This post first appeared on Allison Tait’s website. You can find it here
Growth mindset: why we need to see it in children’s fiction
By now I expect you’ve heard of growth mindset. To be honest, I was a sceptic when the topic was first introduced to me: I thought it was just resilience re-branded. And to a certain degree, it is.
However, through my work with children and discussions with teachers and parents over the last decade, I have come to realise how important this mindset is for the future of our children.
We all approach everything with a mindset. Put simply, this is our attitude with which we approach different situations in life. The opposite of growth mindset is fixed mindset.
What is fixed mindset?
A fixed mindset is becoming increasingly common in the younger generations and there are plenty of theories as to why (helicopter parents, snowplough parents, social media).
In the classroom, a fixed mindset rears its ugly head in children across all age groups and ability levels.
There are students in prep, who will refuse to dance, because “I don’t dance.”
Students who “aren’t good at maths,” and therefore refuse to try.
The increased appetite and expectation for instant gratification means that children often just want to find the right answer, regardless of how they come about it. Students are willing to simply correct their answer without question or without discussion. Without learning.
To combat the limiting impact of fixed mindset, we can teach growth mindset.
What is growth mindset?
It gives students the skills to overcome their problems. Growth-mindset gives us confidence and the courage to try, fail and try again. Students learn that challenges are exciting because we are learning and bettering ourselves. We teach students not to pigeon-hole themselves. We teach them to say ‘yet’.
So what does this have to do with fiction?
As both an author and a teacher, I strongly feel that we can turn toward fiction as a guide for teaching a growth mindset in our children.
The good news is we don’t need to look for a specialised series on growth mindset when we want to introduce this concept to children at home or in the classroom. Many of our favourite children’s books portray characters with growth mindset.
You don’t have to turn far in the fiction world to see characters who encounter a problem, struggle, grow and then overcome their problem. It’s formulaic.
But when children read fiction where the characters make mistakes, or where bad things happen – it’s a reflection of real life. This is where we learn the life skills of grit and determination.
Reading with children and discussing the story is the best way for young children to learn about and manifest these qualities in their own lives.
For older readers, strong characters can make a lasting impression that they can take with them into adulthood.
10 fiction books to help kids develop a growth mindset
I’ve put together a list of children’s fiction books that show characters with a growth mindset. These are characters with a love of learning, curiosity, the ability to learn from their mistakes, and creativity.
Tashi by Anna Fienberg (ill Kim Gamble)
The Digging-est Dog by Al Perkins (ill Eric Gurney)
The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
Superworm by Julia Donaldson (ill Axel Scheffler)
Koala Lou by Mem Fox (ill Pamela Lofts)
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (ill David Roberts)
Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg
The Cow Tripped Over The Moon by Tony Wilson
Annabel and Turtle by Tahnee McShane (ill Mary-Ann Orchard)
Why growth mindset in fiction matters
Mem Fox’s character Koala Lou is a great example of growth mindset. Koala Lou is absolutely determined to win the tree climbing event in the Bush Olympics. She practices her skills daily and enters the games. Of course, Koala Lou is devastated when she doesn’t win the tree climbing event.
This is reflective of real life. We don’t always win everything even when we try our best.
And I think it’s a message that’s necessary in today’s culture. Being proud of growth, whilst also understanding that failure is more than okay – it’s necessary for growth.
Using strong characters who display growth mindset as role models for children will help them to develop skills in resilience, and an appreciation for lifelong learning, both of which will enable our next generation to confidently conquer whatever challenges crop up for them in the years to come.