Lisa Belkin, The New York Times Magazine, The Motherlode
You may have heard about Ellen Galinsky’s latest book, “Mind In The Making.” It may well be the next iconic parenting manual, up there with Spock and Leach and Brazelton, one that parents turn to for reassurance that all is more or less okay, reminders of how to make it better and glimpses of what’s to come.
Galinsky, a child-education expert and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, has subtitled her book “The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.” She breaks those skills down into chapters — “Focus and Self Control,” “Perspective Taking,” “Communicating,” “Making Connections,” “Critical Thinking,” “Taking on Challenges,” “Self-Directed Engaged Learning” — and lays out the activities of everyday life that foster those goals.
Self-control, for instance, can be taught through games likes Simon Says. To encourage perspective, which Galinsky defines as “figuring out what others think and feel”, you can read to your children then talk about what the characters were thinking and feeling. communication means asking “who, what, where and why” questions. Making connections can be strengthened through sorting games. Critical thinking results from such things as watching TV with older children and asking them to evaluate the truth of the ads. Taking on challenges means praising their efforts or strategies (“you worked hard to find the right piece of the puzzle”) rather than their talents (“you are so smart.”) And learning from decisions and experiences means allowing children to make plans — what toys they want to play with next, what activity they want to do next weekend, how they will allot their study time — then look back and evaluate those plans, with an eye toward what worked and what they would do differently next time.
Sounds simple, no? With no need for fancy gadgets or the involvement of professionals? Perhaps it sounds a lot like what you are doing now, just a bit more directed?
That is the point, Galinsky says. Too much of the parenting conversation has served to raise the bar beyond what is reasonable or necessary, to tell parents there is one right way, and you’d better learn it fast before you ruin your child for good. Galinsky’s goal, as she writes in a guest essay today, is to ratchet down that frenzy and reduce the guilt by sending parents the message that they already know most of what they need to know, and they are already doing pretty darn well.
Dr. Michele Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, is an internationally renowned educator, award-winning author, parenting expert and child and adolescent expert.
Let me start with full disclosure: I adore Ellen Galinsky’s work. I’ve read all her books, follow her on twitter, love her website, Mindinthemaking.org, and have been an avid fan of the Families and Work Institute (of which she is President and Co-founder) for over a decade. Her commitment and research that focuses on early learning is stellar. But her latest book, Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs just put her in the “Child Development Expert Hall of Fame.”
Ellen has spent her entire career studying early childhood development. She’s visited leading research centers, met with the top child experts and researchers, filmed their experiments and studied their results. She also found a huge gap between what researchers have discovered in the child development field and what parents know about these crucial findings. That is until now.
Galinsky put those top 100 scientific findings into a valuable resource that brings the science of early learning to families and to the professionals who work with children. Mind in the Making:The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs shows parents how to use that research with their children from birth until age eight making it an absolute must-read.
But she takes her findings another step by identifying seven essential life skills that will help our children reach their full potential. (Earth to parents: These skills must be taught to our children and do not come naturally). These are the skills we MUST teach our children in this twenty-first century. But the best news is that Galinsky shows busy parents ways they really can teach those skills using simple everyday things in just new ways.
Galisnky’s Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Here are the seven life skills Galinsky identified as essential for every child to learn based on her review of hundreds of scientific studies. I’ve taken the liberty of using her exact definitions.
Skill One: 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 flexibility, and exercising self-control.
Skill Two: 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.
Skill Three: 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.
Skill Four: Making Connections: Making connections is at the core of learning (what’s the same and what’s different) and making unusual connections is at the core of creativity. In a world where people can goggle for information, it is the people who can see the connection who will succeed.
Skill Five: Critical Thinking: Critical thinking is the ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decision, and actions.
Skill Six: Taking on Challenges: Life is full of stresses and challenges. Children who are willing to take on challenges (instead of avoid them) do better in school and in life.
Skill Seven: Self-Directed, Engaged Learning (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.
Ellen has made an invaluable contribution to parents and educators. These findings are essential to ensure that our children–all children–reach their potential. The findings in this book will also be presented to Congress and at events in every state.
My recommendation: get a copy of this book, give a copy to another parent, and recommend that every library and early childhood educator has one on their shelf. Mind in the Making is one of those rare and glorious books that will make a difference on our children’s lives and future.
Maggie Jackson, Journalist and Author, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age
Ellen Galinsky’s new book isn’t for the faint-of-heart. Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs is inspiring, even joyful, and an essential handbook for any parent. But it’s provocative. In essentially teaching adults how to instill a love of learning in children, Galinsky also may change how we see learning - for the better.
Consider the seven skills that Galinsky chooses: focus, perspective-taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges and self-directed learning. These essential and complex skills are a far cry from the reading, writing and arithmetic goals and drills that still dominate teach-to-the-test schools. They’re also a gentle, crucial reminder of the importance of “upgrading the human” in a world mesmerized by computational, tech-driven and store-bought lessons. Finally, as Galinsky notes, these seven skills are capabilities for lifelonglearning.
“These skills are not only important for children; we as adults need them just as much as children do,” she writes. “And, in fact, we have to practice them ourselves to promote them in our children.”
That true of perspective taking. We teach children etiquette and problem-solving, even discussion and debate. But rarely do we help kids learn how to understand the perspectives of others, despite the importance of this skill to social relations, school learning, and even a child’s sense of security. After all, understanding how other people operate helps you get along with peers, parents, teachers and later with bosses. It’s the starting point of lifelong “emotional intelligence.”
By highlighting the work of top researchers, Galinsky shows how parents can teach perspective-taking, and how infants and toddlers are astonishingly ready to learn. Even 6-month-olds have a rough sense of others’ goals and intentions, and 18-month-olds understand that people can have different tastes than they do. Cultivating this nascent skill can be simple: the kids of parents who talk about people’s feelings more, have better perspective-taking skills.
Galinsky isn’t the first to begin thinking about new literacies for the digital age. I recently discovered the important work of Guy Claxton, a UK professor who argues that we have to prepare students for lifelong learning by teaching them dispositions – such as curiosity, courage or reflection.
Or consider the words of the new Rhode Island School of Design president, digital designer John Maeda: “I sense a real shift going on in the world from the global and technological back to the local, the human and the authentic. … Policymakers and employers should take note: the power of the visual, the tactile, the nonlinear – of the artful, open-minded thinking – is something that we can no longer afford to discount.”
These important thinkers all understand that “how” we learn is as crucial as “what” we learn. And the impact of this change in mindset is enormous, as Galinsky’s compilation of research shows repeatedly. Focus can predict literacy, vocabulary and math skills in preschoolers. Rich, idea-laden talk between parents and children is correlated with higher IQ at age three. Motivated learners see setbacks as chances to try harder or use different strategies. They don’t “wilt” in the face of challenges.
Again and again, I was surprised and delighted by these and other research findings in Mind in the Making. They underscore the growing realization today that babies and children are highly capable creatures, ready and eager to learn. As Galinsky teaches us, we all need to be their partners in learning.