The “Smart” Way to Praise Children

When it comes to school, everything that matters depends upon a student’s mindset. Students with a fixed mindset believe that they prove their intelligence by doing flawless work, while students with a growth mindset equate intelligence with knowing how to confront a challenge

Lisa Damour, Clinical Psychologist and Writer

We all know that praise is a very powerful thing. It’s a tool we often use to support and motivate our children. Although, very well-intentioned, the byproduct could potentially have negative consequences. Often we praise our children for their intelligence or their ability by saying, “you’re so smart” or “you’re so good”. By habitually doing this, it could contribute to a fixed mindset within our children. This type of mindset often lends a hand to children becoming fixed on how “good” or “bad” they are at something and inhibits their thinking that they can improve their intelligence.

Carol Dweck, psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, emphasizes that we should praise our children based on their effort and not their intelligence. When we praise our children based on their effort, we help them understand that it’s their effort, aligned with the right actions and behaviors, that help them develop skills and overcome obstacles.

One thing to keep in mind is when Dweck speaks about effort, she’s talking about effective effort. That word often seems to get lost. There is a difference between effort and effective effort and they are not equal. Effective effort is the kind that leads to growth and new learning, whereas, ineffective effort is when children put in unfocused energy. Praising the wrong type of effort can be damaging.

In a landmark series of experiments on American 5th graders, researchers Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck found that children behaved very differently depending on the type of praise they received. Research showed that children who were praised for their effort were more open to accepting new challenges and learning new strategies, whereas, by contrast, children that were praised for their intelligence tended to avoid challenges, often preferred easy tasks, and gave up after a failure.

Praising for Intelligence

Praising students’ intelligence leads to a short burst of pride followed by a long string of negative consequences

Carol Dweck

When we praise for intelligence we are sending our children a message that we are proud of their flawless work. This often leads to children feeling fearful of making mistakes, avoiding difficult tasks, and cheating. By praising children for their intelligence, we are teaching them that their success is due to their intelligence. When difficult challenges later appear, they are more likely to attribute their challenges/failures to a lack of intelligence.

Praising for Effective Effort

By contrast, when praising students for their effective effort, we are letting our children know that by continuing to practice good behaviors and actions, they can continue to grow and get better. This promotes a growth mindset. This type of praise fosters motivation, collaboration, increased effort, willingness to try and take on new challenges, and great self-confidence.

Dweck’s research on this topic has hit home for Lisa Damour, clinical psychologist and writer, who has written numerous academic papers, chapters, and two New York Times best-selling books, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.

Just like many parents, Damour wants to encourage her children to thrive and take chances by stepping out of their comfort zone, but she also wants to make sure she is not applying undue pressure on her children and asking for more than is fair. Promoting a growth mindset by praising effective effort has helped her find a good balance.

This coming December, we will be having Lisa Damour speak to The Willows community and our extended Los Angeles community as part of our Speaker Series, which will be open and free to the public.

For more resources on this topic, feel free to check out these videos by Carol Dweck and Lisa Damour.


Mueller CM and Dweck CS. 1998. Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal for Personality and Social Psychology 75(1): 33-52

The Importance Of Being Bored

 A bored mind moves into a “daydreaming” state

Sandi Mann, psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire

“I’m bored!” These are two words many parents dread hearing. Parents often want to avoid hearing this so they expend time and energy finding ways to alleviate their child’s boredom. They do this by over-scheduling numerous activities or drowning them with projects to do at home because it provokes a feeling that they have failed to enlighten or enrich their child’s mind.

What’s important to know is that constructive boredom in children is essential to their mental and emotional development. It’s also important to remember that there’s a big difference between a negatively numbed brain and a constructively bored mind. Constructive boredom is the type of boredom that leads to reading a book, painting a picture, creating a game, or playing outside with the neighbors. This type of constructive boredom does need a little guidance from parents, but not much. In this blog, we will talk about the benefits of constructive boredom and how parents can help nurture that.

Boredom fosters creativity

Our minds like to wander and when there’s nothing to do, they’re even more active. This often leads to a state of daydreaming, and that daydreaming sparks creative thoughts. When our children have nothing to do, they exercise their imagination which may be one of the most important skills they can develop. The notion that all children should be constantly active or engaged in activities could ultimately hamper the development of their imagination. Researchers all agree that the number one benefit of children experiencing periods of boredom is that it develops their innate ability to be creative.

