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Nurturing a Growth Mindset for Young Children

Nurturing a Growth Mindset for Young Children

At the Minnesota Children's Museum last week, I noticed a sign hanging at adult eye level. It read: “Give kids a chance to figure things out on their own — that’s how they learn!” Shorthand for, "adults, sit on your hands!"

The air powered ball launchers in the Forces of Play area begged for engagement. The exhibit included easy and difficult challenges for each age group. My husband and I watched as our granddaughter worked to loop a string over a handle. She rolled balls down clear tubes and then collected balls in a bucket. She quickly lost interest in concepts beyond her grasp - like the ball launcher. Her grandfather and I resisted our temptations to engage her is something we wanted to try!

Deb Lund, Executive Director of Baby's Space, has a solution for improving parents' and grandparents' interfering urges - adult-only field trips. Museum sponsored evening events give adults the run of the play areas with no children allowed. Arranging the bus and boxed-dinners, Deb makes it easy for parents to play. We are better at supporting our children when we nurture our curiosities and have fun learning.

For young children, it doesn't take the resources of a museum to create learning activities.

Three-year-old Olivia wants a toy that is just out of her reach. Standing on her tiptoes and stretching her arms towards the toy is unsuccessful. She looks around, not noticing that you are watching. She sees a chair and moves it towards the shelf. She discovers that the chair is too high for her to climb successfully.

What do you do?

Getting the toy for Olivia is the quickest, and perhaps the safest way to solve this problem. But quick and easy solutions can interfere with the opportunity for discovery. By facing everyday dilemmas, young children learn how to gather information, break down problems, set goals, and organize knowledge.

Looking around the room, Olivia spots a stool. With a lot of effort, she places it next to the chair but she discovers that when she gets on the stool, the back of the chair is in her way. Olivia calls for help.

An encouraging voice says, “You can figure it out!”

After a moment of contemplation, a triumphant Olivia ascends to grab the toy.

Throughout the day, infants, toddlers, and three-year-olds will try problem-solving strategies, many of which will be unsuccessful. Children will try to put their bodies in spaces that are too small. They will watch as the yogurt containers fall to the floor. Towers built without sturdy foundations will topple over. Stuffed animals will become too abundant to carry. Their left foot won’t fit in their right shoe.

These attempts are not errors; they are learning moments!

The brains of toddlers are twice as busy as the brains of adults. Young children are continually trying out, “what will happen when…?”

So, how do we allow toddlers to make discoveries and find solutions, while not having floors covered with yogurt?

  • Create child-friendly environments in which there are few “off-limits” items or areas. Narrate your child’s actions. “You are trying to reach the truck.” This way your child knows you are paying attention to her learning.

  • Pause to watch how your child attempts to solve a problem before offering suggestions or help.

  • Delight in repetitive play. While it may be annoying or boring for adults, it is the way toddlers learn!Even when you both know the outcome, with excitement wonder, “What’s going to happen next?”

  • Remember a growth mindset includes complementing the process and using the word, "yet." Check out my article on Growth Mindset.

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