When our daughter was 7, we were on a family hiking vacation at Wintergreen Resort. For most days, the children were at day camp, but one day we took Emily with us. This hike was steep, had many rocks, and led to a beautiful peak with a breathtaking view. When we reached the top, Emily exclaimed, “I did it!” She was so excited to have accomplished her most strenuous hike with a magnificent view that only the hikers could see. This experience led to a running routine in middle school and more challenging hikes at Yosemite National Park, where Emily was so in shape and confident that she quickly hiked past us and came back to challenge herself.
Success Leads to Self Confidence
People who challenge themselves will receive the best rewards and confidence in life. Most importantly, young people need to find a sport or hobby that they are passional about or at least enjoy spending their free time doing, where they can practice and grow, breeding confidence. During the rare times that parents tell me they are planning to suspend a beloved sport or extra-curricular activity to allow more time for studying, I discourage this. Children who excel and are confident with their own interests also do better in school, despite having less time available to study. When my daughter was in track and cross country, those students outperformed their counterparts academically, despite getting home at 6:30 each night and having to wake up early the next morning. When students are successful anywhere in their lives, they know they can be successful in other areas as well.
Just as success in activities of choice is correlated with success in school, success in some academic subjects can lead to success in others. We need to help students buy into the growth mindset. No matter where we are, we can always improve because our brains are malleable. “You are a great artist and reader, and you have the capacity to improve in math, too.”
Let’s say Jason is on level with reading and writing but has a mental block about math. He dreads it and sees math homework and tests at torture. Here are some strategies to change this trajectory. Jason:” I hate long division. And now they want us to do it with decimals. My decimals always end up in the wrong place.” Break things down with the easiest possible problem. Talk about whether you would rather have 40 cents or $4.00 or $40.00 or .4 cents. Teach each concept with the easiest possible numbers until the student really gets it. Then celebrate. Yes, you can do math! Long division can also be approached with the easiest possible numbers. If 32/4 = 8, what is 320/4 and 320/40? Math can be taught in incremental steps that anyone can learn and be successful. You can bring in other successes, too: “You are a successful runner, and now you are successful with dividing fractions. Way to go!”
The same holds true with reading. When I was a child, I was an avid reader, but only of fiction books. Non-fiction books were so full of facts that they made my brain swim. My solution was to do reports using books below my reading level. Then I could concentrate on the subject matter without having to learn more vocabulary words than I could manage. Reading a book with too many difficult words and concepts will not be fun and will be discouraging. I recommend finding a topic that interests your child and checking out an easy book about it from the library. Reading this book will be fun and informative with nice pictures. Your child can progress to more challenging books in increments. The goal is to feel successful, learn, and be ready for the next challenge.
In summary, we all can be successful in various pursuits. To be successful students, we need to bring in achievements and self confidence from other areas to the areas we find more challenging. Then we need to break down challenging tasks into easy steps and celebrate each success before moving on to harder concepts.
By Cheryl Gedzelman, President, Tutoring For Success