The importance of Play, Adventure and encouraging a Growth Mindset

Adventure is a natural part of children’s lives. Or at least, it should be. It’s an almost primal drive that helps stimulate and challenge developing minds – allowing for growth emotionally, physically and intellectually.

The world we live in, whilst romanticising adventure, often forgets to give it a place. We’re always busy. Always rushing. And always ready to push our children on to the next thing…

It’s ballet one minute, teenie boppers the next, then karate, then scouts, then drama club. In an effort to make sure our kids don’t miss out on anything and that they’re constantly occupied, we’re restricting the time they get to be free natured kids – to be curious and intrepid – and to find out who they are for themselves.

children playing in leaves

You must go on adventures to find out where you truly belong.” 

Sue Fitzmaurice

What’s more, we tend to presume that adventures are hard to create, that they need a lot of planning and that they may cost a lot. But that’s not true. Real adventure can be found wherever you’d like it to be – in the places you’d least expect. Because adventure is an attitude. A different way of looking at the world. And our biggest adventures are fuelled by imagination, physical play, creative expression and the freedom to learn, discover and grow.

But before we can turn our little ones into adventurers, we must first teach them to think for themselves…

Developing a ‘Growth Mindset'

We are sometimes too quick to pile the pressures of adulthood onto our children – to make winning or succeeding the goal above all else. Yet, as cliché as it may sound, it’s the taking part that matters the most. Our willingness to try new things and learn from our mistakes is how we truly learn and grow.

Developed by Dr Carol Dweck, ‘Growth Mindset’ is a learning theory that champions the belief that intelligence, ability and performance can be continuously improved, and that a person’s talents are not set in stone. 

We are all different, our abilities and skills diverse. But if a child believes that they can get smarter, they will understand that putting in effort makes them stronger.

Developing a growth mindset starts with understanding. The more we know and understand about our own bodies and minds, the better.

yellow bucket and spade full of sand

1. Explanation

Talk to your children about how the brain develops. Explain to them that the more we practice and learn, the more new connections are formed, the more old connections are strengthened and the quicker our impulses become. You don’t have to be a neuroscientist, just the basics will do. It’s more about instilling in them the importance of curiosity and effort. Teaching them that their brain is always changing shape – and as long as they feed it, it will continue to grow.

2. Praise

When it comes to praise, aim to commend your child’s thinking process, effort and personal development, over results. Rather than telling children they’re ‘smart’ – praise their hard work and effort. Being praised for effort encourages children to want to learn new things, to be persistent, and to ask for and act on feedback. All of which are qualities that will prove useful for their entire lives.

3. Expectation

There is nothing wrong with having high expectations of your child (we all do), as long as they’re realistic. That’s the key. Because failure is, after all, inevitable at some point, and undue pressure will not help a child in the long run. Just try to be there to champion, support and encourage.

4. Trying again

Put your efforts into teaching your child the importance of ‘trying again’. Perseverance is a brilliant skill. If something goes wrong, look at it in a slightly different way – don’t feel like a failure for not getting it perfectly right the first time. Like Thomas Edison once said, ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.‘ If a child understands that getting things wrong is all part of the process then they won’t be as scared of giving things a go.

5. Positivity

While children are naturally disposed to being positive, and start their lives rarely discouraged by defeat, they are also great mimics. Negativity finds it’s way into the way we speak about ourselves and our accomplishments, and even the way we speak to our children. So remember to express yourself in a positive, helpful and energised way. It will help you as much as it does your children.

 

When children have a ‘Growth Mindset’, they are more willing to take on challenges and learn from them. Research has shown that children taught to think in this way cope better with transition, have a higher level of self-regulation and generally higher self-esteem. But to really help shape a child’s behaviours, parents need to develop a consistent culture of high (realistic) expectations and quality feedback.

Boy reading wearing old fashioned flying goggles

The Importance of Play

Children need both practical and conceptual skills. They need to be able to strategise and learn, but they must also be able to dream, make and do.

Physical play is important in a general sense for it’s influence on basic motor skills, socialisation and health. But beyond that it is essential for creativity and problem-solving too.

To be clear, when I say ‘physical play’ I am talking about anything where children are actually doing something – using their hands or getting up and about. It doesn’t have to be outside. But it could just as well be. Think of things like making a bird feeder, climbing trees, exploring with imaginary friends, building sofa forts, or making their own perfume out of petals.

Things that encourage imagination, dexterity and practicality. And that, when paired with a ‘Growth Mindset’, help to build very capable, well-rounded individuals.

two smiling toys sitting on a bench

The amount of children who can’t use scissors properly, or are scared to get themselves dirty, worries me. Because it is when we play with the world around us that we change our perspectives on things – the foil from a wrapped sweet can easily be moulded into a mighty chalice (that can hold real liquid without leaking – I’ve tried it!), a cardboard box can be a space ship, and a toilet roll a pirate’s spyglass. Without this creative outlook, our world becomes significantly smaller and more insular.

Plus, there are tons of ways that you can encourage physical or practical play. At first you may need to invest a little time, but once your child finds the magic, they’ll carry on by themselves…

1. Inspire imagination

Encourage storytelling, painting, dreaming, innovating, and problem-solving.  Read to your children – a little of anything and everything. This will give them the fuel for their imaginations to flourish.

Our FREE interactive story app ‘Havoc in a Hippo’, is a perfect place to start. Created with the sole purpose of helping this next generation to start reading again, it’s been designed to provoke a sense of imagination, curiosity and adventure.

And remember, sometimes just a good chat is enough, and rewarding for both parent and child.

boy making a model volcano

2. Lead by example

Get outdoors yourself. Make things instead of buying them. Show your children how to look at ideas in a different way – your sausage, beans and mash potato can easily turn into a bubbling volcano (it may make it taste nicer too!).

3. Live in the moment

It’s good to have things to look forward to, but sometimes when you are focused on the future you miss out on all the small moments that happen along the way. Be spontaneous. Spend time with your children wherever and whenever you can spare it. Teach them to enjoy life as they live it and not just yearn for the next thing.

children outdoors, surrounded by flowers and woods

4. Use resources

There are plenty of idea resources full of things to do with your kids. Don’t be afraid to make the most of them – that’s what they’re there for. Try and find a balance between craft activities, adventures, imaginative thinking and just plain silliness!

Adventure isn’t hanging on a rope off the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude that we must apply to the day to day obstacles in life.” 

John Amatt

We cannot control everything our children do, but we can help shape their mindsets and give them the tools needed to cope with life… ready for wherever their adventures may lead them.

We’ve all been there at the start of this journey, but hopefully some of these tips and tactics will give you the traction you need to get the ball rolling in the right direction. With the right mindset, we can all do brilliant things – parents and children alike!

All that’s left to say is ‘Good Luck’ (not that you’ll need it).