Boredom helps develop a sense of identity and self-efficiency

“Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy. If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.”

Lyn Fry, child psychologist

Over-scheduling may inhibit and ultimately keep your children from discovering what really interests them. When children have the time and opportunity to find ways to occupy themselves, it gives their self-esteem a boost as well. This is the time they can try new things, take risks, go outside their comfort zone, which will in the end build their sense of self-identity and self-efficiency.

Here are a few things parents can do to nurture constructive boredom.

Create a list of things to do

Brainstorm with your child all of the things they enjoy. These can be anything such as reading a book, writing a story, baking a cake, or putting on a play. Let your child be creative. Avoid activities such as playing video games or watching a movie, and, remember, these activities are for the child to do. There should be little to no parent guidance. The next time your child complains of boredom, have your child pick an activity to do from the list.

Plan unstructured time

Unstructured time allows children to find ways to use their imagination to be creative. When things aren’t prescribed or handed to them, children will have the opportunity to fill their time building forts, designing clothes, writing songs, or observing bugs. This time allows children to explore their own passions.

Have designated play areas designed specifically for kids

Create a space with your child that is designated for just him/her. This space will become a place for creativity and inspiration. Provide open ended toys, markers, paper, fabric, wood, boxes, and anything else that may spark imagination. Don’t mind the mess. Everything can be cleared at the end or put away.

The next time you hear your child say, “I’m bored,” hopefully you’ll remember these tools to help nurture your child to be constructively bored!

For more resources and information, please go to

A Special Message To Our Parents!

Not perfect, but present.

Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, Mom, Psychotherapist, Speaker, & Co-Author of The Power of Showing Up.

There’s a video that I came across not too long ago by Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, that really hit home. I feel that it’s extremely pertinent to all of our parents to hear this message especially during this time where parents are not only acting as a parent but as an educator as well. It’s important to know that it’s OKAY to not feel in control or to not feel you’re doing your best.

Here are a couple takeaways from Dr. Tina Payne Bryson.

Please be kind to yourself!

Right now you don’t have to be the best parent or the best educator. The most important thing is to be present for your family. This is the time to give yourself grace, a lot of leeway, and to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. If you happen to mess up with your kids, repair it. It’s important to communicate and process things. It’s okay for them to see you’re not perfect in an imperfect situation.

It’s okay to let your kids play

Play is important work. Enjoy being together, watch movies, build together, and bake cookies. What’s important is that you enjoy this time together with your kids.

Remember, we have to be there for our kids, but we can’t do that if we’re not showing up and being too hard on ourselves as parents. You don’t have to be the best parent right now. You don’t have to be the best educator right now. What matters most is that you show up for each other and that your kids feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure.

Here is a video of Dr. Tina Payne Bryson discussing the Whole-Brain Child.

Here is a video of Dr. Tina discussing her book The Yes Brain.

For more resources and information, please go to

Activities To Do With Your Children At Home

If you’re running out of ideas or struggling to keep your children engaged and happy, don’t worry! We have compiled a list of activities that you could do with your children. Have your children choose one to two activities to do per day!


  • Bake something.
  • Play with a tub of flour/cornstarch and water.
  • Inventory the plants & wildlife (from bugs on up) in your yard.
  • Learn the parts of plants/flowers & how they function.
  • Conduct easy “kitchen chemistry” type science experiments that are easy to do, like making slime, baking soda and vinegar reaction, etc. HERE are some examples.


  • Dance Zumba or other dance-along videos on YouTube.
  • Have a shadow show in the reading tent.
  • Host an Olympics with a bunch of events competitions – funny ones, helpful ones like cleaning and really fun ones like minute to win in style.
  • Create an obstacle course.
  • Explore a National Park or a museum virtually. HERE are links.
  • Create music instruments with recyclable materials and form a band.
  • Make edible snack art.
  • Choreograph a dance together.


