Getting kids fired up to learn

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE, Colorado – Ellen Galinsky was not planning to write a book about the essential life skills all kids need to succeed. But when, in the course of conducting a research project, she noticed too many kids were “turned off to learning,” her job became clear.

“These kids were not just dropping out of school – they were dropping out of learning,” said Galinsky, who is president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute and a well-respected author. “When they talked about learning, their faces were expressionless.

“They could tell me about a time when they didn’t learn, but it was like pulling teeth to tell me about a time when they did learn.”

As a result, Galinsky embarked on a monumental journey.

“I wanted to find out how children lost that passion for learning and, if that fire had gone out, how to rekindle it,” she said.

The result is “Mind in the Making,” which was published in 2010 to great acclaim. The book has spiraled into a movement of sorts by bringing the research behind it to schools, families and communities.

When Galinsky speaks at a free public forum Friday in Carbondale, that will be exactly the point.

“Our research shows that teachers and parents who are interested in learning – who have a fire in their eyes – are more likely to have kids with a fire in their eyes,” she said.

Offering parents and child-care providers this information was the impetus for Friday’s talk, according to Jayne Poss of Raising a Reader, which is sponsoring the event as well as the seventh annual Story Festival Early Childhood Literacy Conference on Saturday.

“Our mission is to help parents and teachers understand the importance of early-childhood development and their role in that,” Poss said. “What Ellen suggests in ‘Mind in the Making’ addresses this perfectly.”

Among the life skills Galinsky says all children must have are focus and self-control, perspective, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self-directed, engaged learning.

“I didn’t exactly discover these skills – they discovered me,” Galinsky said. The research showed time and again that “these were the life skills that matter now and in the future – for adults and children.”

For Poss, the best thing about these skills is their simplicity.

“These are things many parents and child-care providers do every day,” she said, adding that while the skills can’t just be “picked up,” they can – and should – be fostered.

“It is doing the things you already do, but maybe in a slightly different way, which makes this accessible,” Galinsky said.

In fact, Galinsky and Poss say the best things about “Mind in the Making” skills are that any child can learn them, any adult can promote them, they don’t require expensive materials or toys, and it’s never too late to implement them.

“I think people will really understand the message when they hear Ellen speak,” Poss said, adding that Friday’s talk is geared toward parents of kids 8 and younger. “It’s so simple that it’s hard not to get excited about it.”

Galinsky agreed.

“We’ve designed it so that it’s common sense, so that people will have an ‘ah-ha’ moment,” she said. “And really, it’s information that is essential to us all.”

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