A Plan for Raising Brilliant Children, According to Science
Children today will need a completely different skillset in the working world that exists in 20 years than we grew up with. Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychologist at Temple University and author of 14 books, including Becoming Brilliant, What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children, will tell us what skills our children need to become successful adults and will provide practical tips parents can use to develop them.
Full Interview Transcript
Kelly: What is the key to raising a brilliant child? Joining us today is Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychologist at Temple University and author of 14 books, including Becoming Brilliant, What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children. She will tell us what skills our children need to become successful adults and will provide practical tips parents can use to develop them.
Kelly: Kathy, thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Kathy: It is a pleasure.
Kelly: Why did you write this book now?
Dr. Kathy: I wrote this book now because there is a rift, a huge rift between what we know in the science of learning and what we are doing with our children. We all want to have kids who are successful, who are bright, and who are happy and yet what we’re doing is we’re getting so fearful that sometimes we’re turning our children into little robots who have to sit and memorize things rather than really getting to love for what learning and social skills are all about.
Kelly: What is a brilliant kid? What do you define as a successful child?
Dr. Kathy: I am so glad you asked. I think most of us would agree on what counts as a successful child. I mean as a mom, I wanted my kids to be happy, to be healthy, to be thinking, to be caring, not the kids who would shut the door in the face of someone, how to be collaborative. We want them to grow up to also be creative, confident, critical thinkers, and responsible citizens for tomorrow. Every time I ask a parent, “Is this what you want for your child?” they all go, “Well, of course. We want them to be smart but we want them to be nice too.”
What we hear on the other side is that maybe brilliance is just about doing great in mathematics, in reading, and in your science course. Yes, that’s true. We want our children to do well in school but it’s not all there is.
Kelly: What are the skills that they actually need then to be successful?
Dr. Kathy: You will not believe the first one: getting along with other people. Kind of shocking right?
Kelly: Yes. Everyone focuses on IQ or being academically smart.
Dr. Kathy: No, exactly and it turns out that if you don’t know how to get along with other people, to build communities, and you don’t have the social skills to stop yourself before you do something stupid, that you’re not ever going to build the skills that you need to do well in that classroom.
Our first skill is collaboration, getting along with others. Built on that, communication, that back and forth learning how to write, learning how to listen, something we don’t do so well in our society today. Built on that, your ability to read and speak is content. All the stuff you’re looking at when you look at reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Then we move from content to critical thinking. Too much information out there right now. Got to know how to sift through it. Creative innovation, taking the information using it in new ways and the confidence to take those intellectual risks to have an opinion. That’s what we call the six C’s that we think really define the future of success for our children.
Kelly: In your book, you do talk about opportunities for grandparents, parents, and caregivers to sort of help them facilitate those skills. Can you give a couple of examples of that?
Dr. Kathy: Oh, I sure can. Let me give you one that just happened a couple of weeks ago, I’m going to tell you, it’s my two year old granddaughter and she became fascinated with shadows and wanted to chase her shadow everywhere.
We were walking in a forest kind of trail and I asked her if she can find her shadow. Now, in the forest, the shadows come and the shadows go. Of course, it all depends on whether you have light that’s seeping through the trees so that you can find your shadow.
I said to Ely, “Ely, let’s look and see if we can find out when the shadow’s coming and when the shadows go.” And then I showed her the sunlight and I said, “Can you make a prediction as to when you’ll see the next shadow?” Prediction is a long word for a two year old.
Dr. Kathy: But we started making predictions and yes she could. You’d be surprised at what little kids can tell you.
Kelly: There are a lot of ways that the parent can help cultivate things at home that improve their academic success in school.
Dr. Kathy: It is everywhere. When you think about it, if you do a mural together in school for example as opposed to painting at the independent places, wow, all of the sudden, you’re a collaborator. If we don’t care that the artwork that comes back from our children’s school looks perfect then the teachers become less likely to just give us cut out apples to put on pre-made trees for the month of October. All of a sudden we can make it to look like what we want it to look like we can explain it to our parents.
If our parents praise our effort and not shut the grade we get, then we have more confidence to try something new. When we have that confidence, we can be the discoverers, explorers, and entrepreneurs in the world around us.
Kelly: That’s such an important skill.
Dr. Kathy: Right?
Kelly: Tell us how important really is preschool?
Dr. Kathy: I will tell you that I think today since a lot of kids are going to some form of preschool, it’s becoming more and more important because you don’t have the kids next door to play with. They’re probably in preschool.
I think a large proportion of kids today–I think it’s well over 50%. I don’t know the exact numbers. But I don’t know why I’m thinking in the 60s are in some sort of preschool.
Look, you learn a lot with other kids. You learn that everything isn’t yours. You learn that an adult’s not going to be in your face every moment. You learn that you have to try things out on your own to make them work. You know that there rules and boundaries that sometimes you just have to abide by and that your parents aren’t the ones who rule the kingdom.
I think these are pretty important collaboration moments in your life, lessons.
Kelly: Are they all the same or there are certain things you should look for in it when you are looking at preschools?
Dr. Kathy: Let me give you a tweet. Children learn best when they’re active, when they are engaged with the material, when it’s meaningful to them, when they are socially interactive, and when there’s a learning goal. That’s when they learn best so look for those requirements.
Kelly: A big part of your book is to get parents or people caring for their children to supplement what is going on school. Is there anything else that you would recommend for that preschool age they should be doing to help outside of school?
Dr. Kathy: I think the outside of school is actually really important and we don’t give it enough credit. 20% of the child’s waking time is in school. That means 80% of their waking time is out of school.
I want us to think about that. 80% of your child’s waking time is out of school. You’re in Marin County so I know that your parents are going to rush to do the calculations.
