Developing a Growth Mindset in Children for learning a new skill

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Expanding on what Stuart Armstrong defines as the: 10 ways to help children develop a ‘growth mindset’ How do we talent identify from an early age? It all begins with encapsulating the growth of the child. I will expound on some areas which I think will be important to predict a child’s performance.

  1. Avoid labels – “you are smart”, “you are clever”. Focus instead on how they do what they do.

-> This is essential, kids learn and adapt very quickly. The model and mould their perspective from the way they are taught. In this instance, “you are smart”, “you are clever” gives rise to the chance for the child to make a comparison with the absolutes of the spectrum (smart vs dumb or clever vs unintelligent) Focusing on the process is key, the process to learn the skill for example, learning to ride a bicycle, you will need to use trainer wheels, guide the kid to think of balance, get them to understand forces of inertia created by the body moving side to side. Often times, parents see the outcome as the determining factor of success rather than the learning patterns of the kid, this “skill” learnt will help the child process and develop quicker, faster learning patterns to adapt to more complex skills.

  1. Get them to explain their process “tell me more about how you did that, what was the strategy you used?”

-> I liken this very much, questioning the belief system of the child will help unlock patterns that the kid had adapted from learning the skill. In the example of learning to ride a bicycle. The kid might reason that he/she is able to do it because of a tighter spatial presence of having walls to support, rather than learning to cycle in an open space. Questioning the strategy of the kid will help them realize a unique and consistent way of thinking. I rode my back having my dad to help me balance with the handle bars but at the same time I was tasked to keep the momentum in paddling the wheels so as to ensure with enough speed, the balancing “experience” would be easier.

  1. Explain to the child that the brain is like a muscle which benefits from training. The brain can be trained through trial and error. The secret is to persevere and to fall in love with the struggle.

-> The cognitive function of the child will help in reasoning, patterning and creating the construct of their understanding, the affective function is also important to let the kid realize what is means “to struggle” or to “persevere”. Kids love to see immediate results however, in a skill like learning to ride a bicycle, it is very rare to see a child learn it on the first go, they will need to go through a series of falling down, rolling over and getting frustrated. Explaining the importance of trial and error will guide the kid to formulate the “To-Do’s” or the “To-Dont’s”.

  1. If they do something that is easy for them and they are expecting praise, offer them an ‘opportunity’ to stretch themselves by saying, “I want to give you the opportunity to show me how well you can learn”.

-> Awarding ownership to the child can be seen as a huge step as their dependency is no longer on you (the giver of instructions) but to look at themselves to discover the capability. Learning is an on-going process, teaching the child at that age to initiate a self discovery learning methodology can stretch them. However, this is not an obligation, some kids perform and learn better through praise, I for one love praises. As a kid, I was told by my family, friends that I could run fast. Whenever I played catching around the estate and I was the catcher and I could not catch anyone, I felt lousy. When my family reasoned to me that I was playing against older kids, they told me I was already performing very well, I was pleased.

  1. Apologise for creating a game or practice that isn’t challenging enough for them. You will know it is working when they say to you…”we don’t do easy”.

-> It might be difficult for some to create a game like setting or practice session. As a game-like setting would require a succinct set of rules, ability to create boundaries/ parameters for learning etc. Challenging the kid needs to be catered, kids vary in their speed of acquire a skill, kids perform in various set of environments, there is no one fixed set of schematics to follow, what is essential is understanding the kids current ability and to gauge a learning outcome that will suit the child to learn the skill adequately, replicating the same method of producing the same results.

  1. Ask them if they want the easy task or the harder one. Use this as a test to see if they are on track.

-> This test their capacity to make a self guided decision on the outcome they are expecting. Learning to ride a bicycle, an easy take can be riding with the trainer wheels and paddling straight, a harder one will be to take off the trainers wheels and not fall down. The perimeters of guiding the child is in developing the approach of the learning outcome which is? To develop a sense of balance, confidence aand replicability.

  1. Use the ‘horizon strategy’ to keep the achievement of the task just out of reach but still visible. Give them checkpoints so that they can still see their improvement.

-> I liken to have visual checkpoints in teaching a kid a skill, it is measurable, timely, attainable with goals to determine the progress. Kids like to see the end goal of that skill, showing them pictures of riding a bicycle by the beach, riding and taking the dog for a walk can be simple ways to motivate the child to learn the skill expeditiously.

  1. Explain that you are less interested in them getting the answer right as much as you are interested in how they got to the solution.

-> Likewise, we as adults do not want to be measured by just our educational certifications that determine our worth, we want to be “assessed” by our skills and capabilities in the job given the space to excel. Kids may find it hard to accept if the only absolute is the final destination. In Singapore, last year, there was a kid that scored below the expectation of his parent in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) for grade 6 or 12 years old. The first immediate response of the kid was “are you angry with me? Does it mean I would not be having my Nintendo DS anymore? Giving the kid that absolute outcome devastated the child and the child felt that he was a failure. We never want to express that to our kids by giving such pressures. We want to understand how they got that solution and to work with them through this process.

  1. Create an award for the ‘top struggler’. Reward the person who has tried the hardest and had the most fails.

-> This can be seen in a group setting. Moreover, the “hustler” or the “struggler” can determine the level of difficulty of the task, it is a good indicator of the task that you have planned. In learning a sporting skill, there are basic/fundamental movement skills that are precursors to intermediate and advanced skills, expanding the baseline of learning outcomes will aid coaches/ trainers/ teachers to distinguish game like settings to build that conducive forward learning outcome

  1. Always explain that you can’t make things easy because easy isn’t fun. You want them to have fun and the fun comes from working hard at something.

-> Fun/ excitement/ joy is still the main factor that should be inculcated in a child’s learning process. This cannot be explained by any other kid as each of them have their special way of enjoyment, creating an environment that is inclusive, assertive to the child will develop a pathway for the child to enjoy the game in the future. For the benefit of those who are trying to find out what are the stages of learning a skill or in the matter of talent identification, I will be expounding on it in my future articles. In a nutshell here is the breakdown of the ages in the learning stages:

Stage 1: Age 3- Age 8 (Recognising physical inefficiencies)

Stage 2: Age 9 – Age 16 (Physiological, psychomotor changes)

Stage 3: Age 16+ (Sport specific test, new adaptations)

In conclusion, developing a growth mindset in children for learning a new skill is as important as how we wake up each day telling ourselves that we want to conquer/ seize our day to constantly push ourselves in bettering our skills, knowledge, network etc. Start by developing that growth mindset to focus on the process leading to the outcome.