Home > Children, Education, Elementary Education, Montessori, Optimism, Parenting > What Matters: I Think I Can.

What Matters: I Think I Can.

I Think I CanAn event from before school started: we began our Opening Faculty Meeting with an ice breaker.  Each teacher wrote down the name of his or her favorite children’s picture book on an index card.  I collected the cards and read each book’s name and we tried to guess whose book was whose.  Then teachers grouped together and wrote Book Recommendation Reviews for the main bulletin board.  Teachers chose wonderful books, but I didn’t think about them much until I started reading a new book called How Children Succeed by Paul Tough.

In his book, Tough questions the common belief that success in life mostly depends on cognitive skills — those are the intelligences that are measured on state tests and SATs–  the size of your vocabulary, reading comprehension, your skill at calculating, solving equations and story problems. Tough has collected loads of research data from longitudinal studies (like my favorite, the marshmallow experiment) along with personal stories that show a deeper truth: noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, grit and self-confidence, are more vital than cognitive skills for achieving success.

And then I remembered Ms. Barden’s book recommendation: The Little Engine that Could.  Of which our library has four copies.  The Little Engine is about persistence, grit, self-confidence. ins’t it?  The power of positive thought. I think I can.

Listen to what Paul Tough is saying: persistence, self-control, curiosity, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than cognitive skills for achieving success.  According Tough, people generally believe that these crucial qualities can’t be taught in schools. They just arise, magically in ‘successful’ kids.

Montessori thinks different.

I need to tell you, I am in awe of the Montessori system at Evergreen and other schools. Traditional schools don’t talk much about personal habits of character like we do.  Most schools want to talk about test scores. It would be so easy for us to simply focus on cognitive skills. These are the skills that can be learned by rote memorization– and they are easy to measure and reward.  Pre-school by flashcards!  If a child does well on a worksheet, he gets praised; he gets a sticker; he gets an ‘A’. If a child doesn’t memorize well or acts bored, she is corrected or worse… she is disciplined.  If the situation is really bad, she simply fails.

What is our approach?  I think you know.

  • The hundred board– that is about persistence.
  • The button frame– that is about independence.
  • Serving your own snack– that is about self-control.
  • Choosing your own work– that is about curiosity.
  • Washing lunch trays– that’s grit.

When a child sticks with work that’s challenging, when she masters that skill—she feels a reward internally. I think I can. I think I can.  I think I can. Success.  Yes, I can! Then she wants a new challenge.  Children’s minds are programed to learn. Does a baby need to earn a sticker so that he is motivated to crawl? Of course not. He tries. Then he tries. Then he tries.

In conclusion, I will pass on my advice…  read great books to your children like the Little Engine as often as you can.   And turn off the TV. Follow the advice of our teachers. Trust your own parenting judgment. And continue to learn more about the wisdom of Montessori.

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  1. Naveeka
    September 17, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    I really like the advise. In today’s world, parents let TV teach their kids so they can have time for themselves too which is a very wrong practice.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. September 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you, Naveeka. Paul Tough’s book talks a lot about the challenges of schools in Chicago– which is interesting now because of the teacher strike. Maybe one day schools will think about ways to teach he habits for success over test scores.

  3. shel29
    September 27, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    I totally agree with you, traditional public schools are too concerned with test scores and not concerned enough with character. Working with my students I emphasize effort and persistence, not how many answers they got correct. All of this rating and testing has resulted in students who are afraid to try and feel judged if they don’t get all the answers right. It takes all the joy out of learning and kills curiosity. I especially liked your advice to turn off the TV. Kids need time to interact with other human beings, not the TV!

    • September 27, 2012 at 8:49 pm

      Thanks, Shel. This post came from my back-to-school night talk. I am so grateful that parents at our school are supportive of a school that does not promote standardized testing.

  1. September 30, 2012 at 8:45 am

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