Fires in the Mind

When kids jump in to a challenge

What makes kids want to work at something hard? I was thinking about that the other day, as I watched an episode of the TV show “Parenthood” on Hulu. Max, who’s about 8, is seriously avoiding getting out there with his dad to work on his baseball skills. It’s easy to see that his over-anxious dad is pushing too hard—but when Max’s 14-year-old cousin takes the lead in tossing the ball around, Max brightens right up, and somehow learns to catch.

The scene rings true to what kids tell us in Fires in the Mind. When other kids they admire beckon them into a challenge, they’re much more likely to put in the effort.

Kellie, for example, first learned to jump rope with her playmates on the sidewalks of New York. Right away, the complicated maneuvers of Double-Dutch had her mesmerized. “The first thing I had to know was when to jump in, to get inside of the rope,” she said. “My sister helped me, by counting from one to three or five. I would jump in from the right side, between the rhythm of the ropes or the count in my head, and the rope closest to me had to be in the air. It would usually take me so long that the turners would stop turning and look at me!”

Kellie has so much to teach us here, about motivation and also about mastery. She saw something that looked amazing to her, and she wanted to do it — but it took her older sister’s encouragement for her to get up the nerve to try it. That first hurdle crossed, Katie immediately started breaking down the steps to getting it right, again and again. She was on her way to getting good!

Whether it’s a baseball game or a homework assignment, when have you noticed your kids getting past their reluctance to work at something hard? What drew them in? What happened next? I’ll send a free copy of Fires in the Mind to whoever leaves the most interesting answer in the Comment box below.

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2 Responses to “When kids jump in to a challenge”

  1. Jane Ross Laguna says:

    To encourage my 15 year old son to keep up in academics, I’ve supported his desire to play tennis a lot. I find that the habits he forms from practicing, improving and competing in tennis help him translate those habits to academics. Having a young, positive, hard working coach helps to provide another motivator besides me- he cares more about his coach’s opinion at this age than mine or his teachers, it seems. I also think it’s easier to see growth in something physical like sports than in academics and seeing hard work pay off makes it worth it and encourages more hard work. I agree with the comment that we need to encourage kids in areas that are already important to them.

  2. Naomi Armstrong says:

    I had a student that knew that I crocheted. She asked that I teach her, so I started an after school group for students that were interested in learning this skill. I thought it would only take a few weeks. One of the girls had the hardest time mastering the steps. When she found out that she could make smaller items to donate to premature babies at the local hospital, that hit home. She had been a premature baby herself, so this idea really meant a lot to her. She dug in and learned what she needed. She also convinced the kids to make and donate items to charity.

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