Taking on Challenges and Self-Directed, Engaged Learning


During a session I presented on positive guidance, participants were asked to write down words that described life in the world we live in today. The responses described life to be complex, distracting, fast-moving, and stressful. The conclusion was drawn that if this is the way the world is for us now, it will only be more so for our children. As educators and as parents, we do not want our children to simply survive in this world, we want them to thrive.


Ellen Galinsky’s sixth life skill, taking on challenges, helps children to not only cope with stress and challenges but also involves moving onto the next one faced. Taking on challenges calls on many of our executive functions, which may seem like a daunting task to teach, but start small. Children take on challenges when they are given the opportunity to:


  • Persist in building block towers that fall down or trying to find a puzzle piece that fits

  • Go somewhere new or try a new food

  • Figure out a new way to use playground equipment

  • Talk about a coping strategy that has helped them in the past


The seventh and final life skill is a culmination of the previous six. When students are able to call on executive functions and the six other life skills, they are well on their way to becoming self-directed, engaged learners who continuously seek new knowledge and skills. In the book, Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky offers seven principles that ignite this motivation to learn. They are as follows:


  1. Establish a trustworthy relationship with children

  2. Help children set and work toward their own goals

  3. Involve children socially, emotionally, and intellectually

  4. Elaborate on and extend children’s learning

  5. Help children practice, synthesize, and generalize what they have learned

  6. Help children become increasingly accountable

  7. Create a community of learners


When you promote these principles and the six essential life skills I have discussed in past posts, you facilitate children’s learning. Promoting these skills doesn’t require expensive programs and materials. It only requires you to continue doing the everyday things you do with your children in new ways.


This concludes my series on Ellen Galinsky’s seven essential life skills. Remember, it is never too early or too late to develop these skills!


Galinsky, E. (2010). Mind in the making: The seven essential life skills every child needs (NAEYC special ed.). New York: Harper.

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Training Spotlight

1st-3rd grade educators worked together to learn engaging ways to develop number sense. Students will develop fact fluency while playing games that use their number sense strategies. By learning their facts in this way, students are not merely memorizing, but rather learning to work with numbers flexibly.  “Low achievers are often low achievers not because they know less but because they don’t use numbers flexibly – they have been set on the wrong path, often from an early age, of trying to memorize methods instead of interacting with numbers flexibly.” Jo Boaler,  Stanford University, 2009


April 8, 2019

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