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Building a Growth Mindset: goal setting with a 5-year old

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

For my partner and I, the Covid19 pandemic has definitely shed new light in regard to our future. For one, we are more intentional about living the life we want, today, and tomorrow. This has resulted in some inner and personal relationship development work as well as bucket lists! These bucket lists are not just about things we want to experience in the distant future. Instead, we have challenged ourselves to really think about experiences we can create now, on any random weekend, with little to no budget. This has led to activities such as facilitating the marshmallow challenge with toddlers (an experience worth its very own blog post), cooking Pad Thai, and learning to play chess.

Amidst this environment, during dinner, our 5-year-old explained that he wanted his own bucket list – saying “I want to make a list of things I really want to do” – so we did. He wrote down the numbers and my partner drew the pictures and wrote the words – the pictures are important so that he is able to access his list even without an adult. His list included things like learning to cross his eyes, throw and catch a grape in his mouth and go to a restaurant with a swimming pool for lunch.

Now comes the fun part – our son’s self-motivated bucket list presented a great opportunity for us to model and practice a growth mindset. We, as parents, see one of our key roles as being able to lay a foundation that will enable our children’s future success (happiness) in society. This includes, but is not limited to, our children learning to take on challenges and understanding that with practice, they can improve their skills and abilities.

What is a growth mindset? Growth mindset is a term coined by Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck, and has proved to be a key variable in achievement and growth. Individuals with a growth mindset view their abilities as a constant work-in-progress that can be improved with practice. They seek out challenges because they see failure as opportunities to learn. Individuals with a fixed mindset, the opposite of a growth mindset, view their abilities as set and stagnant (e.g. “I’m not good at math”). They tend to avoid challenges because they see failure as an indictment about their abilities and do not want to expose their weaknesses. 

We turned this bucket list activity into a larger exercise, building the skill of practice – reinforcing the idea that when we practice something, we are taking small steps towards achieving our goals. It is also a process of breaking large goals into smaller, actionable steps to get us closer to completing the goals.

Our 5-year old selected 3 items on his bucket list that he wanted to work on first and together we made these into a chart. The chart includes a visual and written representation of his 3 experiences and a box for him to tick/place a sticker each time he practices it. We also asked him to come up with a way to celebrate achieving each of his goals.

This is our second time implementing a growth mindset chart and we are definitely learning the all-important value of having children lead and drive their own efforts. The first attempt was about learning to do the moonwalk. Each time he practiced, he crossed off a pre-numbered list from 1 to 10. While we checked on this activity during our morning circle time routines, there was little to no motivation from his part to check the box. He did practice though and he did eventually learn to do the moonwalk.

This experience led us to question the approach we took with tracking his practice and remembering the importance of multiple means of representation (presenting information in different formats). So, this time around, we are allowing him to drive the process and we are taking the time to really think about what works for him and his personality.  

Together, we have come up with a visual chart and video recording to track his practices this time. We’ll see how it goes.

Have you implemented goal-setting activities with toddlers?

How did it go? What were your takeaways?

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