Maria Montessori understood the importance of earned praise a century ago, yet handing out empty compliments in an effort to bolster self esteem persists in children’s lives. Some children are at risk of becoming compliment junkies as they wait for someone to recognize their work and pin on the “good job” label. This empty praise not only encourages children to seek approval outside themselves, expect immediate extrinsic reinforcement, and respond to unearned rewards, it may actually inhibit some children to take risks. If children perceive that they need approval from others, they might think it more safe to rest on their laurels and not risk compromising their status. Some children may perform at mediocre standards because outside praise is constant regardless of effort.
As Montessori advocated, the real motivation to reach high levels of performance comes from within. Observers may take interest in the products children create; they may make observations or ask questions. Children’s real incentive to try ever-challenging tasks, however, comes from the quiet sense of satisfaction that the goal was achieved and a new goal identified. It comes from taking pride in one’s environment, and being part of a community of learners, dreamers, achievers. Intrinsic rewards provide children with the wonderful sense of control over their lives and the desire to keep trying because they experience the personal joy identifying and reaching their goals. Hence, Dancing Moose teachers do not quickly turn to the “good job” label, but the encouragement to “keep working and doing your best” is an ethic that we all stand by.