Fostering a Growth Mindset in Young Children
How many of us have heard our students and children say, “I can’t do this” or “I don’t know how,” time and time again? It can be frustrating, as an educator, to combat this type of negative commentary, especially when we may feel the urge to simply say, “Yes, honey, you can! You can do anything!” It’s a slippery slope, as research tells us we cannot overpraise our children; it profoundly impacts their mindset. We have to allow them to feel challenged, and even defeated at times, in order to give them a sense of resilience, and to promote the ability to “try, try again” as if they were the infamous Little Engine That Could.
One’s mindset, or way of thinking, can be set in a fixed or growth state, according to Dr. Carol Dweck (2006). Our goal is to promote a growth mindset, as this is the mindset that gives a child grit, enthusiasm, and the courage to tackle a task that may seem challenging. We may want to say, “I see you are trying. Keep up the hard work!” rather than “You don’t have to struggle with that math problem” or “Maybe you are not ready yet.” Those in a fixed mindset truly feel they cannot accomplish a goal set for them, and in turn, may not set future goals for themselves that require a little elbow grease.
So how do we foster this growth mindset in our students and children? We must present them with lessons that demonstrate process learning. It is critical to show them learning is a process, and not all of us are simply naturals at math, science, grammatical rules, and so forth. Learning is on-going, and perhaps never-ending. But we can also show that it’s a beautiful process as well, always unfolding new information to us, even as educators! The most concrete example of the magnificent process of following through and promoting growth is demonstrated through the essence of a writing piece. A child has an idea, a theme, an outline, and perhaps does some research at the local library, on a reputable website with you. And finally, the child comes to the preliminary draft. It is then revised and edited to become closer to the final draft: the culminating piece. Examples are found in science as well, of course, as a child conducts a lab and reveals a conclusive result, feeling he or she now understands the original hypothesis in a fuller way. There are numerous ways one can explore and understand concepts, learning viable information necessary for growth, for learning, and for life.
Dr. Jeanette Moore is a certified educator in New York, Vermont, Connecticut and South Carolina. She is an established author and frequently contributes to magazines and lesson compilations, including The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Spider Magazine, Highlights for Children, and the lesson guide for the National Fragile X Association. Jeanette has published math games for Nasco, including the P.E.M.D.A.S. Color Code. She also writes math and science books for Nomad Press, as well as workbooks for Carson Dellosa Publishing. Jeanette is a member of the International Dyslexia Association and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. She is the mother of little Maya Jillian.
Doctoral Research in Mindset: https://repository.wcsu.edu/educationdis/82/
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Piper, Watty, and Loren Long. The Little Engine That Could. Scholastic, Inc., 2016.