Tag Archives: Learning

Willingness to Fail is the Key to an Inventor’s Success

failedThe successful inventors, designers, engineers, artists, chefs, and entrepreneurs of the world know that the keys to success are hard work, sensible risk-taking, taking on challenges, failing, and trying again till you succeed.

Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor, holding over 1000 patents. His inventions include the electric lightbulb, motion picture cameras, and the phonograph. Here are quotes that give clues to the reasons for his success:

  • Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
  • I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.
  • Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.
  • Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.
  • The essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.
  • The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls and looking like hard work.
  • I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.

Edison clearly had “grit” and a “growth-based mindset.” He also loved to tinker, and had a passion for learning. (Click on any of those color links for tips on instilling those traits in your child. Also read here about the impact of praise on your child’s mindset.)

Here are some ways to raise an Inventor (or designer, engineer, artist, chef,  entrepreneur, author, builder, etc.)

  • Create a culture where struggle and risk-taking is valued more than the “right answer”.
  • Instead of defining things as “pass” or “fail”, try “mastered” and “not yet.”
  • Tell stories about successful people that illustrate how grit helped them succeed.
  • Let them know that everyone, no matter how talented, runs up against things they can’t do. The ones who succeed are the ones who fail, pick themselves up, fail again and persevere till they succeed.
  • Talk about mistakes and failures as normal parts of learning – not reasons to quit.
  • Let them see you fail and keep trying. Don’t say about yourself “I’m just no good at this.” Say “I guess I need to try harder.”
  • Honor them for times when they set their own goals, begin the work, face road blocks, and carry on to completion.
  • Make things together. Come up with an idea for what you want to accomplish. Draw it and plan it. Build it. Test it. Ask each other: what is working about it? What could be better? Make it better together. Show it to other people. Ask them what could be better.
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Grit – The Key to Success?

gritMany people view intelligence as the key to success. However, there are plenty of intelligent people who don’t achieve much, and lots of successful people that don’t score that well on IQ tests. Angela Duckworth, from the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that an even more important trait is grit. “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina.” “Grit is sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.”

Duckworth studied students at West Point, competitors in the national spelling bee, and those who complete college versus those who don’t. She’s tested them on the grit scale which asks if they work hard, if they stick to a goal till it’s achieved, and how they respond to setbacks. Those with the highest grit scores were the most successful in each realm.

She believes grit can be taught. Some ways to teach it:

  • Create a culture where struggle and risk-taking and doing things outside your comfort envelope is valued more than getting the right answer.
  • Tell stories about successful people that illustrate how being gritty and working hard despite setbacks helped them to succeed.
  • Talk about mistakes and failures as normal parts of learning – not reasons to quit.
  • Let them know that everyone, no matter how talented, runs up against things they can’t do. The ones who succeed are the ones who fail, pick themselves up, fail again and persevere till they succeed.
  • Honor them for times when they set goals, face road blocks, and carry on to completion.
  • Encourage a growth-based mindset.

Some argue that grit is a byproduct of other traits like confidence, courage and curiosity. Others argue that a child is more likely to be “gritty” and persistent and complete tasks in areas where they are passionate. Duckworth agrees: “I don’t think people can become truly gritty and great at things they don’t love So when we try to develop grit in kids, we also need to find and help them cultivate their passions. That’s as much a part of the equation here as the hard work and the persistence.”

Learn more:

Growth Based Mindset

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, has spent decades studying achievement and success. She has developed the concept of a growth-based mindset, summarized here:

Fixed Mindset Growth-Based Mindset
Belief Intelligence and talent are static. They’re something you’re born with: you have it or you don’t. Intelligence develops with effort. The brain is like a muscle that can be trained.
Goals To look smart in every situation.
To never fail.
To push myself and try new things.
To take on new challenges.
Success Proving I’m smart or talented. Stretching to learn something new.
Evaluation of a new situation Will I succeed at it or will I fail?
Will it make me look good or bad?
Will it allow me to grow?
Attitude to challenges I avoid challenges.
I stick to what I do well.
I embrace challenges.
I persist when things get tough.
Response to setback I’m a failure. (identity)
I give up.
I failed. (action)   I’ll learn from it and move on. I’ll try harder next time
Effort Why bother? It’s pointless. Effort is the key to mastery.
Criticism Ignore criticism or deflect: “It’s not my fault.” Learn from criticism: how can I improve?
Success of others I feel threatened by it.
If they succeed, I fail.
I find lessons and inspiration in other people’s successes.
I feel good When it’s perfect. When I win. When I try hard. When I figure something out.
Results They plateau early. Never reach full potential. They achieve ever-higher levels of success.

