Fostering a Growth Mindset

By Jessica Young and Kristen Reed

Thanks to Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s influential research, we have a better understanding of how children’s beliefs about learning can influence their learning behaviors. If a child believes that their intelligence or math ability is fixed and cannot be changed—they endorse a fixed mindset. But if they believe that through effort and hard work they can improve their intelligence and math ability, they endorse a growth mindset. Each type of mindset affects not only students’ motivation to learn, but also their success and achievement in school. In particular, Dweck and her colleague’s research has shown that a growth mindset about learning mathematics has been positively associated with higher achievement in mathematics.

Everyone (at any age!) can learn something new. It might take some time and effort but that’s okay. The brain is like a muscle and by challenging our brain we make it bigger and stronger. New brain science confirms that when we do challenging things—from sports to math—our brains grow!


  1. Exercise your brain. Encourage your child to exercise their brain by trying challenging activities, such as puzzles and math games, and encourage them even if they make a mistake.
  2. Have daily learning discussions. Bedtime might be a natural time to have this talk. Throughout the week, try to notice what your child is working hard on and what new skills they are attempting to learn. This could be anything from zipping up a coat to building a tower with blocks. Reflecting back to your child examples of what they are working hard on helps to emphasize the value you place on effort in learning.
  3. Talk about a new skill you are learning. Notice your own opportunity areas and point them out your child. Use an example from your life—this could be about your own process of learning to cook, or drive, or learn a new language. Your child might be surprised that learning something new requires hard work and effort, even for you!
  4. Ask questions. Ask your child questions that emphasize the value of working hard: “What did you do today that was difficult or challenging for you?”, “What did you try doing today that was hard?”
  5. Link effort to accomplishment. Connect your child’s effort and hard work to how he or she feels when they finally accomplish their goal.
“I noticed you worked really hard at that! How do you feel now?” (children may respond with a simple, “good!” “You feel good? Wow, that’s interesting! When you work hard at something you feel good about yourself!”  or “You feel really proud of yourself when you try to do something new and challenging!”


Do you believe that intelligence is a fixed trait that you are born with a certain amount of and it cannot be changed (fixed mindset)? Or, do you believe that intelligence is a quality that can be developed through effort and education (growth mindset)?


The Little Engine That Could “I think I can—I think I can—I think I can—…” says the little engine as she chugs up the hill to deliver toys to the children on the other side of the mountain. This classic children’s book is a great jumping-off point for a discussion about the role of effort and persistence in accomplishing things that are hard for us. Read The Little Engine That Could to your class and have discussions about the role of effort. Spoiler alert: The little engine makes it!
The mantra “I think I can” may be helpful to children as they try to accomplish a challenging task (zipper my coat, open my milk, ride a bike). Toward the end of the day or at a closing circle time, ask the children, “Did you work hard at something today?” Teachers can note what children are attempting to do during the day and share anecdotes of trying challenging things with the class.

Related Reading

Watch a Video!

The Power of Yet for Math Mindset (English)

Related Resources