children how to do this kind of stuff? Well, sort of. We started up two different online companies over the years. One company we sold, and we still own and operate

But the kids just came up with their own ideas according to their passions, did their research, discovered things on their own, and decided how to use what they had at their disposal to develop a network of successful ventures. I know this is directly linked to their self-propelled attitudes.

Today Olivia, at age sixteen, has an online Etsy site where she sells her hand-tatted items and handmade jewelry. Her work is beautiful, and she’s discovered the fun of having her own business. So the trend continues. I’m certain that my last three daughters will come up with their own outlets for creativity as well.

Self-Propelled kids have time to think, dream, and initiate steps towards reaching their dreams.


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

Former Teacher Becomes Home-Educating Mom, but WHY?

November 19, 2012

As my beloved eight devoted blog readers can attest, I used to be a classroom teacher. I have experience in both the public and the private classroom situations. In fact, I wasn’t keen on having my own kids at all. I thought I would manage other people’s kids for them. Hahahahaha. Hard to manage kids whose parents aren’t exactly education-minded, but that is another story.

I eventually had a cute little red-haired baby boy. Three months after his birth, I found that another baby would be coming along about the time of the first baby’s first birthday. Two cute little red-haired babies graced my life, razing it and changing it forever: enter Nicky and Lauren.

About 14 months later, baby Taylor joined the family circus, followed by Franklin about 17 months after Taylor. I now ran a pre-school. Ha!

I absolutely loved having babies and toddlers around! Okay, a shower was a rarity unless my husband was home to mind the manic masses, but my memories of sitting on the floor in our family room, listening to four-year-old Nicky read Who Will Bell the Cat? and other stories to his little siblings are priceless. I’ve got some this on cassette tape, actually.

Yesterday’s blog was about GOALS.

What are some good goals when it comes to educating children? Here is a short list of the personal goals I had when I began home educating little Nicholas at age four:

  1. Present new information in various forms: workbooks, readers, texts, etc.
  2. Test when necessary to make sure information is learned to an A level.
  3. Move on to the next thing, letting my child’s readiness be the guide.

Because I had a degree in elementary education and had taught school before having my own children, it never dawned on me that children would enjoy learning if left to themselves. Isn’t that a strange thing to say? But it’s true.

In the classroom, children had to be pushed and pulled along for the most part. In my experience as a mom who was home educating her child, however, I found that Nicholas moved very, very quickly through his lessons because he could go at his own speed. He didn’t need to wait for the class to finish up; he was the class!

Nor did he know that he should not be enjoying this thing called school. Ah! But that was the difference! It was not school; it was learning at home. We weren’t up at the crack of dawn, gulping down breakfast, scrambling to find matching shoes, and running out the door to catch the school bus, separated from everything related to family.

Instead, learning was a natural thing done in the comfort of our own home along with family, on a schedule that worked well for us, not for an entire school system. What a cool thing it was to be able to tailor learning to my student! What an improvement over group learning!

I wasn’t just providing the opportunity for learning; I was there to ensure that learning took place, the learning of all the subject matter, not just 75 or 88 percent of it, but all of it. And then we moved on, directed solely by my son’s desire to learn—a desire which was voracious.

Why would I want to send my child to a school when he could have such fun learning at home and could move at his own speed? I simply did not want to miss out on time spent with him either.

If I put him on a school bus, that meant forty fewer hours per week I would have to spend with him, times thirty-six weeks in a year. That equals 1,440 hours apart per year. Multiply that times twelve years, not counting kindergarten, and that comes out to 17,280 hours—roughly three full years of his life spent elsewhere.

Yikes! Why did I have a child only to entrust him to someone else to influence, mold, and shape? That didn’t make any sense.

I knew my son could learn better at home than he could anywhere else. For now, home education was for us. We’d worry about high school later.

Additionally, at age four, Nicky had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This was quite a shock, of course. And years ago, there was no way to accurately test blood sugar at home as there is now. Another reason we decided to keep Nicky at home was that we knew we could keep a better eye on his health challenges than any school nurse could. If your child has chronic health issues, learning at home is certainly a wonderful option to explore.

Thus began our home-education adventure.

(Nicky is now 23 and would shudder if I called him Nicky ever again. Half the fun of having kiddos is tormenting them, right? LOL So next time you see him of post on his wall, call him Nicky just for fun.)


About the Author

Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of, and an author and columnist. Her new book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.

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