An Original Educated Mom: Nancy Weinstein
August 8, 2014
In the process of raising our kids, when we come up against an obvious “miss” in the things we depend on, whether it’s a highchair that could be better designed or a book that could have been better written, we have two choices: settle with the way it is, or take matters into our own hands.
It’s the later choice that often drives us to obsession, as it’s done with a few parents I’ve profiled who’ve seen a need for something and then set off on a process of educating themselves and making their concepts a reality. I’ve interviewed moms who’ve figured out how to manufacture better lunch boxes; foster parents who have started charities for kids in the system; and a grandfather who created a game to teach sight words. In each of these cases, a new sense of purpose took over the creator’s life.
Nancy Weinstein is the obsessed parent behind Mindprint Learning, an education technology company launching this fall. I sat down with Weinstein yesterday and asked her to reflect a bit on the past three years. She’s been in an incubation period for her start-up, one that grew out of an awareness that parents needed a better way to understand how their children learn, and why some things come so easily and others don’t. As many readers know, this blog is an offshoot of the soon-to-be-live Mindprint Learning site, and grew out of the desire to look more deeply at the intersection of parenting and education. I may be The Educated Mom, but Nancy is definitely in a class ahead of me.
Questions for Nancy Weinstein:
Can you describe the process of immersion into education and parenting you’ve undergone over the past three years? I know you already have two degrees, including a BS/BSE from Penn and an MBA from Harvard, but what has preparing for Mindprint taught you?
Nancy Weinstein: I’m relatively sure that I’ve read more in the last 3 years than I did in my four years of college. Although I’ve always had an interest in psychology, I had only taken the basic intro classes. Of course, having a bioengineering degree helps with all the biology and scientific research. I’ve read everything I could about the American education system. On the pyscho-educational testing side, I actually bought the textbook that every clinician started with and read it cover to cover. I followed with more of the common literature including, of course, Howard Gardener, who wrote everything about Multiple Intelligences.
The theory of Multiple Intelligences is a good way to begin to understand how our strengths and weaknesses can manifest into making us great in one area, such as music or interpersonal skills, and less so in others. Unfortunately Gardener’s work has led to a more commercial explanation of learning styles that more people are familiar with. As attractive as it sounds to classify how we learn best into a simple learning style, there’s absolutely no science to back that up. In fact, after 100 years of research, cognitive testing remains the only scientifically valid way of understanding how we learn best.
The last stop on my “pure academic” training is that I attended Neuroscience Boot Camp at the University of Pennsylvania. I was accepted for this crash course on how the brain functions. I learned about the latest technology used to understand how the brain works from top researchers at Penn Med and in Penn’s Biology department. That’s actually where I heard about the work of Ruben and Racquel Gur who have tested over 10,000 children and who have been incredibly helpful to Mindprint.
Raising my own two kids is a daily education in child psychology, as well.
What’s the most powerful thing you’ve learned along the way, especially in terms of working with children on the obstacles (concrete or perceived) that inevitably pop up in times of change or growth?
Nancy Weinstein: I’ve learned that the only way you can help a child is by first earning the child’s trust. And you will never earn a child’s trust if they don’t believe you listen and understand. And when I say listen, I mean really listen, not just giving them time to voice an opinion. You need to hear what they’re saying. You need to show them you understand. And you need to validate how that child is feeling. Believe me, kids know immediately if you are half-listening or insincere. It sounds so simple, yet most adults don’t really do this for kids until something really goes wrong. Then they hear the kid out. But kids need that more regularly if you want them to be open and honest. Mostly, adults tend to say, “Yes. I understand that…but you shouldn’t have….or you don’t…” Once you are using the “yes…but…” you can be pretty sure you’re not actively listening to what your child is really saying.
Conversely, if you’re following up with specific questions to draw out more details or relating it to your own personal experiences and sharing a similar story, you’re actively listening in a way your child needs. By the way, all kids love personal stories. And hearing about similar experiences helps them understand that they are not the only one that has trouble with friends or failed a test or had a teacher that seemed to pick on them. A shared experience will go a long, long way.
You saw inefficiency in the way parents were able to gain insight into how their children learn, and the system by which they could obtain a cognitive assessment for their child. In a nutshell, what did you do to fix that?
Nancy Weinstein: When we launch Mindprint in the fall, you will be able to test your own children at home to understand how they learn. And then you will be able to get advice from our clinical psychologists, the ones with PhDs, on how best to help your children. And by the way, they are moms too.
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This reminds me of a story my aunt told me about something my grandfather told her when they were walking with her kids: he said stop and really listen to what the child was saying. Interesting advice, too, because this particular grandfather was a newspaper man.
Nancy is right on about the importance of really listening to children. In my clinical practice as a child psychologist, parents would often comment that they said the same thing to their child that I said, but for some reason the child listens to me but not them. I wondered about this. Eventually I concluded that the only difference between what I said and what the parents said was the listening that came first. In session, I gave my full attention to the children and they sensed it and trusted that I had really heard them. Now, Mindprint Learning is listening in another kind of way, namely having the children input their perceptions (correctly or incorrectly) and having their input scientifically scored and evaluated, with the results shared in a clear and systematic way with their listening parents.
Thanks for some insight! I look forward to following Mindprint and seeing how it can help as we try to chart our own course for our kids through public education – taking the best it has to offer but not following the common path.