Topic: Praise Vs. Encouragement

Image Credit: More than just Montessori

In my travels through the Montessori blog world I have lately come across articles regarding the Montessori approach to encouragement and how it differs from praise.

As usual, I don’t want to regurgitate the entire lexicon but the upshot is that when you (or our teachers or our parents or our friends) praise: “you are such a good girl!”; “this picture is so beautiful”; “you’re a genius” we actually discourage our children.

The alternative is encouragement:  “you must have worked hard on that”; “what do you like best about your painting?”; “that was a fantastic effort”.

Carol Dweck’s is a researcher out of Stanford and she has shown repeatedly that kids actually become demotivated learners when we praise intelligence or abilities.  There are many YouTube videos out there explaining this “growth mindset” research but this is my favourite.

How this ties into our Montessori blog is that Maria Montessori had all this figured out before we had the studies (I’m beginning to see the trend).  I think there are a few key ways that Montessori education encourages a growth mindset:

  1. Intrinsic rewards: children in Montessori education are encouraged not through rewards and punishment but through their own desire to grow, learn.
  2. Self-correcting materials.  The materials in Montessori are designed to self-correct so that there is no praise (or censure) needed.  The child can determine for themselves if they are completing the task correctly.
  3. My understanding is that in Montessori training educators (teachers, directors, etc..) are taught to praise effort or offer encouragement rather than praise intelligence or abilities.
  4. There is always another concept to master.  Because of the multi-age groupings and the support for the continuum of learning, there’s always something else waiting.  Thus praising the current accomplishment seems almost beside the point.  It seems more natural to acknowledge the mastery while simultaneously expanding on it.

I’ve been trying to praise effort with my kids for about 6 years or so and I still slip up all the time — particularly with my middle because she tends to worry in a way that makes me want to encourage her. I can’t always remember in the moment the right thing to do or say. It still feels slightly odd to me to say “you worked hard on that – you must be proud of yourself” instead of “you’re so smart – I am so proud.”

I keep the faith that we can all make (or keep on making) this small change in our life to encourage our kids.  And the effort to make the change will be fantastic, amazing, and beautiful.

Related References:


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