Why Goldilocks Had It Right

Who comes to mind when you think of education pioneers? Vygotsky? Piaget? Erikson? Kohlberg?

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How about Goldilocks? Turns out, this favorite character’s philosophy was already aligned with one of the most powerful educational concepts used today: the “Zone of Proximal Development.” Who would have guessed?

Defining the Zone

Learning happens in the zone of proximal development.  This is defined as the place where learning is challenging enough to be interesting, but never so challenging as to be overwhelming.  It’s within this zone that learning occurs.

We’re like Goldilocks. We don’t want our porridge too hot or too cold.  Unless it’s just right, we’re not all that interested.

As Daniel Willingham explains in his book Why Don’t Students Like School, “Curiosity prompts people to explore new ideas and problems, but when we do, we quickly evaluate how much mental work it will take to solve the problem.  If it’s too much or too little, we stop working on the problem if we can.”

He continues, Solving problems brings pleasure…there is a sense of satisfaction, of fulfillment, in successful thinking... Working on a problem with no sense that you’re making progress is not pleasurable.  In fact, it’s frustrating. Then too, there’s not great pleasure in simply knowing the answer.” If it’s too easy, the solving part goes by too quickly and the enjoyment is lost. If it’s too challenging, the pleasure of finding a solution is never achieved.

As educators, our role is to create that optimal zone for our students.  Like Goldilocks’s porridge, we aim to create a zone for each of our students that’s “just right,” fostering satisfying, successful learning.   


Customizing the Zone

At Vine, this customization is applied to every subject.  In math, we continually give individualized problems to each student in order to constantly find just the right level of difficulty.  When a student is asked to answer an open-ended question in history or science, we ask for different depths of response according to each one’s ideal zone.  In literature, we constantly match students with novels paired with each one’s ideal zone of learning as well.

Students thrive when taught when taught within the zone of proximal development. The enjoyment and satisfaction of working in this zone results in authentic learning, which in-turn leads to a more positive attitude toward education. We’re committed to creating an optimal learning environment for each of our students; the concept of the zone of proximal development is one of many powerful tools we use to make this happen.

The Chore Challenge

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by Amanda Vogel

As we embark on another school year, families everywhere are shifting schedules and routines to accommodate new obligations. Parents are looking for ways to keep things running smoothly at home, and chores can be an especially helpful subject to consider!

So... should children be assigned chores at home? Most parents would respond with an enthusiastic "yes!" When pressed for details about how chores work for families on a practical level, however, parent responses aren't usually as positive.

Typically, the system most commonly used for assigning and enforcing chores tends to devolve quickly into a unpleasant situation of parent-nagging and child-complaining. Chore charts, chore apps, and detailed chore plans* can end up becoming more of a headache for parents to maintain than a helpful element of a family's day-to-day workflow.

So what’s the alternative?

In our household, we first had to establish some principles.  We use the team analogy, talking at length about the idea that we, as a family, are a team in which everyone plays a part. There are, of course, times when my husband and I will choose to take care of everyone, but there are plenty of other times when we expect help from each player.

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When it’s one of those times in which everyone has to pitch in, we announce that directly. When it’s time to clean up dinner or straighten the house on a Saturday, we’ll say, “Okay... time for team Vogel!”  If there’s a lot to do, we might get out a piece of paper and make a list of everything that needs to happen. If a job is smaller, we might just talk through the expectations.  Everyone knows, however, that the question at hand is, “How are you going to help?”

We ask our kids to tell us what way they want to contribute each time. Sometimes their answers are predictable: my son loves to wash the counters and my daughter enjoys starting the laundry. Sometimes, though, they will change it up, like choosing to clean out the cat box because they’ve noticed their dad has done that chore a lot lately. Other times, they’ll specifically request to learn something new, which gives us the opportunity to teach our son how to make a bed or our daughter to fold laundry.

What really matters is that each team member has a voice. Once they’ve chosen their tasks, we often create a little checklist for each child, both to break down the tasks into manageable steps and to help them remember everything they're responsible for. After this, we turn on some music and set to work, pitching in together. Before we know it, the jobs are done and we’re on our way out for an afternoon adventure.

*An added bonus of this mentality is that we have almost no chore charts to contend with, which relieves the pressure of making sure our kids are staying on top of their daily jobs. Tasks that absolutely must be done daily are taken care of through morning and afternoon routines, but most other tasks are negotiated and shared among each of us!

On Our Scary World (And Why It's Not So Bad After All...)


