episode 43 - Nurturing a growth mindset in children

Nurturing a Growth Mindset in Children

This is a transcript of the Preschool Podcast, episode #43“Nurturing a growth mindset in young children”

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Ron SPREEUWENBERG: Hi, I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things “early childhood education.”

INTRO: On episode 43 of the show, we talk about nurturing growth mindsets at an early years level with Pam Rinn, Program Director for Community Professional Development (Instruction) at Camp Fire First Texas. We learn about the Thrive{ology} framework, which is a research-based, measurable approach to learning and development that emphasizes a balance between work, health and love.

Pam shows us how the approach inspires learning in a safe environment that allows children to take risks while developing the skills needed to achieve their goals. All this builds a foundation for creative thinking and problem solving at an early age.

If you are an educator who loves holistic teaching, then stay tuned to this episode of the preschool podcast!

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: Pam, welcome to the Preschool Podcast. Great to have you on the show.

Pam RINN:Thank you, Ron. Great to be here.

SPREEUWENBERG: So, Pam, you’ve been with Camp Fire First for a number of years. Let me start with this question: Why does Camp Fire exist, as an organization?

RINN: Well, I’ve been here over 13 years, and the main thing that drew me to Camp Fire is its definite commitment to child and youth development. That hasn’t changed over their hundred-year history. That is that is the main reason that Camp Fire exists, is to provide nurturing, fun, constructive environments for youth to discover who they are, what their sparks are, how they can be contributing members to society when they grow up.

SPREEUWENBERG:So a lot of these things – and, in particular, child and youth development – is something you could do at any childcare or early-learning program. How do you see Camp Fire First as being maybe different from quote-unquote traditional childcare program?

RINN: Well, our First Texas Council is pretty unique because we have an early-childhood division that does a lot of professional development out in the community, in addition to having a child development demonstration school here onsite. So there are lots of opportunities that we can provide for the community to get up-to-date information, useful things that they can put into play in their classroom. There is also a school-readiness program where skilled mentors go out into the community childcare facilities and work directly side-by-side, elbow-to-elbow with the teachers and directors to provide those good, nurturing environments for young children and youth.

SPREEUWENBERG: Cool. So you’re involved not only in your own programs but also in other programs in the community, providing ideas direction and any professional learning and advice that you can to other organizations and programs?

RINN: Yes, absolutely. And we tailor-make the professional development to meet the needs that are reflected in the community. We do lots of evaluation. We do lots of data-collection so we make sure that we’re on the cutting edge of what the community needs. And we also take skilled specialists, if you will, out into the community to do onsite training at facilities that might be farther afield than the home office here.

SPREEUWENBERG: Very cool. Now another thing that’s very unique about Camp Fire First is how long the organization has been around, which is over 100 years, which especially in the context of us over here in the New World is a really long time.

RINN: That is a long time. We were fortunate enough to be on the cutting edge back in the early 1900’s. There was the good Dr. Gulick [who] started Camp Fire. And our council came along a couple of years after that, after 1912. In 2014, First Texas Camp Fire celebrated its 100th anniversary. So it has been around a long time, but it’s foundational principles have remained the same. It’s all about teaching good, quality skills for use of all genders, all races, all ethnicities, making sure that they have the skills that they need to be productive people in society.

SPREEUWENBERG:I actually was on your website, and I was poking around a little bit. And one thing that really jumped out to me was the goal, and I just want to read it just to kind of hit the point home. It says: “Our goal is to provide youth with opportunities to cultivate their inner passions, skills, and attributes” – or sparks, as you call them – “to stimulate thriving, a forward, purposeful motion toward achieving one’s full potential.” I think that’s so powerful, especially when you use the words that you do, like “sparking”, and “stimulating” children to be “thriving”. How do you do these things at Camp Fire First Texas? [Are] there certain methods you use, or certain programs that you have in place to achieve the school?

Well, I think the “thrive-ology” concept – and we worked with the Thrive Foundation For Youth to come apart and come up with this methodology. And the first thing that we identify in all of our programs – and this is integrated throughout everything that came from our perspective does – the first thing is identifying the individual sparks. Those are the gifts, the talents, the things that really get the children and youth going. It doesn’t necessarily mean that this is what they’re going to be for the rest of their life, you know, for their career. But at this point in time, “This is what gets me going.” So of a lot of children really get… when you ask, “What is your spark? What do you like to do?” they can name it real quick-like. But where the foundational follow-up piece with that spark is, you have to provide opportunity. You have to name that spark. Name it back to them, let them know that you notice that spark about them, and have two or three caring adults support that spark. Say, “Hey, I’ve named it, you’re claiming it. Let’s go out and practice that.” So research has shown that if you have some spark-champions, if you will, in the life of a child or a youth, they are more likely to succeed and have good outcomes later on in life. So that’s kind of the first part of the “thrive-ology” principles.

And then you’ve got the growth mindset, like you said, and making sure that you are forward thinking, you have hope and you have joy in your life. And then teaching the youth and children to set goals, to be forward thinking, to say, “Okay, so what do I want to be? What do I want to do? I have that big dream in mind. So let’s go back and check out the steps so that I can get there.” So that’s that goal management.