But we’ve checked this. There’s summer time, right? There’s night time when they get home from the school. There are weekends. When you put all of that in the mix, 80% of your child’s time, waking time is out of school.
My question back to parents is, “What are we doing with it?” A lot of our parents will answer that they’re parking their children in front of apps and that is a big deal because there are a 120,000 so called educational apps for pre-schoolers off the market right now.
Kelly: Wow, 120,000.
Dr. Kathy: Right?
Kelly: Wow, yes.
Dr. Kathy: Excuse me. Let’s look for a couple of good ones. I don’t mind electronic age. It’s pretty cool.
But we don’t need to park our children. Our children can go in the backyard and they’re fine. Yes, you should watch them. Someone should watch them. But they’re going to be fine.
They can play with construction toys. Would you believe that playing with blocks, playing with those train sets and all of different sorts today, you have the magnet blocks, you have the wooden blocks, and you have the Lego blocks, would you believe that that’s building STEM?
Now, we never think about it. But it turns out that that and our ability to control ourselves socially together, they control for 78% of what you’re going to look like when you enter school in the math domain and STEM domain. Oh my gosh.
Are we taking time to tell stories and let our children tell stories? Oh sometimes they might not be great stories but even two year olds have something to tell you about their day.
Dr. Kathy: And read books before you go to bed. Let your children help you if you dare in the kitchen when you’re preparing for dinner. That’s a chemistry experiment. Use our time wisely and let our kids have a little time to play with the forts and building things out of pillows because they love it and they learn from it.
Kelly: What do you think are some of the biggest mistakes that parents make with raising their young children in the early years?
Dr. Kathy: Yes, that’s a tough question for me because I don’t think parents really make mistakes. I think sometimes we don’t see the all potential, but that’s not a mistake. It just means that we need to be more wide eyed and look at the world a little bit from the child’s point of view.
There is one thing I would caution parents about and I now have the study to also speak to it – is that we are sometimes occupy ourselves with the constant text messages that come in, with the constant phone messages that we feel we need to listen to, the emails that simply pounding us and that we’re almost addicted to. Our children notice when we aren’t looking in their eyes and they don’t get as much from us.
In a study that we just ran, we looked at cell phone messages and I had wonderful parents teach their kids two words. The kids were two years of age. One of the words I interrupted them with a cell phone call and in another I didn’t. This was done by my first student
The question I asked is, “Do children learn just as much when they pay for it when the parent is interrupted?” I gave you just as much time in both conditions. Then the parent gives them their undivided attention. And the answer was that they only really paid attention and learned from their parent and either parent had said, “When that cell phone is put away.”
This is not just about what our kids our doing. It’s also about what we are doing and how we occupy our time. I caution all of us. Five minutes a day. Take five minutes a day. Put your cell phone away.
Hide it and look in to the eyes of your child. I don’t care if your child is an adolescent or if your child is a four year old. I can’t tell you how much I know this personally when my teenagers used to look proud pretending I wouldn’t see that they were trying to get a text message. It doesn’t have communication per say. The most important thing you have with your kid is a relationship
Kelly: Yes. What is the biggest take away that you want people to take from your book?
Dr. Kathy: The biggest take away is that success is not built around the narrow confines of our memorizing our math tables and learning or memorizing our poetry. It’s built up from a whole host of skills that are the skills we need in the 21st century to succeed, collaboration, communication contents there but only one, critical thinking skills, creative innovation and also the confidence to pull it off. If we want our children to succeed in a world that is filled with information where you and I read the equivalent of 74 newspapers a day, then we must prepare them to learn to learn and to love learning. These are not soft skills. They’re the foundation for all learning that will come through a life time.
Kelly: For more information about your research and work, where can people go?
Dr. Kathy: That’s a great question. We have a Twitter account which is @KathyandRo1, K-A-T-H-Y and R-O-1. We do tweet out the latest research when we find it from all over so parents can be kept right up to the last minute of what’s happening.
Dr. Kathy: Well, thank you so, so much. I’ll be out in the Bay Area giving a talk in March with the Bay Area Discovery Museum which is a museum I love, love, love, I would love to see any parents who want to come to the talk
About Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D
Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., is the Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Director of Temple University’s Infant Language Laboratory, Kathy is the recipient of the American Psychological Association’s Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society, the American Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science, the American Psychological Society’s James McKeen Cattell Award for “a lifetime of outstanding contributions to applied psychological research,” and the Temple University Great Teacher Award and the University Eberman Research Award. She was a finalist for 2013 Best Professor of the year for the American Academy of Education Arts and Sciences Bammy Awards. Kathy received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research in the areas of early language development and infant cognition has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and Human Development, and the Institute of Education Sciences resulting in 14 books and over 200 publications. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society and served as the Associate Editor of Child Development. She is the President elect and also served as treasurer of the International Association for Infant Studies. Her book, Einstein Never used Flashcards: How children really learn and why they need to play more and memorize less, (Rodale Books) won the prestigious Books for Better Life Award as the best psychology book in 2003.
Kathy has a strong interest in bridging the gap between research and application. To that end, she was an investigator on the NICHD Study of Early Child Care, is on the Advisory Board of the Fred Rogers Center, Jumpstart and Disney Junior and is an invited blogger for the Huffington Post. She worked on the language and literacy team for the development of the California Preschool Curriculum, is on the Core Team for the LEGO Research Network, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Latin American School for Educational and Cognitive Neuroscience, was one of the organizers of the Ultimate Block Party and was one of the founders of the Learning Resource Network. Kathy is a member of the Research Council for America’s Promise, an organization started by Colin Powell, and has been a spokesperson on early development for national media like the NYTimes and npr. Visit http://kathyhirshpasek.com/ to learn more.