Ellen Galinsky has spent her entire career studying early childhood development, first at Vassar College, then for twenty-five years at the Bank Street College of Education, and for the past twenty years as the founder and now president of the Families and Work Institute. What she has found is that there is an enormous gap between what researchers have discovered and what parents have been told about those discoveries. MIND IN THE MAKING bridges this gap, bringing the work of more than a hundred scientists into a form that parents everywhere can use. Galinsky has divided this information into the seven skills she believes all children should learn, showing parents not only what children are capable of, but specifically how to develop those capabilities in their children from birth up until age eight.
The Seven Essential Skills
Skill 1: Focus and Self Control
Children need this skill in order to achieve their goals, especially in a world that is filled with distractions and information overload. It involves paying attention, remembering the rules, thinking flexibly, and exercising self control.
TIP: Play a simple game like "Simon Says" with your preschooler. Your child has to remember to pay attention, and not to do what you say unless you say "Simon Says." You can also create a more difficult game that helps children learn to exercise self control by asking them to do the opposite of what you are doing-for example, if you clap once, they clap twice, if you clap twice, they clap once. Or you can try out the "marshmallow experiment" with them, telling them that if they can wait 15 minutes, they can have two treats, but only one if they want it right away.
Skill 2: Perspective Taking
Perspective goes far beyond empathy; it involves figuring out what others think and feel, and forms the basis of children understanding their parents? and teachers? intentions. Children who can take others? perspectives are also much less likely to get involved in conflicts.
TIP: We all know that we should read to our children, but it is how we read to our children that matters most. Ask children to think about the perspectives of the characters in their books-why do they think that person acted a certain way? What must he or she have been thinking or feeling?
Skill 3: Communicating
Communication is much more than understanding language, speaking, reading and writing-it is the skill of determining what one wants to communicate and realizing how our communications will be understood by others. It is the skill that teachers and employers feel is most lacking today.
TIP: Engage your children in conversations that extend and elaborate their past experiences, by asking "wh" questions: why, what, where, or who. For example, after a trip to the zoo, ask: "What animals did you see?" This kind of question differs from yes/no "just-the-facts" questions, such as, "Did you like the zoo?" By being asked questions, the child is invited to participate in the conversation, or "co-construct" it. Then repeat back what the child says ("You saw a lion!"), thus encouraging the child to say more. Provide information that builds on the child?s interests, such as "The lion was growling. What did it sound like? Why do you think he was growling?"
Skill 4: Making Connections
Making connections is at the core of learning-figuring out what?s the same and what?s different, and sorting these things into categories. Making unusual connections is at the core of creativity. In a world where people can "Google" for information, it is the people who can see the connections are those who can go beyond knowing information to using this information well.
TIP: Play sorting games with your child. Tear out pictures from magazines and ask them to put all pictures of the animals in one pile. Then change the rules and ask them to put all of the pictures that have yellow in them in a pile.
Skill 5: Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is the ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions, and actions.
TIP: Promote children?s curiosity: if they are wondering about something, help think of an experience where they can figure it out for themselves (such as why do different things float in water). With older children, help them evaluate ads on television, asking them if they think a claim an advertisement is true and how they would find out.
Skill 6: Taking on Challenges
Life is full of stresses and challenges. Children who are willing to take on challenges (instead of avoiding them) do better in school and in life.
TIP: Instead of praising children?s personalities ("you are so smart" or "artistic" or "athletic"), praise their efforts or strategies ("you worked hard to find the right piece of the puzzle"). Studies have found that this kind of praise encourages children to challenge themselves.
Skill 7: Pursuing Ongoing Learning
It is through learning that we can realize our potential. As the world changes, so can we, for as long as we live-as long as we learn.
TIP: Help your child make plans-whether it?s what they want to play with next, what to do on a rainy Saturday, or how they are going to tackle a homework assignment. Then ask your child to evaluate those plans-how did they work out and what might they change next time? This helps children take responsibility for what they do and what they are learning.
OVERALL TIP: Encourage your children to have what I call "lemonade stands"-interests they care passionately about and want to pursue!
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