  • Have each kid write a letter and/or emails to a different friend or family member each day.
  • Write a story cooperatively.
  • Write a short story & illustrate it.
  • Draw maps of places or items around the house and then make directions from one place to another to see if someone else could follow it. Add clues and words on your map. You can also hide an item and create a treasure map to find it!
  • Listen to a story read by a celebrity! HERE is the link. The SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s award-winning and Daytime Emmy-nominated children’s literacy website, Storyline Online, streams imaginatively produced videos featuring celebrated actors.
  • Go on a letter/word hunt around the house. Hide the letters/words for the kids.
  • Put on a play.
  • Make a time capsule using a mason jar.
  • Trace shapes/letters/words on child’s back with your finger.
  • Draw a picture of your bedroom and label all the things in it.
  • Watch Lunch Doodles With Mo Williams Author of Don’t let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Knuffle Bunny. Each short episode features Willems in his studio, teaching kids how to draw characters, and talking about his personal artistic process.
  • Join the Los Angeles Public Library OverDrive collection. This collection includes ebooks, audiobooks, movies, and magazines.


  • Facetime grandparents and friends a lot.
  • Have your child pick a topic they’d like to learn about and spend 30 mins each day on that topic.
  • Make tents and reading caves. Include flashlights, tidy snacks, books, and pillows!
  • Practice a mindfulness activity. Here are some examples.
  • Create a gratitude or vision board.
  • Have your child interview you about when you were his/her age and how life was the same/different.


  • Code using Scratch or Scratch Jr. Free download HERE.
  • Try stop motion animation with playdough (Instructions HERE to make playdough at home).
  • Create your own board or card game!
  • Build with Legos.
  • Turn your Lego maze into a coding activity. HERE are instructions.
  • Do card making/scrapbooking projects.


  • Bake with your child. Have him/her measure out the ingredients.
  • Use a deck of cards and play war. To make it harder, throw down two cards instead of one and have your child add/subtract/multiply the total.
  • Go through your kitchen cabinets or office drawers and group objects.
  • Play boardgames that involve counting.
  • Identify shapes in your home.
  • Make a map of each room. This helps with spatial language. Ask questions about where they’re located and how close together they are.
  • Take out a measuring tape and measure items around the house.
  • Make collections and draw them. Find 10 leaves/rocks and sort them by size.
  • Graph the people in your family by the color of their eyes, hair, favorite things to do, etc.
  • Look for shapes around the house.

Hope these activities will help!

Remember, it’s also very important that we allow our children to be “bored” and not always provide them with activities to keep them entertained. Constructive boredom allows children to become creative and self-sufficient.

For more resources and information, please go to

6 Mindfulness Activities To Do With Your Child!

“We actually don’t want to get rid of the thoughts and feelings and urges. We just want them out of the way so they don’t prevent us from seeing clearly.”

Right now is the perfect time to practice some mindful exercises with your kids!

A helpful tip is to set a daily routine for practicing mindfulness to make sure you incorporate it. This could be a time before your child sits down to start his/her day or can be used during transitions.

Kids model after us. Make sure to do it with your child.

Here are 6 simple mindful practices that you can start.


Stand up and breathe. Feel your connection to the earth.
Tune in to your body. Lower your gaze. Scan your body and notice physical sensations or emotions. Discharge any unpleasant sensations, emotions or feelings on the out breath. Notice any pleasant ones and let them fill you up on the in breath.
Observe. Lift your eyes and take in your surroundings. Observe something in your environment that is pleasant and be grateful for it and its beauty.
Possibility. Ask yourself what is possible or what is new or what is a forward step

Connect with nature

Take a 5 minute nature walk in your neighborhood or backyard to breathe in fresh air and to change the setting. While you are out there, encourage your child to look around and take in the environment with his/her senses.

Dragon breathing

Sit up straight, breathe in, stick out your tongue, and breathe out like a dragon. This is great for younger children. It may seem silly at first but it’s a great way to bring deep breathing down to their level.

Mindfulness 5-4-3-2-1

Use this technique to ground kids and young adults. Have your child look around his/her current surroundings and find five things he/she can see, four things he/she can touch, three things he/she can hear, two things he/she can smell, and one thing he/she can taste. By the time your child gets through listing all of those, they will be more present and calm.

Glitter jar

The glitter jar is a great visual metaphor of our roller coaster of emotions and thoughts. Create a glitter jar using a mason jar, glycerin, and glitter. Have your child shake the jar and feel free to use these prompts:

So what is the one thing we can do to get the glitter to settle and see clearly again?

And what happens when we are still?

When things become clear, we’ll know the wise next thing to do. In fact, that’s one definition of wisdom: seeing things as they are and choosing how to act.

