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Growth mindset

A guide for parents

At Scallywags Nursery we are not only passionate about proving a caring environment to look after children and teach them children new concepts but also about teaching children how to learn. As part of this we are embracing and embedding the growth mindsets approach across the nursery.

Growth mindsets in the early years is about developing the right mindset early to ensure all of our children have successful, happy lives.

When children learn that putting forth effort and using the right strategies, this can help them get better at things, they feel empowered, and try harder. When they know their brains are capable of growing, they are more confident, resilient, and are not afraid to fail!

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” W.B.Yeats

Our duty as teachers and parents is to light that flame and turn our children ON to learning as early as we can.

In the first three years of life, our children’s brains are forming all those learning pathways. They are growing, spreading, linking up, like tendrils of a super-fast-growing plant – what they learn now will have a huge effect on their future learning ability.

Your child’s development depends on both nature (the characteristics they were born with), and nurture (what they experience). What children experience shapes their development as they adapt to the world around them.

All areas of development are linked together and feed into, and influence, each other (physical/personal, social and emotional/communication and language/literacy and maths).

Your relationship with your child, and how you respond to them and interact with them, is the foundation of their healthy development in all areas.

So what is growth mindset and how do we TEACH this simple and incredible concept to children?

Research by American psychologist Professor Carol Dweck, of Stanford University, has shown that how we view ourselves as learners has a huge impact on what we are able to achieve. She suggests that people broadly fall into one of two categories: those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset.

Those of us with a fixed mindset believe that we have a predetermined amount of intelligence, skills or talents which cannot be changed, whereas those of us with growth mindset believe that we can develop our abilities, intelligence or talents with persistence, effort and a focus on learning.

Has your child ever said to you ‘There’s no point, I’ll never be able to do it’ or avoided doing something because they’ve failed at it in the past?

Feelings like this can be related to what children believe about what makes them ‘good’ at something – whether it’s school work, sport, or even their ability to manage their emotions and behaviour.

Some children will tend to give up on challenging tasks easily, or avoid tasks they’ve failed at before. They tend to believe that being ‘good’ at a particular activity is a fixed state and is something they can’t control. In psychology, this way of thinking is called a ‘fixed mindset’.

Others might bounce back quickly from failure and be more likely to explore how they can get better at doing something. They tend to be children who believe that you can improve your abilities by practising, or by finding a different way to achieve your goal. This way of thinking is called a ‘growth mindset’ and developing it can help make children more resilient for life.

Fixed mindset thinking can result in:

  • a fear of failure and therefore a refusal to take risks

  • the belief that if you have to work for success you are not clever

  • a desire to blame others or outside circumstances when things don’t go your way

  • being motivated by reward and praise from others

Growth mindset thinking can result in:

  • a love for learning and self-improvement

  • a desire to be challenged

  • a willingness to work for positive results

  • a belief that you can control the outcomes in your life with effort and practice ï the ability to learn from mistakes and failures

  • emotional resilience

  • being self-motivated

How do the different mindsets develop and why are they important?

Most babies are excited to learn. However, as soon as children are able to compare themselves to others, some will stop focusing on learning and will instead focus on performance; they want to look good in front of others and more importantly, they want to feel like they are the best.

According to someone with a fixed mindset, if you fail at something, make a mistake, or even have to put effort in, it must be because ‘you’re just not good enough’. Because of that belief, children begin to avoid challenges and choose activities that they find easy.

People with a fixed mindset feel as if they have no control over their abilities and are helpless in the face of difficulties and setbacks. They begin to feel disheartened if they find something difficult, which can lead to low self-esteem and a developing sense that there is ‘no point’ in trying.

Over time, children who feel like this may decrease their efforts and sometimes even engage in disruptive behaviours (anything that will detract from the fact that they are struggling).

Children (and adults!) with a growth mindset think very differently. They believe that they can get better at something by practising, so when they’re faced with a challenge, they become more and more determined to succeed, wanting to persevere and overcome knockbacks. They tend to feel as if they’re in control, and are not threatened by hard work or failure.

Although no one likes failing, children with a growth mindset do not let failure define them; instead, they use setbacks to motivate them. Children encouraged to adopt a growth mindset enjoy challenges and the sense of achievement they get when they succeed.

Researchers have found that building a growth mindset helps children at nursery and then onto school; making them more motivated, more engaged in the classroom and likely to receive higher marks and greater rewards from their work.

But it’s not all about educational outcomes. Research also suggests that having a growth mindset increases children’s ability to try all sorts of different challenges and problems that they might not have otherwise tackled.

And because children no longer need to engage in various self-protection strategies, developing a growth mindset also appears to improve behaviour, increase life satisfaction, and help children to control their emotions.

How can nursery and parents help children to develop a growth mindset?

There are lots of small things we can do every day that can help your little one develop a growth mindset.

Key points for teachers and parents

Praise carefully – not for intelligence but for effort (process not outcome) - Praising our children by saying things like “you’re a natural!” or “you seem to be able to turn your hand to anything!” without clarity of the process by which they got to that point can lead to the belief that being good at something is out of their control. In other words understanding how they got there is the key.

Try to focus on the processes they used; their strategies, effort, or choices.

What did you learn today?

What did you try hard at today?

What mistake did you make that taught you something?

What was a challenge today?

What did you practice today?

  • Encourage deliberate practice and targeted effort

  • Encourage the children to stretch themselves with challenging tasks

  • Discuss errors and mistakes and help your child to see them as opportunities to learn and improve

  • Have family discussions about mindset and which mindset they (and you?) are choosing to use

  • Teach the children to think positively and to believe in themselves

  • Redefine the meaning of a few ordinary words: Effort is... the secret to getting smarter Difficult is... challenging – an exciting opportunity for risk taking and having a go Mistakes are ... learning opportunities

  • Start using the word YET to shift thinking from being in a fixed mindset to being in a growth mindset. When you hear... “I can’t do it” ... rephrase and add “yet”. “You can’t do it yet, is there anything I can do to help you?.

It’s never too late to change mindsets in children and adults. The trick is to be open with children.

If you are going to change the way you praise your child or the type of behaviours that you encourage, let them know why you are doing it. Tell them all about Growth Mindsets.

We’re not saying that everyone is born with the same abilities, but what is clear is that practise, effort and finding the best strategy are crucial in determining how successful our children are in life, perhaps even more so than the natural abilities that they were born with.

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