Tom Sawyer somehow convinced Ben that whitewashing a fence is not a dreary task but a privilege. Many boys later joined in the "fun" and whitewashed the fence for Tom. WORK is what one HAS to do, and PLAY, what one WANTS to do.
Mindfulness is a twisted light that can transform a mundane ordinary task into an enjoyable PLAY time. All it takes is a few breaths, a focused attention on what one is really doing, a fully lived sensory experience of life and thoughts as they unfold.
A study of preschoolers during their play time suggests that giving an extrinsic reward to one group of toddlers (for drawing during that period) actually decreases their desire to draw two weeks later. Those who did not receive any rewards or received unexpected rewards are the ones who maintained their drawing interest. (1)
Another study of school children found that those who are paid to solve problems typically choose easier problems later on, and therefore learn less.(2) The short-term prize pushes out the natural human curiosity and long-term learning goals.
A panel of curators and artists rated artworks on creativity and technical skills without knowing whether the work was commissioned or not. The commissioned works are rated as significantly less creative, but equal on technical skills. Artists say “doing a piece for someone else, it becomes more work than joy.” (3)
This does not necessarily mean that all rewards will have negative consequences in the long run. A reward NARROWS our focus. That’s helpful when there is a CLEAR path to the solution, an existing formula or a fixed number of instructions to a logical conclusion. Rewards boost performance in routine tasks: one route to one solution. But rewards are terrible to problem solving that requires experimenting with possibilities in order to find a new solution. Heuristic tasks require seeing the periphery, having flexibility to adapt, creating connections where there were none, and absorbing conceptual understanding.
In the 20th century most work were routine. Now those types of work are either outsourced or done with machines. Art, thankfully, is full of heuristic tasks.
In learning music, there are aspects of the learning process that fall under the routine tasks category. Rewards should boost performance for specific tasks such as repeats with specific goals. The joy of making music and the natural curiosity of a child discovering new sounds can be overshadowed by the mundane repeats required to perfect a skill. But to give a child a reward for doing well in an exam, or time spent on an instrument (no matter HOW that time is spent) could backfire. Intrinsic motivation such as the joy of mastering a skill, of being able to express oneself, or the joy of hearing the difference between what one did a year ago compared to now, the joy of discovering a color of a composer etc... should be enough to keep the joy of music making alive.
Parents, choose your rewards carefully. Don't extinguish the fire of learning to grow. Don't fuel the fire of learning to get a prize.
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