Does Your Homeschooler Have a Fixed or Growth Mindset?
In December I began running again. It’s been years since I ran consistently and I’m enjoying it. Mostly because the boys go with me.
My eldest, Jack, remarkably runs with me. On longer runs, Jack takes breaks to walk and then catches back up. My youngest, Eli, rides his scooter alongside us.
Except when he doesn’t. Like last week, when Eli disappeared.
We had reached our half-way point when a pack of loose dogs came galloping toward us off a side street. Our French bulldog, Mr. Peabody, was free-ranging that day and it startled me to see these dogs barreling down upon us. I thought they might eat Peabo. Or maybe one of us. I like dogs, but not wild packs of them.
Apparently, the dogs startled Eli.
As neighbors, kids, dogs and strangers all worked together to sort out the melee of animals, Eli took off for home.
By the time I noticed, Eli was a tiny speck on the horizon.
Fortunately, our neighborhood is filled with folks we know and doesn’t get much traffic. I wasn’t panicked, but I also wasn’t comfortable.
Jack and I picked up our pace and ran quickly for home in an effort to catch up with little brother.
When we arrived, I expected to find Eli sitting on the front porch petting our cat. I had the house key, so there was no way he could get inside.
Eli wasn’t on the front porch. OMG. Where was Eli?
Now I was panicked. Jack and I began screaming Eli’s name at the top of our lungs.
Our front door opened and Eli stepped outside. “Yeah?” he asked.
Stupefied, I stared at my 5 year old son.
“How did you get in the house?” I blurted.
“Well, when I got home the front door was locked so I parked my scooter on the front porch and climbed over the back fence. Then I went to see if the back door was unlocked. It was. So I went inside, unlocked the front door, hung my helmet on my scooter and sat down to play Minecraft,” Eli stated, as if this happens every day.
Jack and I stepped inside and began taking off our running sweats. I turned around to find Jack LOSING HIS MIND as he screamed inaudibly from inside his half-zip sweater that was turned inside-out on top of his head. Jack had forgotten to unzip it and his head was stuck inside. “I can’t breathe, someone help me!” Jack cried.
WOW. Anyone see a difference here?
Eli managed to figure out how to get into a locked house using a method none of us have ever used before.
Jack was stuck inside his zipped-up half-zip and couldn’t figure out how to get out.
Clearly, my boys have two completely different learning styles.
Let me put this into perspective.
When Jack was 5 months old, he was trying to sit up. I would help prop him into a tripod position and sit with my legs on either side of him watching the magic. Each time Jack tried to sit up, he would slowly melt back to the floor as his body was not yet strong enough to hold him steady. And each time, Jack would howl and scream in fits of frustration that he couldn’t do what he wanted to do. Jack was not curious why his body wouldn’t abide his mind. Jack did not think of alternate methods to prop himself up. Jack just got mad and gave up.
This is a fixed mindset. We are born with either a fixed or growth mindset. Jack’s is fixed. He seeks answers and believes if you don’t find an answer you have failed. It’s tough rolling that rock up hill, right?
When Eli was 10 months old he wanted to run naked across the living room alongside his brother. It was a toddler tradition in our home after bath time. Daddy and I would shriek in mock-dismay as Jack escaped the after-bath towel and shot naked across the house as fast as his chubby legs could carry him. It was fun. Eli wanted to do it, too.
So Eli taught himself to walk. He fell down a lot, but each time he fell he grinned. Or he just got back up and tried again. Within a week, Eli was not only walking, but running with Jack after bath time.
Eli has a growth mindset. Folks with growth mindsets looks at problems with curiousity. When Eli fails, he asks “Why” and tries again. He doesn’t see his failure as a reflection upon him, he sees failure as an opportunity to learn.
This doesn’t mean that those with fixed mindsets don’t learn. It just means that those with fixed mindsets learn best when they are internally motivated to learn. You help a fixed mindset learning by allowing them to learn about something that they care about – not what a well-meaning adult has told them to learn. Fixed mindset learners need strong internal incentive to overcome the feelings of failure and despair when they are presented with a challenge.
While Jack loves math, reading, history and science, he cares nothing for writing, art, or telling time. Things that seem to “go hand-in-hand” with his grade level he’s not too keen on. Give the kid a pen, pencil, crayon, or marker and he is on the floor wailing in tears. Ask him to tell you what time it is and he might throw something at you. Seriously. Jack has yet to care about these things so the task of learning to write or telling time appear to be a huge mountains to him. These mountains are currently absolutely insurmountable in his mind.
Meanwhile, give Eli a crayon and he’ll draw his own kiddish creations with glee. He’s not all the great at math, but he tries and doesn’t sweat it if he gets an answer wrong. And if you ask Eli what time it is, he grins and says “it’s two freckles past a hair.” You see, Eli doesn’t care about telling time, but it doesn’t upset him. He just turns his disinterest into humor and moves on. In Eli’s growth mindset world, things you don’t know about are simply choices to be made, not failures to be surmounted.
So what’s the difference between these two mindsets? Recently, my husband read the book, “Mindset, The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck. Her research explains the differences and also how a fixed mindset can learn to become a growth mindset.
My husband immediately set about teaching some of Dweck’s theories to Jack. The gist is presenting Jack with learning what he doesn’t enjoy – for example, telling time – and encouraging Jack to fail. Each time Jack fails, my husband congratulates Jack on his effort and never mentions the end result. My husband also validates Jack’s feelings. ‘Wow, it must be frustrating to try so hard and not yet see the result you want. I understand. I am impressed that you are working hard.”
That’s a paradigm shift to how we often communicate with children. We tend to either say, “What’s the big deal? Don’t make such a fuss, of course you can do this…it’s easy,” or “Why do YOU may everything so difficult. If you would just stop wailing, you’d already be finished!” Although we mean well, this type of communication focuses on the end result…getting an answer…and also invalidates the child’s feelings. We’re not helping our children move that mountain. Instead we are making them feel bad about their feelings – which results in damage to their self-confidence and ultimately, their belief in their own abilities. Another misstep, and one that I am guilty of, is try to sit alongside and help. This again focuses on the end result with a softer “let’s get the answer together.”
Dweck advises that we forget the answer. It’s the process that should be the focus. Applaud the effort, the trial and error, the focus and determination. If it takes your child six months to figure out how to get the answer, you just might have the next Einstein on your hands!
If you’ve got some time to add a new book to the pile (or a spouse that has time to read and will summarize the concept in cliff notes for you!), check out Mindset. Knowing what type of learner your child is, is a gift. I arrived home from work the other day and Jack came running to the door to announce that he had failed five times at Khan Academy. I was amazed. Jack typically won’t go near Khan Academy and the fact that he was excited about failing was truly remarkable.
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