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Knowledge Motivates Preschoolers More Than Stickers, Study Says

Preschoolers work harder at seemingly mundane tasks if rewarded with meaningful new knowledge rather than by being given stickers, a new report states, news that should have implications for the way in which teachers and parents motivate young children.

The findings show that very young children are indeed information junkies, motivated best by "ah-ha" moments, wrote Aubry L. Alvarez, a post-doctoral fellow at Northwestern University's school of communication and Amy E. Booth, an assistant professor there, in their study "Motivated by Meaning: Testing the Effect of Knowledge-Infused Rewards on Preschoolers' Persistence." It was published in the March/April 2014 edition of the journal Child Development.

Researchers asked 56 preschoolers to place 25 wooden golf tees into a 100-hole wooden pegboard, then rewarded their effort in one of three ways. Some children were allowed to choose stickers, while two other groups were shown pictures of made-up cartoon animals or artifacts and given either relevant information about the pictures or random facts about them.

The children who were afforded the opportunity to learn something new and meaningful about what they saw were more likely than preschoolers in other groups to ask for another round of mundane pegboard play.

Offering meaningful knowledge is "an effective tool for enhancing task engagement in preschool-age children," the researchers wrote. They suggested that such rewards could be useful when teaching math facts, for example, or learning to write letters.

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