Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why by Paul Tough

3. Skills

  • Can qualities like grit, curiosity, self-control, optimism, conscientiousness, and character skills in general be taught? If they can, it won’t take the same form as teaching traditional subjects. Many of the educators Paul encountered who seemed best able to engender non-cognitive abilities in their students never said a word about these skills in the classroom. He concludes that it’s more accurate and useful to look at character as product of a child’s environment. If we want to improve a child’s grit or resilience or self-control, it turns out that the place to begin is not with the child himself. What we need to change first, it seems, is his environment.

4. Stress

  • Poor children, on average, eat less nutritious food and they get worse medical care. Affluent parents typically provide more books and educational toys to their kids in early childhood. Low-income parents are less likely to live in neighborhoods with good libraries and museums and other enrichment opportunities, and they’re less likely to use a wide and varied vocabulary when speaking to their infants and children. Researchers have concluded that the primary mechanism through which children’s environments affect their development is stress. High levels of stress, especially in early childhood, hinder the development of a child’s prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls our subtlest and most complex intellectual functions, as well as our ability to regulate ourselves both emotionally and cognitively. When a child’s executive functions aren’t fully developed, school days with their complicated directions and constant distractions, become a never-ending exercise in frustration.
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