Teaching Children They Can Learn

Is IQ the only factor in a child’s learning? Is a child’s ability to learn something that is preset and fixed? For years, we were taught to accept that fact. Recently, though, a number of books have come out saying something different. If we reinforce our children’s ability to develop learning skills, we can help them develop skills they will use their entire life.

How does it work? It boils down to how we word praise that we give. Saying something like “you got it right” only concentrates on a result, and not what has to be done to get that result. The child cannot transfer a skill, because that child does not know what skill was used. Saying something like “you remembered that when you use the < and > signs, the open part faces the larger number, you worked hard to remember that and now you did” reinforces what skill was used and compliments the child for the effort they put into the learning.

This is an area I am still learning more about myself, as I was brought up more in the “you got 85%, good job”  and “you only got 75%, you should do better than that” mindset than the “you got 80%, I bet if you took his home and worked on the ones that were hard, you could get an even higher mark tomorrow” one. With that in mind, I found this article to be quite informative. It describes Dr. Carol Dweck’s  research on “Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset” :


The article mentions Dr. Carol Dweck. Here is a paper she wrote about how a student’s mindset can affect his/her learning of mathematics and science curriculum:


Her ideas can be used by adults with other adults,say in a work place, and with children.




I had an interesting discussion with some people the other day. In the way conversations go into interesting topics, we started talking about being left and right handed. As it turns out, we all write with our right hand but not for the same reason. One of us had always been right handed, one became right handed, and one is not sure if they were born left handed, or actually switches dominance depending on what they do. We started wondering about it all, and asked some other people for thoughts. This is what we found.
1. some are right handed or left handed, as far as they know, from birth.
2. some are left handed, but forced to be right handed because ‘that is what everybody should be’ and it affects their skills with either hand immensely.
3. some are left handed, but are gently taught to be right handed because ‘everything is more often made right handed, so you will be able to do SO much more if you learn to adapt’. Right handedness becomes so second nature that any new activity is automatically learned right handed.
4. some remember learning sports as a child, and automatically starting out left handed till they were told they had to do it right handed because that is the hand they write with. They do not remember if they had always written right handed, but also do not remember any harassment for not writing right handed, so are clueless what they first tried to write with. They realized at a later age that, when they actually tried, they were capable of writing with the left hand, but as it is at a more simplified level they are not truly ambidextruous.
5. some are ambidextruous, using both hands for all activities equally.

For groups 1 and 3 only one hand would learn to do a skill. For groups 2 and 4, if a skill was learned with a specific hand the other hand could pick it up, but if the other hand learned it first the specific hand might not. Group 5 was either the same as 2 and 4, or both hands could learn or pick up skills easily.

I am wondering now:
a) what hand does a person write with
b) is that hand the dominant hand
c) can that person learn a skill with both hands

I invite comments from anyone who would find this topic interesting. No, I am not writing a scientific or psychological paper about it. I am just curious about it, and invite input from anyone else as curious as I.

Something I learned while working with young children….

Always use all skills as part of learning, but also use all skills as part of play.

So, that means that when you cover a theme, say Dinosaurs, you find a way to express it and explore it with the children using large motor, small motor, musical, artistic, prereading, premath, and prescience skills with as much media as you can. Then, during the free play, provide for physical, artistic, dramatic, reading, and art/craft activities that let the children use their skills to further explore theme related materials. If the children’s explorations take them away from the theme while they use the tools you provide to explore, that’s fine. They will still develop skills, and will feel less pressured, so will learn more when you are actively teaching them during the structured parts of the day because they are more relaxed

How and Why

When we prepare to carry out an action or activity, we can do so from two different approach methods, the abstract and the concrete. In other words,  the why and the how.

If it is an action we have done many times before, we already know the how. We have become so used to it that we don’t even have to think about what we are doing, or how we are doing it. On the other hand though, if it is an action or activity that is new to us, we would have to be more focussed on the how. Sometimes just having to pause a moment, and realize how we can use pre-existing subskills in a new way to achieve the new action or activity. Sometimes consciously, sometimes almost instantaneously without even realizing we did it. Other times, though, we find we lack all of the skills we will need for the action or activity, and have to learn how to do it ‘from scratch’.

Sounds complicated, and it can be, but it does not have to be. An action or activity depends on the use of skills, and skills can be broken down as much as needed into subskills. Why break down the skills? Because breaking it down into attainable steps and tackling them one at a time helps us to learn all the needed subskills involved and, as we achieve each step, builds a strong and positive foundation that will then support us as we strive to connect each subskill, as we learn each of them, towards the action or activity as a whole. But how do we do that?

By taking this overall skill and asking ourselves who is doing what, where, and when. Looking at the steps needed to succeed in achieving the action or activity. Asking ourselves again and again, until we start to understand the subskills involved. Then doing them. In other words, learning to understand the how of the action or activity.

Do we need a paper and pencil for this? Sometimes, perhaps. Depends on the complexity of the whole, and how much of the smaller parts that make it is new territory for us. Trying out a new recipe, for example, is not hard for someone who uses recipes often. For someone who has not even used a stove before though, it becomes a very complex undertaking. Building a bookcase is not too hard for someone who has put together a piece of pre-fabricated furniture more than once. For someone who has never before held a hammer though, it can be a great adventure.

An adventure. One that gives us new skills.  Then, if we do the activity or action again, we are not as intimidated by it. The more often we do it, it becomes easier, and we can ask ourselves less and less if that was how we did it. We slowly begin to internalize the subskills, and the action or activity becomes to some degree automated. It is at that point that we start to ask why we are doing it.

Why today? Why now? Are we doing this because we want to? Are we doing it because it is part of our job? Perhaps in some way we feel we are improving ourselves. We have left the concrete reasons for the action or activity, and are now into the abstract ones.



If someone says to you “I don’t know how” are you fine with that, or do you feel like they are wimping out. If someone says to you “I don’t know what to do” is it the same reaction, or does that change how you respond?  I forget, sometimes, that what makes sense to me makes absolutely no sense to someone else, unless I word it precisely the way they would. Peaves me though, cause too seldom do others return the favour. In this case though, I am seriously curious, and I can learn from this and all. Responses are VERY welcome! 🙂