Developing a growth mindset helps students persevere through challenges and push themselves to keep improving. Students can learn that intelligence isn't fixed but can be developed through hard work, dedication, and practice. We all have been around people that limit themselves. We have been those people. As a school counselor, you are in a perfect position to help students identify and embrace challenges as opportunities to grow. Let's go over 12 growth mindset activities for elementary students that you can bring into your counseling sessions or lessons.
Teaching students how their brain works is essential in helping them develop a growth mindset. By understanding the ability of our brains to form new connections and adapt over time, students can know that skills are not fixed. It is not a matter of being good or not good at something. Instead, we can learn and practice and create new connections.
Explain the basics of the brain to students. My Fantastic Elastic Brain is an excellent book for this. You can talk about growing connections like paving a road or building a highway. Although our brain doesn't get any bigger once we become adults, we constantly increase and prune connections as we learn.
Children's books provide an excellent medium for exploring a growth mindset. Very often, characters struggle with feeling they can't do something. My five favorites are below and you can grab them here.
- The Dot
- Giraffes Can't Dance
- Bad Seed
- Your Fantastic Elastic Brain
- What Do You Do With A Problem?
You can pick up specific activities for each book. Regardless of which book you pick, here are five questions you can ask:
- What do you think the characters in the book learned about themselves?
- What kind of strategies could you use to help you face difficult situations?
- How can you tell if someone has a growth or fixed mindset?
- When in the story was it important to keep trying even when things are hard?
- What would have happened if the characters had given up instead of trying their best?
Growth conferences are an excellent tool for school counselors. The purpose of these meetings is to help students think about something they want to improve or change. How can they get there step by step? Also, I could see using this as follow-up support for students who have been discharged from individual counseling. After the mini-conference, you can use simple, informal check-ins with the student to see how they are doing with their goals.
Vision Boards and Goals
Vision boards are a powerful growth mindset activity for elementary students. By creating a visual representation of their goals and dreams, students can gain clarity on what they want to achieve and build motivation to take action. In addition, the boards will serve as a reminder as they are working towards goals.
Positive Affirmations and Self Talk
Positive affirmations and self-talk are good growth mindset practices for elementary students. By teaching children to recognize their inner monologue, they will be better equipped to choose encouraging words. In addition, positive self-statements can help them overcome doubt or fear. Some students may need to learn to challenge their negative thinking and inspect the core beliefs they have about themselves.
Lots of the students you see for individual or group counseling struggle with some sort of negative thinking. Those negative thoughts can lead to negative feelings and negative actions. We
Small groups or whole class lessons are great for brainstorming ways to handle obstacles. By discussing their previous challenges, students can learn how to be resilient when faced with complex tasks. Hearing how others would manage something can help them see that there are different ways to approach a problem. You can also normalize obstacles - there will be bumps when learning and growing.
Recognizing successes is essential to developing a growth mindset among elementary students. By celebrating their achievements, children learn to value their hard work, effort, and progress toward reaching their goals. This helps them become more confident in tackling future challenges and encourages them to continue striving. There are a couple of ways that you can do this.
- Bulletin boards displaying student's small achievements
- Use a rose-bud-thorn check-in. For this, students tell you something that went well (rose), something that was tough (thorn), and something they are looking forward to (bud). You can also change the bud to be a step forward or some growth.
- Success chains. Students write down small successes on strips of paper. Then, you connect each student's success strip to make a chain that can be displayed.
- Growth journals. Have students journal regularly about a current challenge or goal they are working on. They can reflect on small steps forward or getting around obstacles.
Famous People Who Failed
One growth mindset activity for elementary students is to talk about famous people who failed early on and kept working. This helps children understand that success does not come overnight and that it may take a lot of effort to achieve their goals. For example, Thomas Edison famously failed thousands of times while trying to invent the light bulb. Even better, find current-day examples that are relevant to students.
Hard Thing Rule (Duckworth)
This is less of an activity and more of a value you can implement. Angela Duckworth, known for her work on grit, uses this practice in her own family. She calls it the Hard Thing Rule. It has four parts.
- Everyone has to do something hard.
- It takes practice.
- You aren't allowed to quit in the middle.
- You get to choose your hard thing. No one gets to choose it for you.
In counseling, this can be a great way to help students push through and work on challenging things. This also might be a good practice to share with families on your caseload.
In and Out of My Control
Understanding what is in and out of your control can be crucial in developing a growth mindset. It helps us focus on the things we can change and accept that some things are beyond our power. This understanding will help students set realistic goals for themselves, recognize successes when they achieve and take responsibility for their actions without blaming others or feeling powerless.
This can be a brainstorming activity where you have students think about all the things they can and can't control. You could also make it situation specific. Keep it simple, and use circles. Things inside the circle are in your control; things outside are out of your control.
Interviews can allow students to hear about someone's challenges and successes firsthand. Inviting a school community member, such as a teacher or staff member, or an individual from outside the school who has achieved their goals or overcome challenges can be particularly impactful.
During the interview, they can ask questions about the interviewee's experiences, how they handled challenging times, and what tips or advice they have for staying on track to reach goals. Doing this will help children understand that growth doesn't always come easy and that anything can be achieved with hard work. Maybe consider making this a part of a regular student newsletter?
Encouraging a Growth Mindset
Growth mindset activities are an important way to encourage resilience in elementary students. The activities outlined here, such as recognizing successes, talking about famous people who failed early on, understanding what is in and out of our control, and conducting interviews, will help children understand that success doesn't come overnight.
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The Dot Activities
The Dot by Peter Reynolds is a wonderful book focused on showing persistence, believing in yourself, and supporting each other. The materials provided include, a 3-step lesson plan, read aloud comprehension questions, student activities, and positive self-talk cards.
Ways to Grow Lesson
Using a growth mindset approach, students can celebrate their strengths, while acknowledging there are areas that can improve. In this lesson, students identify areas of strength, areas for growth, tools to help them grow, and obstacles that might be in their way.