Fostering a Mindset of Growth in Young Learners

Kindergarten children grow by leaps and bounds. They stretch themselves daily, reaching above and beyond their limitations, learning new things. There are frustrations at times, and that is a normal part of growth. When children get bogged down by feeling they “can’t do it”, Robert C. Parker School Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Gresens’ response is always the same, “You can’t do that, yet.

She is focused on the growth mindset described by Stanford professor Carol Dweck. Children generally tend towards one of two types of mindsets – a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Praise that focuses on intelligence promotes a fixed mindset, which is the belief that intelligence cannot be changed in any meaningful way. Children with a fixed mindset believe that they are born with certain character traits and a fixed amount of intelligence and creativity, and that nothing they do can alter that.

IMG_0934In contrast, praise that focuses on effort (“You’ve worked really hard on that!”) promotes a growth mindset, which is the belief that intelligence can grow and be strengthened with effort. Children with a growth mindset believe that they are capable of achieving what they want if they put in the time and effort to get there.

A growth mindset will supercharge their capacity to learn and grow. Jennifer sees this over and over in the classroom. As children take on more challenging work, and they sometimes get frustrated when things are not easy for them. So Jennifer explains the growth mindset to them in a way they can understand.

“Imagine that in your brain are billions of tiny light bulbs. There is a light bulb for everything you could ever do. There’s a dancing light bulb, a math light bulb, a crossing the monkey-bars light bulb, a writing light bulb, a riding-a-bike light bulb, a cooking light bulb, a reading light bulb …. You get the idea! The thing is, they only turn on when you do what they are there for, so not all of your light bulbs will glow all the time.

If you never ride a bike, for example, the riding-a-bike light bulb won’t glow at all. The first time you ride a bike, that light bulb will glow just a little bit. The more you ride your bike, the brighter the riding-a-bike light bulb will glow. It might take a lot of practice before your riding-a-bike light bulb is as bright as your teeth-brushing light bulb, but when it is as bright, you’ll be just as good at riding a bike as you are at brushing your teeth.

Of course, your teeth-brushing light bulb is very bright because you brush your teeth every morning and every night! When it comes to riding bikes though, you might fall off a few times but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be great at riding bikes. It just means that you’re not good at riding them yet. You’re still charging up that light bulb.”

IMG_3617This idea of a light bulb charging up and glowing the more it is used resonates deeply with children. A particular boy told Jennifer, “My reading light bulb is really starting to glow. I’m getting better every day!” Another boy at recess, said, “Wow, my monkey-bars light bulb is so strong! I can now cross the monkey-bars!”

When something is hard for the children, Jennifer uses this expression. It helps them to actually visualize their brain getting stronger by the day, and they’re encouraged to keep going.

Intelligence is not fixed and it can flourish with time and effort. Nurturing this belief in children is one of the greatest things the adults in their lives can do to help lift them so they can reach their full potential. The effort will come from the children, and it’s important that adults do what they can to help them believe that the effort will be worth it.