Paul Tough wrote an interesting article in today’s New York Times Review entitled, To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents. He references a 1986 study carried out in Jamaica that looked at different kids who fell into three study groups, each receiving a different type of intervention. The intervention that had the greatest impact on kids’ lives was:
the one that received hourlong home visits once a week from a trained researcher who encouraged the parents to spend more time playing actively with their children: reading picture books, singing songs, playing peekaboo. (May 21, 2016)
I think we have always known that parents who play, read, and engage in a variety of ways with their children impact their development in significant ways. Tough writes:
The Jamaica experiment helps make the case that if we want to improve children’s opportunities for success, one of the most powerful potential levers for change is not the children themselves, but rather the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the adults who surround them.
Schools, especially those who serve students coming from underserved homes, should think about providing parent education, parent networking, and home visits as a way to help a family support their child’s growth.
I find Tough’s use of the term non-cognitive capacities instead of social-emotional skills an interesting construct. In schools, we look for fancy programs to build “social-emotional skills” when we might be better served by looking at how to build “habits and mindsets.” Different from skills like reading, which you never forget, non-cognitive capacities are contextual. Whereas I might show some grit and perseverance in my science class because the teacher expresses an interest in me, I might withdraw and give up in my history class because the teacher doesn’t notice me or see talent in me.
These non-cognitive capacities are built early in a child’s life. Parents play a central role in this work and sometimes need coaching, especially when they are consumed by other issues. Tough refers to the importance of coaching parents in how to do this critical work. He writes:
When parents get the support they need to create a warm, stable, nurturing environment at home, their children’s stress levels often go down, while their emotional stability and psychological resilience improve.
Later in the day, Paul Tough appeared on WABE’s Weekend All Things Considered. The program, Teaching The Intangibles: How to Ingrain Grit In Students, revealed his insights into how schools and teachers can help students develop the habits of mind necessary to be successful in school and life. While he focused on the supporting the development of non-cognitive capacities, he did not focus as much on the role of parents. I would suggest reading his article and listening to the podcast to get the full picture of his point-of-view.
I think this is the important work in all schools and classrooms across America.