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Mind in the Making

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 lifelong learning.

“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.

Next Post: A Q and A with Ellen Galinsky

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