Let’s start with a little self-reflection, as parents:
When you are learning a new skill, what’s your first reaction? Are you excited? Nervous? Do you want to walk away or dive in? What happens when you try to solve a problem, but the first attempt fails? Is your instinct to give up? Get mad? Roll up your sleeves and try again?
We all have strong reactions in the face of challenges. So it’s understandable that our kids feel a whole range of emotions as they work through problems. As parents, we want them to develop the confidence to say, “It might be hard, but I can figure this out!”
When Ruff Ruffman and his friends approach a challenge, they bring four key attitudes to their investigations – attitudes that help push through difficulty: curiosity, perseverance, risk-taking, and creative and critical thinking.
These are not rules, but tools for solving problems and overcoming obstacles. When we encourage kids to tackle challenges, they aren’t just solving the problem in the moment: they are building the toolkit they need for tackling future challenges!
Curiosity is a strong desire to learn something new. Children are naturally curious – eager to explore the world and figure out how things work. Curiosity is tied to academic achievement, with research showing “unequivocally that when people are curious about something, they learn more, and better.” As parents, when we encourage kids to ask questions, help them find answers, and support them as they explore their interests, we are encouraging the habit of curiosity.
Perseverance involves sticking with a problem despite obstacles and failures, until you find a solution – or at least get closer to one! It’s another word for grit and resilience, and it gives us the strength to try, try, try again. The habit of perseverance supports a “growth mindset” – the belief that our intelligence and skills can grow with effort. Kids with a growth mindset thrive on challenges and view failure as part of the learning process.
Depending on your child’s temperament, it may be easy or difficult for them to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. Risk taking is not about dangerous behavior. Rather, it’s about being willing to try something new, something hard, or something we haven’t done before.
You can’t learn any new skill without stepping outside of your comfort zone of “things I already know how to do!” A baby is going to fall down when they are learning how to walk, a kid is going to tumble while learning how to ride a bike, and a young scientist is going to try solutions that do not produce the results they want. But we can’t learn until we take a deep breath and try!
Creative and Critical Thinking
Creative thinking means using our imagination to solve problems. Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson says that fostering creativity is as important as teaching literacy. When we think creatively, we look at a challenge from multiple angles: What is the problem? What is our goal? What do we know? What have we already tried? What materials do we have to use? What information do we need?
Here are a few sentence starters that can help prompt creative and critical thinking:
“What have we already tried?”
“What haven’t we tried?”
“What if we tried . . . . “
“What if we used ________ as a tool?
“If we had a magic wand, what would we do with it?”
Of course, no one displays these four attitudes all the time in every circumstance, but when help kids ask questions, stick with a challenge, and look at a problem from a different angle, they will build habits that will help them thrive.