Mindsets in the classroom:

Students were given a test. Then some of the children were praised for their intelligence: “that’s a good score. You must be smart.” Some were praised for the process: “that’s a good score. You must have worked hard.” The kids were then asked what they wanted to do next, and they were given the option of something easy where they wouldn’t make mistakes or something challenging where they might make mistakes but would learn something important. Those who were praised for intelligence chose the easy task. Those who were praised for effort chose the hard task they could learn from. Later, they gave everyone a very hard test – the kids praised for intelligence lost confidence and lost their enjoyment of the task and later lied about their scores. The kids who were praised for the effort and the process stayed confident, worked hard at the problems and remained engaged and didn’t lie about their results, because they felt they had done as well as they could on a hard test.

In other research, by Dweck and Blackwell, a group of low achieving students attended a class that taught that intelligence, like a muscle, grows stronger with exercise. As they learned to believe that intelligence was something they could learn, rather than something they could never achieve if they weren’t “born with it”, their motivation increased. They worked harder. When they had difficulty, instead of saying “I’m just not smart enough”, they would say that they needed to work harder or smarter. Their math scores improved, and continued to improve in the following year.

Another example of where these mindsets play out is in the math classroom. 3 out of 10 American describe themselves as “bad at math.” This leads to the belief that “I will never be good at math, so there’s no point in even trying.” Parents and teachers often reinforce this perception. Research shows that while genetics and inherent intelligence can help children initially score well, over time the kids that do best in math are the ones who work hard, have good study habits, and enjoy doing math.

To help your child develop a growth based mindset:

  • think about how you praise them: praise effort, not talent. Praise process not product.
  • pay attention to how you talk about your own abilities… do you say “I’m just no good at…” or do you say “this is hard for me right now, but if I keep trying I think I’ll do it”
  • think about how you respond to their failures and frustrations. Do you let them give up, or encourage them to keep trying? Do you say things like “I know it seems hard now, but I also know that the more you practice, the better you’ll get.”
  • encourage them to tinker: play around at something – try and try again until you get the result you were hoping for

Learn more about growth mindsets at http://www.whatkidscando.org/resources/spec_growthmindset.html and Mind-sets and Equitable Education: http://www.principals.org/Content.aspx?topic=61219

Read more on math at “The Myth of ‘I’m bad at math’” at www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/the-myth-of-im-bad-at-math/280914/ and “’I’m not a math person’ is no longer a valid excuse” at www.businessinsider.com/being-good-at-math-is-not-about-natural-ability-2013-11

If you’re in the Seattle area, you can attend a lecture on the Growth Mindset by Tracy Kutchlow on Wednesday, April 29. Learn more here.

Stages of Play

Children’s play evolves as they get older. Mildred Parten developed a theory in the 1930’s that is still used today, although some of the details and timing have been re-interpreted over the years.

  1. Unoccupied Play—birth and up. Babies gaze at the world and absorb information, but don’t seem to be doing anything.
  2. Solitary Play—3 months and up. Babies or toddlers explore toys and their environment. They don’t really notice other children.
  3. Onlooker Play—9 months and up. They watch other children play but don’t join in.
  4. Parallel Play—18 months—3 years. Children play side by side. They often look like they aren’t paying attention to each other, but one will mimic what the other one is doing.
  5. Associative Play—3 years and up. Playing separately but on the same project (building a block city  together). Talking together, problem-solving together.
  6. Cooperative Play— 4 years and up. Playing WITH a friend. Some examples:
  • Dramatic / Fantasy play: Dress-up, school, etc. Pretending to be characters in the same scenario.
  • Competitive play: Sports, board games, tag, hide and seek.
  • Constructive play: Building with blocks, making a fort, sculpting a sand castle.

Note: Ages given are for kids playing together with peers. If they are playing with someone of a higher developmental level, they can achieve more. (e.g. a one year old can parallel play with an adult, a 2 year old may be able to do cooperative play with an older sibling.)

When watching children play on the playground, or in the classroom, can you identify each of these types of play?

Brain development – how to help your child learn and grow

brain mapThis is a poster I developed for class about the stages of brain development, and what parents can do to create an environment that aids brain growth. Click on the picture for a full screen view.

To learn more about how to help your child’s brain develop to its full potential, check out: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2013/10/29/brain-development/ and at https://gooddayswithkids.com/2015/06/22/hands-on-is-brains-on/

Note: the brain illustration is copyright Macmillan Cancer Support 2012. The text boxes about what part of the brain it is, its sensitive period, and how you can help are my work.

Finding a Balance of Learning Methods

BalancedLearningChildren learn in a variety of ways.Parents and teachers can help them learn by varying our schedule and activities so they have a chance for some guided learning, some self-directed learning and some down time to process it all.

In this diagram by Kyle Snow, he divides four types of learning up by whether the teacher and child are active or passive. (His diagram shows the rectangles of types of learning – I have added the circles.) Whatever classes or daycare your child attends, it’s worth thinking about whether there are opportunities for all four types of learning.

