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From Grit to Growth – Guiding successful children through character-rich mindsets and behaviors

Dweck to Duckworth. Marshmallows to resilience. Modern psychology has given us new frameworks that push us to re-think the importance of non-cognitive development in lifetime measure of success, learning, and happiness. While it is understandably important to develop cognitive abilities of language and mathematical understanding, it is character development that persists through adulthood. Research by Duckworth, Dweck, and Mischel begs us to deeply incorporate character-based learning and modeling in early childhood. In short: "We need to be gritty about getting our kids grittier." Character traits include: Curiosity, gratitude, grit, optimism, self-control, social intelligence, and zest

Photo of Melanie Kahl
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"Debunking the conventional wisdom of the past few decades that disadvantaged children need to develop basic reading and counting skills before entering school, Tough argues that they would be better served by learning such skills as grit, conscientiousness, curiosity, and optimism. It boils down to a debate about precognitive versus noncognitive skills of self-regulation or, simply put, character."  (Book Review on How Children Succeed by Paul Tough)

Some of the most interesting applied research and programming is from  The Character Lab, a project of  Duckworth's Lab at UPenn. However, there are historical studies, like Mischel's Marshmallow test and Dweck's work on growth, that create a nice launch pad for this character-rich discussion. Additionally, this collection of 24 character traits and virtues by VIA is a comprehensive reference.

There are are a few books that anchor this research that are helpful to reference: This research on character levels the playing field when thinking of how to improve outcomes in early childhood. While a mother in poverty may lack an expansive vocabulary, she may be rich in resilience. A father may not have mathmatical prowess, but is a creative and socially intelligent community leader. In many ways, it is in a challenging environment that these character traits can shine through even more and can be modeled to young children. And while a student in a middle class school may ace her tests, it proves nothing how she will contribute to the workforce or community as an adult. 

Key questions that come to mind when considering this research and the challenge at hand:
  • How might we help adults more intentionally develop and model behaviors related to core character traits?
  • How might we recognize and celebrate these character traits within challenging environments?
  • How does this model of character help shape the way early learning tools, programs, and interactions are designed?
  • How might we not just make another cheesy "values" program that espouses rather than authentically incorporates character into curriculum? 

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The power of curiosity

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Awesome provocations, Melanie!