And then part of everything else that we put the children and the youth and the adults that work with them is to do that reflection piece. And I think that’s what makes Camp Fire First Texas really, really unique, is that intentional focus on having the youth reflect back. “So how did that go? How was that project that you did in your after-school program? Did it work out the way you wanted to? And if not, why not?” And then, “What can we do better in future to make it turn out a little bit better and more like what you wanted?” So I think that’s the unique part of what we do with the mentorship in all of our Camp Fire programs.

SPREEUWENBERG: So I think one of the things that I find really cool about this is methodology and approach that you take is… it seems to me like it’s very intuitive, and I can immediately get how it makes a lot of sense, and it’s simple and it’s easy to understand and it’s easy to explain. And I know – especially spending time in the role of early-childhood education – as much as we love research and science and all the reports and literature that go with that, sometimes we can have the risk of getting sort of stuck in the weeds. So I guess the question for you is, how this sort of evolved over time to come to this framework where you’re at now, that’s sort of intuitive and simple to understand?

RINN: Well, I think it’s been an evolution. I think people intuitively say, “Okay, I’m going to work with children and youth. I’m going to make sure that I’m shaping the future generation.” We hear all that. But one of the main things that has really evolved is that intentionality. We really focus on these four elements in all of our programs. And that falls right in line with those three main, core areas that we want to focus on, which is work, health and love. Those of you who are Camp Fire alumni probably have heard of “WoHeLo”, and that’s our Camp Fire byword that stands for “work, health and love”. So when we focus on those three elements, this idea of identifying sparks and growth mindsets, goal management and reflection, it just falls right into those three categories. And it’s a perfect fit.

SPREEUWENBERG: I know one of the specific pieces that jumps out to me a little bit here – you touched on it quickly – is goal management. I don’t hear that coming up too often in early-childhood education. Usually it seems like it’s the educator who kind of sets and manages the goals. Do you have the children get involved in setting their own goals or being involved in the process? It almost seems like that, the way that you phrased it.

RINN: Well, the goal management… and yes, we do want to youth to be involved, because ideally, really the goal of teachers and mentors and coaches is, really, to work ourselves out of a job. We want to make sure that we do a good enough job of imparting these skills, letting those skills evolve and develop, so that the child and the youth can later on do it themselves. It’s called the gradual release method, where you walk alongside and you practice it. You let them do it. You’re there to help, but then ultimately they’re going to be able to do that themselves. So letting them know that it’s OK to have goals and what kind of steps you need to take to have that outcome, instead of depending on the hope-to-gosh method. You know, “Gosh, I hope to gosh it works out today.” So giving them that opportunity to really do a little bit of thinking and planning what they have for their day.

For example, in some of our elementary programs, our after-school programs, that’s an integral part of the planning [of] the curriculum, is, “What are you guys into? What’s your spark?” Yes, there are some goals and some strategies that the adult leaders have in place for them. But the method of attaining those skills, that’s a little bit variable based on the population you’re working with. And so far as early-childhood goes we know that that’s actually the end run. That’s beginning with the end in mind. So what do we have to do as early-childhood educators to put in place this higher level of thinking, this problem solving? “You can do this. I’m here to help you support you.” And also that social-emotional competency that is so important in early-childhood programs. That feeling that, “I’m safe. So because I’m safe here – emotionally safe, physically safe – I can kind of step out and take some risks while I’m doing the skill-building activities in this safe environment.”

SPREEUWENBERG: And actually that’s some maybe a good segue to talk a little bit more about the three social impact areas that you mentioned: work, health and love. Can you tell us why you have that in place and what that means?

RINN:Well, these have been three foundational areas for Camp Fire National, Camp Fire First Texas, everything since the very beginning. So the byword, like I said, was “WoHeLo”. Work encourages that that sense of volunteerism, putting yourself back into the community, being productive citizens. The health part, we want to focus on the whole child, the whole adolescent, the whole individual leading a session. We want to make sure that we’re being mindful of the physical and the cognitive and the social-emotional health of everybody that we work with. And love is really, in our world, it’s fostering the love of the outdoors, making sure you’re good stewards, making sure you get out in the physical world. Make sure that you’re exploring the wonders of nature, because that just feeds your spirit.

SPREEUWENBERG:Very cool. Again I like how you’ve broken down what are oftentimes very complex subjects into a very cool framework of these three social impact areas. And it just goes to show that even over a long period of time – over 100 years, even – these things stay true in an early-childhood education environment.

Pam this has been a really interesting conversation about Camp Fire Texas. I learned a lot about a very neat program that you’re doing there, especially because you’re involved in things that are happening in the community around you there. Can you tell us a little bit more about where people would go to learn more about the Camp Fire First Texas programs?

RINN: Well, you mentioned earlier you went to our website. We’re in touch with social media all over the place. You can look up CampFireSW.org for our Camp Fire website. And there you’ll find a blog site, you’ll find our connection to our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube [and] Pinterest pages on there. Or if you want a broader view of Camp Fire in general you can just [search for] Camp Fire and you’ll get hooked up with the National Council.

Awesome. Pam, you’re doing some great work there a Camp Fire first Texas. I would definitely encourage all of our listeners to check out the website to get some inspiration in terms of how early-education is being approached through these programs. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Pam.

Thank you, Ron, for inviting me. It’s been a pleasure.

Ron Spreeuwenberg

Ron is the Co-Founder & CEO of HiMama, where he leads all aspects of a social purpose business that helps early childhood educators improve learning outcomes for children.