Here’s how we use the four types of learning in my toddler classes with Bellevue College Parent Education.

Direct Instruction

Direct instruction is what we think of when we say “Teaching.” This is an adult telling information to a child, or doing an instructive demonstration of how to do something. Direct instruction from a parent or a teacher is a good way to convey core information and build “crystallized intelligence” – the database of information we carry around.

In our toddler classes, we offer little snippets of direct instruction throughout the day, doing simple things like showing a child how to pour rice in the sensory bin. But the main structured learning happens in circle time when we read stories, sing songs, and play with felt boards. We encourage all children to participate in the group activity together. (At the beginning of the year, we often have some wanderers, but by the end of the year most are engaged most of the time.)

Scaffolding / Guided Play and Free Play

The best way to build “fluid intelligence” – the kind that helps us adapt to new situations and learn new skills, is hands-on play and interaction with real world experiences.

We always have multiple stations set up around the rooms, and children have the ability to choose what to play with, how to play with it, and for how long. Sometimes the children play independently, exploring and discovering on their own. (Free play.) Sometimes, the parents or teachers are asking questions, giving suggestions, or modelling ways to extend the play and involve new concepts. (Guided play – read more about the teacher or parent’s role in play-based learning here.)

Rest

Children also need down time. Quiet time, with little to no input, so their brain can process all the new information, and cement the connections that help them remember what they have learned. Since our program is just two hours long, we don’t have a lot of down time built in – we hope that children are coming in well-rested, and that they have a chance to nap afterwards. (More on toddler sleep here.)

During class, we do have a book corner where parent and child can snuggle and read for a while. Children are also welcome to come sit with their parents during our parent ed sessions. Snack time also serves as down time for many kids.

Four Types of Learning at Home

Think about your family schedule for a moment. Do you have times when you’re teaching your child? Times when they are playing with you nearby, giving occasional suggestions or playing along? Times when they’re playing independently? Quiet time? A nice mix of these will help them learn and grow.

Some parents say “my child NEVER plays alone. He always wants me to play with him.” It’s wonderful when our children like us and want to spend time with us. But, it’s also good for them to learn to play on their own too. Can you choose some times each day where you say no to them and encourage them to play alone for a while. They may resist at first, but if given a moment to “get bored” and frustrated, most can find something to do. (You can plan ahead for these times by setting up “Invitations to Play” that you think will capture their attention.)

Play-Based Learning

What is play-based learning?

The teacher or parent sets the stage with engaging and fun activities. Then the child explores through play: observing, experiencing, wondering, exploring, and discovering. The teacher or parent is nearby to observe, ask questions, make suggestions, or play along with the child. But the child decides which activities to do, which toys to play with, what to do with them, and for how long.

[The video linked above, by Jessica Lubina, is a nice quick overview of the concept.]

What is play?

Play can be defined as anything that has these characteristics:

  • Child-Led. Freely chosen. The child is in control. He makes the plan.
  • Process, Not Product. Play is done for its own sake, not to accomplish a task. It involves lots of exploring of possibilities, experiments, trial and error, and repetition.
  • Creative. The child can adapt items, create something new or experience things in a new way.
  • Spontaneous. It’s flexible and open-ended, and it changes and evolves as play time goes on.
  • Fun. The player looks happy and engaged.

Does a child really learn by “just playing”?

We know the brain builds connections when it is exposed to novel experiences, and then allowed to repeat them again and again till it achieves mastery. This process builds two 2 forms of intelligence: memory – crystallized intelligence – the database of information that we access, and improvisation – fluid intelligence – what allows us to adapt that information to new situations. (Medina)

Direct instruction from a parent or teacher can be a great way of adding information to the database of crystallized intelligence. But, the best possible way for children to build fluid intelligence is by hands-on, engaged, self-guided improvisation… in other words, by playing.

What play-based learning is not:

  • Specialized toys. Despite what marketers tell you, learning does not require scientifically designed educational toys and apps or flash cards. Simple, open-ended toys will do.
  • Uninvolved babysitters. Some schools have co-opted the phrase “play-based learning” as a justification for sitting back and letting kids do whatever they want to do with no forethought by the teachers, and no input along the way. We’re talking about a more engaged process.

