Motivation and Reinforcement

None of us will do things that we do not feel benefit us in some way.  In other words, we need motivation.  This is true for any individual.  Our role as the adults working with the learner is to figure out what is motivating for the individual.  For the sensorimotor learner, we need to determine which of the learning pathways (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, or movement) provide the most usable information for the learner.  We also need to make learning fun and interesting!

Various materials that might interest a child include astroturf, combs, chains, rocks, glass beads, metal bowls and wire whisks.
Various materials that might interest a child include Astroturf, combs, chains, rocks, glass beads, metal bowls and wire whisks.

You may want to make a list of things that the child is attracted to or likes and things that he shows no interest in or rejects. This may help to give you ideas about what motivates him or her to engage. Does your child have a favorite color, toy, or movement? What things does your child show an aversion to or reject outright? Start with things the child is interested in and later on you can introduce less preferred items. Sometimes the lack of interest or rejection is due to lack of experience with a sound, texture, smell or other quality the object possesses. It is important to think beyond plastic or fabric toys. Consider all the things inside and outside your home that a typical child encounters and might choose to explore. Look in the kitchen, the bath, the workshop, and outdoors for things to offer to your child. For some great ideas, check out the Activities for Home on the Family section of this website.

Also, consider any self-stimulation your child exhibits. These may give you insights to what is motivating for him or her. For example, if your child likes to flap his hand in front of his eyes when left alone, he might be motivated by the changes in the light pattern or he might simply enjoy the feeling of that movement on his hand and wrist. What could provide interesting changes in light? Perhaps mylar paper, mirrors, spinning pinwheels, or balls that light up when squeezed or moved. What toys might provide interesting auditory or vibratory feed back when held and moved in a flapping motion? Perhaps a rattle, a rainstick, a disposable aluminum pie pan, or a string of wooden beads.

Noah Is Motivated to Sit

Noah likes to tap things; he is continuously moving around the room tapping things. Tapping has replaced a previous motor scheme of pushing things. Now the goal is to encourage Noah to explore items while sitting. To achieve this goal, staff provided Noah with a variety of things to tap with and on. Notice how he explores the drumstick and experiments with the sounds produced with each end of the stick. Though this is a short clip of the activity, Noah sat at the table and played his tapping games for 20 minutes.

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Zain is Motivated to Grasp

When a child is motivated by a certain activity, you can slightly change the activity to encourage the development of additional skills. In this video we see Zain and his Music Therapist, Karen, playing together with a tray of kinetic sand and balls. Zain likes to drop things on the ground and does this by raking with his hand. At first Zain is dropping balls, then Karen adds rings he can actually grasp. Notice how motivated Zain is to grasp the ring and how hard he works to accomplish this movement. Because Zain is motivated by dropping the balls, he continues to play the game and begins to use a movement nearer to grasping.

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Jevarias and the Shape Sorter

Jevarias is learning how to play with a shape sorter. In order to make it more motivating, staff at Penrickton provide him with a shape sorter that is similar to Rain Sticks that are one of his favorite toys.

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Jalen Creates a Parade

Jalen loves Sesame Street and Chucky Cheese. In order to turn what motivates him into an activity, Patty provides Sesame Street figures and other objects for him to play with constructively. He creates a parade, complete with floats.  You can see that he is highly motivated by this activity that allows him to work on pretend play, storytelling, and  fine motor skills.

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