Ask an adult today if the world is safer than it was a century or two ago, and he’ll probably tell you it isn’t. Most people believe the world is more violent, less stable, and significantly more dangerous than ever before. This belief, however, is categorically untrue. The purpose of this article is not to prove the validity of this argument, as articles like thisthis, and this do an excellent job laying out the data. Even gun violence, thought to be persistently on the rise by the vast majority of Americans, is falling drastically.

What is disturbing, however, is that there is currently a persistent belief that our world is shattering, despite all this evidence. People are convinced that we should be afraid of the direction in which our world is heading and should spend more time protecting our children, keeping on heightened alert for potential threats that surround us.

At the same time, our culture is experiencing an unprecedented rise in anxiety, and not only among adults. Teens and school-aged children are experiencing an upswing in anxiety-related disorders, as can be seen herehere, or here.

The bottom line? Though the world is becoming safer and safer, people continue to grow more afraid and anxious.  We are not enjoying the fruits of the incredible technological advances and cultural improvements we’ve made!

A big part of this is our increased access to information.  Simply put, we have the ability to hear about the ills of the world more quickly and easily than ever before.  All of this connection and communication means that the troubles of the world are available for viewing at all times, right in our homes.

Humans are psychologically attracted to fear.  The evils of the world make the news because they are what we want to hear about. In Psychology Today, Eric Dietric Ph.D. explains, “Because of our evolutionarily supplied love of fear and preference for the bad, our modern news is 24/7 reporting about bad and scary things.  Violence is always newsworthy; peace is not.  No one wants to hear 24/7 that someone was nice to someone.  Sure niceness can be tossed in at the end of a segment on the latest school shooting by an angry gunman, but the real news is the latest school shooting by an angry gunman.”  We are psychologically geared to pay attention to what is scary.

This increased awareness of violence and societal degradation leads to a false perception of its frequency and ability to harm us. Sadly, this perception we, as adults, embrace is drastically impacting our children.


We feel compelled to shelter our children from the real world, and are inadvertently holding them back from experiencing life.  Unless they’re under direct supervision, our children are seldom outdoors or out-of-sight.  We fear the dangers out in the world and even the judgment of others, fearing that someone may call the authorities about our poor parenting choices should we let a school aged child walk a mere couple of blocks unattended.  We accompany our children to every sporting event and activity in which they participate, and stay connected via phones and social media at all times.

This helicopter parenting is affecting our kids’ preparedness for the real world.  Jokes about Millennials’ inability to function without their parents, while amusing, is a sad commentary on just how unprepared for life this most recent generation is.  This constant supervision shatters our children’s time for creative, unstructured play, which is a major concern in and of itself.

Worse yet, this fear is keeping our children from developing a sense of power over their world.  One of the greatest tasks of childhood is to develop what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: the belief that, while a person cannot control his or her world, he or she has real power to influence the course of his or her life. It’s the underlying belief that “I am powerful” and “My decisions matter.”

Developing this belief takes years, and begins in childhood. Young adults with a strong internal locus of control are consistently found to be the most successful in navigating their transition to adulthood and in finding success in the adult world. The rising believe that the world is shattering drastically interferes with this development. Instead of believing they are powerful, our fears teach children that the world is dangerous regardless of what people do about it, leaving them feeling helpless.

In the face of all of this, I feel fortunate to be in a position of teaching history right now.  When I teach history, second through eighth graders hear real stories of what has happened in the past. We talk about wars, death, violence, plagues, and more.  When I first mention this, some people wonder, “isn’t that stuff scary for kids?”  My response is, “No, not if it’s taught well.”

Stories such as these could be taught in a way that induces fear or glorifies violence.  Alternately, they can be taught as the true stories of humanity’s past, serving as evidence for how far the world has come.  When I teach these stories, I emphasize:

  • How far people have come in their ideas about equality.

  • How much more accepting people have become of their differences.

  • How violence has become less and less of a means for handling conflicts.

  • How people have become more accepting of other religions and beliefs.

  • How people have become more respectful of the property rights of others.

  • How inventions and scientific discoveries constantly improve our world.

Of course, there is still vast room for improvement in each of these areas.  Yet, when students see that people throughout history have made such significant improvements to our world, they are more likely to feel empowered to continue that path of improvement.  Rather than clinging to the idea that that world is a scary thing to hide from, they are more likely to see it as their job to lead or contribute to the next round of improvements that will make the world even better.  They feel empowered to influence not only the path of their own lives, but the trajectory of the world as a whole.

Our children have the power and responsibility to change the world, and they need our support to do it. Through open and honest conversation and a commitment to focus on the facts rather than falling prey to our fears, we just may see more and more articles like this in the future… and that would be good news for us all!