While we wait, does the glitter go away? No, it stays at the bottom. Our thoughts and feelings and urges are still in our minds, but they are no longer in our way, clouding our vision.

An aspiration

Decide on an aspiration. Just ask yourself this question: What is my heart’s aspiration? Pause for about 20 seconds. Do this a second or third time and write down what comes to you. Perhaps it is to come from love, or to be kind to yourself or others or to be patient.

These are just 6 simple ways to be mindful. Remember, there is no wrong way to do this. Set your tone and create a consistent schedule of practicing mindfulness for a few minutes every day with your child.

Remember, a little practice goes a long way.

For more resources and information, please go to

Take A Virtual Field Trip!

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”

John Muir

We know many of you are spending long hours at home and may be yearning for a field trip. Well, you’re in luck! You can take a virtual field trip to your favorite National Park or museum. And the best part, it’s free!

To help our Willows Community, we have compiled a list of National Park and museums you can visit from the own comfort of your home. From walking around The Grand Canyon to exploring the Louvre, there are plenty of places to visit.

National Parks


We hope you enjoyed your virtual field trip. Please check back as we will continue to provide resources and tips.

For more resources, please go to

Creating A Positive Home Learning Environment For Your Children

As we transition to distance learning, it’s important to create a positive home learning environment for your children. Their home is now becoming their school. Below are a few tips for helping you and your children ease into this new learning environment.

Developing a schedule

Write out a schedule with your child! It is important for children to have a visual of what their day looks like. Your teacher may have provided a temporary outline of what to do so please use that as a template!

Here is a sample schedule:

Please note that these schedules are flexible! If you aren’t able to follow it exactly, that’s okay! You can pick it up on a different time/day.

Creating a learning space

Help your children create their own special place at home where they will be most comfortable and able to do their best work. Consider creating a basket with school supplies your child might need such as paper, pencils, pens, scissors, glue, etc. You can even have them create a name card like the one they have at school!

Parents role/expectations

Remote learning will most likely be new not only for your children, but for you and for your teachers. In the first days, you will discover how much support your children will need to make this effort be successful. Make sure to set expectations for learning. For the time being, their home is also their school. Have a conversation with your child and discuss what works and what doesn’t work, especially in the first couple of days. Remember, this may be a difficult transition for your child, so it’s essential that you take in their feelings and adjust appropriately.

We recognize that families may face complications including space and logistical concerns. Hopefully these tips will help ease some of that. Our goal is to be flexible during this time and assist in supporting your family.

Please reach out to your teachers for support if needed.

For more resources, please go to

Wondering How To Talk To Your Children During This Time? Here Are Some Tips!

“Kids worry more when they’re kept in the dark”

Rachel Ehmke, Child Mind Institute

During this time of uncertainty, it is extremely important that, as adults, we stay calm. Many of these younger children will not remember the facts and specifics about the coronovairus (COVID-19), but they are watching and observing us and will remember how they felt during this time.

The news of coronavirus is everywhere so don’t be afraid to discuss this with your child. Give them the safe space to talk openly and be a listener.

Here are some tips on talking to your children.

Allow them the space to talk

If your child is the type that needs to talk about their feelings and concerns, let them know at any time they can come to you and ask questions or re-open conversations. It’s important you do not “dismiss” how they are feeling. If your child shares his/her feelings with you, make sure it’s a positive experience so they learn that coming to you is a good thing!

Validate your child’s concerns or feelings

Children need to know how they are feeling is normal.

A dialogue could look something like this:

“It looks like you’re worried. I hear you and it’s okay to feel this way. Some people are also feeling worried about this. We are right here for you and we can talk about ways to make you feel safer. Let’s think about your worry as a way your brain is telling you to be safer by being more careful about keeping our bodies healthy. Remember a month ago when you were sick and couldn’t go to school? What happened when you went back to school? Sounds like your teachers all helped you catch up and helped make a plan on how to get your assignments in. It sounds like they took care of you. Did that help you feel better? There are a lot of other people as well that care about you and will help you again just like the time you were sick and missed school.”

Manage your own big feelings

“When you’re feeling most anxious or panicked, that isn’t the time to talk to your kids about what’s happening with the coronavirus,” warns Dr. Domingues, PhD, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. If you notice you’re feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions.

