Emma Kertesz, an assistant teacher in our preschool program who teaches with Gemma Fagan, ran California International Marathon. Emma finished in 2:44:22. This is an average pace of 6:14/minute… for 26.2 miles! Emma’s accomplishment got me thinking about the importance learning “stick-to-itiveness.”
(Trust me… I did not make this up. It is a real word.) It’s clear that she’s a talented runner and some of her speed comes naturally. However, she also has an abundance of persistence and grit. She set out a goal to finish in under 2:45:00 (she wanted to qualify for the Olympic trials in February 2020). She knew exactly what she needed to do to get across the finish with a qualifying time. She set a plan and followed through on it to accomplish her goal.
I believe that much of a person’s stick-to-it-iveness is learned during the preschool years. The way that preschool children approach learning to learn affects their educational experiences for a lifetime. Defining approaches to learning is complicated and involve factors such as a child’s curiosity, creativity, confidence, independence, initiative, and persistence. Psychologist Lilian Katz, refers to approaches to learning as “enduring habits of mind and characteristic ways of responding to experiences.” Approaches to learning also impacts a person’s ability to think about a task, break it down into its components, and create a plan of work. This carries into adulthood; some people may not think twice about taking on a big project while others may not be able to even fathom getting past the initial thought of “I can’t.” Think for a moment about where you typically land and the strategies you use for moving forward…
In our preschool classrooms, we utilize teaching practices that nurture each child’s developing mindset, approaches to learning, and willingness to persevere and persist – even when things are hard. We model a positive disposition towards learning and create an environment that acknowledges their emerging sense of themselves as doers and thinkers. In doing so, we reflect on the children as individual learners and the composition of each class as a whole group. We strive to ensure that we have awide variety of materialsthat engage children’s senses and encourage the children to try – even when (and especially when) they think or say, “I can’t.” Additionally, we carefully consider our pace. Young children need the time and space to try new things, solve problems, and practice skills. As adults, we must be patient and hold back – especially when we want to lend a hand or make something easier. If we swoop in too quickly, we deprive children of their opportunity to practice persistence and build their sense of “I am, and I can.” Similarly, we must ensure that the pace is not too slow as this can also hinder learning and cause children’s excitement for learning to dwindle. Finally, we create a schedule that has a balance of experiences that boost children’s work in a variety of different social contexts – time in whole group settings, time in small groups, time to work alone, and time to work one-on-one with a teacher.
One common teaching strategy is to support children by scaffolding their learning. When scaffolding, teachers assess the level of difficulty in a learning activity and then provide just enough to support to help a child succeed. Let’s use the example of a child working on a puzzle… When the child empties out the pieces onto the table, the teacher may sit next to the child and model how it is important to flip the pieces over so that you can see the design. The teacher may also recommend placing an image of the complete puzzle nearby as a point of reference. For one child, that amount of support may be enough. However, another child may need more help. In these instances, the teacher may help flip the pieces over, examine the picture and point out identifying characteristics. She might also help the child separate edge pieces and know just when to slide a sought-after piece more clearly into the child’s view. Teaching in this way helps each child to work in their “Zone of Proximal Development” – or a level that is just hard enough that it’s worthwhile and engaging, but not so hard that they get frustrated to the point to giving up.
As this unfolds, our preschool faculty highlight the process of learning rather than the actual end product. Doing so, helps children to internalize their efforts, the planning choices, preparation, and thought that they put into their learning. It also helps them to reflect on the challenges that they encountered along the way and the persistence they had to use when a task was difficult. This type of intentional teaching and support will help a child to develop a positive disposition towards learning and a commitment to stick-to-itiveness that will propel them through life, or maybe even across a finish line!