Benefits – Kids who learn by playing gain:

  • Physical competence. Free play allows a child to practice emerging skills till they are mastered.
  • Self-direction. The child gets to make decisions, make plans, and see them through.
  • Creativity. Experiments show that children who are taught “the right way” to use a toy will use it in limited ways. Kids who are allowed to freely explore develop many more creative uses.
  • Problem-solving. When a child creates her own plan for play, she doesn’t foresee challenges that will come up that an adult might see. This offers lots of chances for problem-solving.
  • Language skills. Play requires asking and answering questions, giving commands and acting on them, and explaining your goals to the person you are playing with.
  • Conflict resolution skills. There’s lots of negotiation that goes on in cooperative play.
  • Emotional intelligence. Dramatic play helps children understand emotions, learn how to express emotions, and distinguish between real emotions and “pretend” emotions.
  • Symbolic play. If a child can use a stick to simulate an ice cream cone, it helps her later understand that numbers on a page represent how many objects they have, and that letters represent sounds, and musical notes on a page indicate where to place her fingers.
  • Better memory. Kids are motivated to remember things they need to know for a play scenario.
  • Reduced stress. Play is fun. Children play when they feel safe. We are all more capable of learning new things when we are having fun and feeling safe.

Teacher’s Role / Parent’s Role

The adult plans an environment and schedule which promotes learning. Children learn best when they feel safe, so familiar routines, consistent rules, and respectful caregivers are essential components. The adults offer meaningful experiences that are stimulating, invite exploration and engage kids. The teacher often has outcomes in mind: knowledge, skills, abilities and understandings children will acquire. But they have not determined an exact path the child must take to get that knowledge.

As Teacher Tom says: “One thing I don’t do is decide what the children will learn… That’s not the job of a teacher… that’s the job of the children. My job is to create an environment, then play with them in it, helping them, but only when they really need it.” Some roles an adult may play are:

  • Stage manager: Sets the stage. Creates an “invitation to play” that combines familiar objects and activities (for repetition/mastery) with novel objects to explore and discover.
  • Observer. Observe quietly. Be there so if they look up with an “a-ha” moment, or an “I did it”, you’re there to reflect that success back to them. A good rule of thumb is to observe for at least 3 minutes before talking. Then make suggestions or ask questions to extend their thinking, or encourage reflection. But don’t change their play, or tell them what their results need to be.
  • Recorder: Ask them to describe what they are doing. (Remember, ask about the process, not the product they’ll end up with.) Write it down to share with a parent or friend later.
  • Facilitator: Help get them the tools they need to accomplish their play plan. Help clear away the “clutter” that gets in the way of their play. Ask more, answer less.
  • Mediator: For children age 3 and up, it’s best to sit back and let kids work out their own conflicts and learn from doing so. But sometimes, especially with younger children, an adult helps resolved conflicts by offering new materials or suggesting alternatives, and modelling flexible thinking needed for peer interactions.
  • Interpreter: help children understand what is meant by another’s words and actions.
  • Participant in play: You follow their lead, respect their individual style of play. Don’t try to make the game your own. Simply be one of the kids who is playing! (As the “big kid” in the group, you can role model respect, creativity, flexibility.)
  • Tools of the Mind style. Kids develop a plan for their pretend play. Teacher offers instruction in pretend play – suggestions specific to the scenario. Kids play. When play comes to an end, the teacher discusses it with them and asks about what they did.
  • Reggio Emilia – inquiry-based or project-based learning style. When your child demonstrates interest in a topic, you collect resources related to it: books, videos, tools, resources for dramatic play related to it. The child chooses a project and must plan their actions, gather information, and develop new ideas. The teacher / parent observes, participates, guides the play when needed, asks questions, and encourages deeper thinking.

A key element of play-based learning is Scaffolding. Development advances and learning occurs when children are challenged to do something just one step beyond their current mastery, and then allowed to practice newly acquired skills. Adults and older children help them make the step by giving a hint, modelling the skill, or adapting materials or activities, and then allowing them to continue to play.

Resources

Read: Brain Rules for Babies, by John Medina.

Collections of resources on Play & Learning: www.naeyc.org/play and www.zerotothree.org/child-development/play/

Watch: The Power of Play documentary: https://vimeo.com/20964066

If you ever find yourself wondering about our class: “Why aren’t they teaching my child anything?? All they do is play!” watch this video to remember everything kids learn when they are playing: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNlW7YIX7pk

Additional Sources Used:

The Playing Learning Child: Towards a pedagogy of early childhood. Samuelsson & Carlsson. 2008  Scandinavian Journal of Education.  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00313830802497265

The Role of Play in Today’s Kindergarten, Lori Jamison. http://lorijamison.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/The-Role-of-Play-in-Todays-Kindergarten.pdf

References to Play in NAEYC Position Statements: http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/ecprofessional/Play%20references%20in%20NAEYC%20position%20statements_10%2009%20update.pdf

Play in the Preschool Classroom: Its Socio-emotional Significance and the Teacher’s Role in Play, Godwin S. Ashiabi1,2 Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, October 2007. http://leadershiplinc.illinoisstate.edu/play-based-learning/documents/play_in_the_preschool_classroom.pdf

Go Play – Promoting Your Child’s Learning Through Play www.zerotothree.org

Teaching a Play-Based Curriculum by Teacher Tom. http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2012/04/teaching-play-based-curriculum.html

What is child-led play? On nature-play.co.uk