Adults set the emotional tone for our children. If you’re panicked and obsessed with the news, your child will pick up on that and they will focus on what they can’t control. If you’re calm and collective and provide small bits of information about what you can control, you will dial down your child’s anxiety.

A dialogue could look something like this:

“It’s great news doctors know how this virus gets spread. The means we know some things to do to stay. Healthy. What do you think we can do to stay healthy?”

Be reassuring

Make sure to discuss with your child how rare the coronavirus actually is and that only a small percentage of people would require hospitalization. Reassure them that the news doesn’t highlight everything and that the majority of people will be okay.

These are just a few tips on how to talk to your children. For more resources, please go to

Please reach out to us if you need any support at this time.

An Expression of Intersession – A Look into this Past Week.

It’s a wrap!

This first week back, the entire school departed from the day-to-day school curriculum and partook in a week-long adventure into Intersession. Intersession is an immersive five-day period, which offers a different approach to project-based, experiential learning, and an opportunity to fully integrate our disciplines in a fresh, illuminating academic experience. During this time, students take a break from regular academics to participate in a variety of classes that tie into the schoolwide theme of “The Ties That Bind Us.” It offers students another path to expand their learning beyond the classroom. While it is just one week out of the year, Intersession is a powerful way to strengthen curiosity, enhance cross grade level relationships with teachers and students, and expand the joyful learning that is central to The Willows’ mission and educational philosophy.

From creating a carnival from scratch to developing street art and street wear (and many things in between), The Willows’ Intersession program features a diverse and exciting line-up of experiential learning opportunities to open minds and hearts to possibilities.

Here are the general skills involved in the Intersession classes:

  • Cooperation and teamwork, planning, problem solving, collaboration, overcoming challenges, physics concepts, cause and effect, trial and error, evaluating and prioritizing, sequencing, interpretation of different possible outcomes, and design thinking.

Take a peek at some of the wonderful projects and learning that went on:

Carnival (DK-K):

Willows City (1-2):

Escape Rooms (3-5):

Create Your Own Sport or Board Game (3-5):

Bridges (3-5):

Become a Storyteller, Write a Radio Play (3-5):

World of Felt: Felted Food Stories (3-5):

Street Art and Street Wear (3-5):

Macrame and Ceramics (3-5):

The T’S That Bind Us (6-8):

Creative Design That Binds (aka Fancy Forts) (6-8):

Catapults: The Tie That Binds Science, Latin, and Math (6-8):

Band Together! (6-8):

Think Biggerer! (6-8):

On Wednesday, January 15 from 6 pm to 7 pm, The Willows will be showcasing many of the creative and technical projects that were created during Intersession at Family Ed Night.

Hope to see you there!

Once an Idea, Now a Reality!

Not only do Willows’ teachers possess the “Can Do” spirit, so does the facilities team.

Over the years, you may have seen some new additions at The Willows like the multi-purpose furniture between Buildings 4 and 6 or the free-standing sand sifter in the sandbox. What you may not know is that these were all made in-house by our talented facilities team.

The Willows’ facilities team consists of Treisha, Rocky, Gonzo, Eladio, Juan G., Juan V., and Daisy who have a combined 50 years at The Willows. They have embraced The Willows spirit, and when something needs to be done, they accomplish it!

Here are a few objects that have been created by the facilities team:

The multi-purpose furniture idea originated when students and staff noticed there weren’t enough outdoor classroom spaces on campus. They researched and found the best solution for The Willows would be a mobile outdoor classroom apparatus. The Middle School students interviewed teachers and students who would be using the space the most and collaborated with a San Francisco architectural firm, Thing One, to construct 2D and 3D models. The blueprint was then given to our facilities team to be constructed as a working product!

These Design Lab tables were made out of necessity–we had a wonderful design lab but no tables. The facilities team built tables to the dimensions that fit perfectly for the space for a fraction of the purchase cost!

It’s amazing to have a hands-on, talented facilities team, but more importantly, it’s beneficial for our students. By modeling the inquiry process and design thinking approach, students are able to see first-hand the ideas they formulated become a reality on campus in front of their eyes. Students then begin to understand that with the right amount of tools and resources, they can bring their own ideas to reality.

This collaboration and “Can Do” spirit is what makes The Willows a special place. As the saying goes, it takes a village, but in our case, it takes a community!