Pasfoto YvonnevdVenInterview with Yvonne van de Ven, Netherlands, Author of Stone of Clear Thinking

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This is a Mindset Works podcast. I am Emily Diehl. Today we will be talking with Yvonne van de Ven, an author in the Netherlands who is applying Dr. Dweck's work on growth mindsets in her country. Her approach for cultivating growth mindsets in children is through storytelling. Her story, Stone of Clear Thinking takes us on a journey of a boy growing up in a fantasy world, where children are labeled and classified as Moon children or as Sun children. This boy, named Talalom, doesn't accept the situation but can't change it. So he decides to run away. The story has a growth minded theme all throughout.

Hello Yvonne, thank you for joining us today! So, we'd like to know, why did you decide to do this work with growth mindsets in the Netherlands?

Yvonne: Well I have 3 children and the eldest was clearly very afraid of making mistakes. We, my husband and I, saw that way before she started learning to talk. So when she was two years old, I already found out that I could help her to overcome this by giving feedback only on the process instead of on the result. Questions like 'Do you like this drawing?' I always answered like 'I can see that you really worked hard on it.' But it didn't really help and her lack of self-confidence struck me. For example, as soon as something seemed to be difficult, she literally pushed her younger brother forward to solve the problem, whatever that 'problem' was.

Emily: So you were really inspired by your children?

Yvonne: Yes, I was.

Emily: Was this something that she grew out of? Tell me how this continued as she got older.

Yvonne: Well, she went to primary school she seemed not to be able to learn anything like reading and calculating. And she even developed a skill in making herself invisible and avoided any difficult work, like learning to read. So she dropped out of ordinary school and had to attend a special school for children with learning problems – we have those schools in the Netherlands. And there she got a lot of attention and she performed slightly better, but I wasn't very impressed by it. So I decided to find a way to help her. She was 9 years old when I discovered Carol Dweck's mindset theory. I bought the book by internet; it wasn't available in the Netherlands, so I read it in English with great interest. I learned that the way we talked to the children was according to the theory, well we could have improved (our praise) slightly, but that was not the most important part. What I learned was about what happens in the brain when you are practicing something. I immediately recognized that this was the missing link which could help her. And, so I told her about the brain. They were not impressive lessons, but just a minute during dinner and two minutes biking to water scouting. I found brain scans on the Internet and those were from mice for example which grew up in either a bare, empty or a stimulating cage full of toys.

As you know, the photos of the poor mice show a lighter brain with fewer connections than those of Brainology ratsthe aroused ones. I told her that the first mice were less able to solve new problems than the other ones, and that brain development can only be created by trying, trying, trying.

The effect was enormous. She suddenly wasn't afraid to fail anymore and she started seeking challenges. The teachers at school were surprised, her learning diagrams suddenly showed steep increase; we were all really impressed! It took her only a year to recoup the arrears and then she switched schools again and finished her primary school at an ordinary school, without any delay. It was all due to the mindset theory.

Because the impact of the mindset theory was so incredible, I decided to make this theory accessible for many other children with learning problems. When I decided that, I immediately knew that I wanted to do that by a story instead of by dry theory, as especially this target group felt badly about learning before they started so writing fiction... and writing fiction is also one of my hobbies.

Emily: And so that is how The Stone of Clear Thinking was born!

Yvonne: Yes!

Emily: And why did you choose fiction?

Yvonne: Well, it will help children to digest all the information. That is what I thought. Each child can remember the fairytale of Little Red Riding-Hood, but not each child will remember what is written in a schoolbook. I felt that a story also provides hooks to hang up the knowledge and it will touch the children, emotionally I mean. I already knew that it is scientifically proven that emotions help to memorize. I hoped the story would make them curious. I did a test at my daughter's special school and improved the method slightly, but I found that it worked the way I hoped it would work. Then I did some research on the internet, literature research and I found that what I intuitively knew seemed to be true. I learned that, um, do you know Jung, the psychologist?

Emily: Yes, Carl Jung.

Yvonne: I learned that his school says that fairy tales are seen as symbolic descriptions of general human problems and possible solutions of these problems. Clinical psychology has proven that children use the symbolic solutions from the stories. So, on that basis, several therapeutic methods in psychology use fairy tales and stories. I didn't know that when I started, but it all fell together like a puzzle.

Emily: Wonderful! So, tell me about your plans for research - specifically into your method for changing mindsets.

Yvonne: Yes, well recently I contacted an academy and we are talking about research into my method. It would be nice to prove that my method indeed turns out the way I wish it will turn out.

Emily: Yvonne, the children in the story, Ben and Julia are different from one another – what role does each play in relaying your message in the story?

Yvonne: Well, the story is quite complex I think: there is a grandfather who tells a story to the twins VdVenWorkbookcalled Ben and Julia. And those two children are reacting on the story. The story is about a boy, Talalom, and he's growing up in an imaginary world.

Ben is the type of boy who immediately starts doing things before thinking at all. He will see how it turns out. And Julia is a shy girl who hardly dares to speak. And the twins learn about the Moonchild, Talalom, who can't believe the ideas from society, which tell him that when you are not smart as a child, you won't ever become smart. You'd better lie down with it.

And Talalom runs away and years later he returns and becomes the smartest of everyone. He teaches his society about the resilience of the brain and the fact that effort should be praised and not result. He uses a quote, I love this quote. It says 'A slow growing tree can become the highest tree'. I owe this quote to Dr. Jelle Jolles, a Dutch professor in brain, behavior and education.

Emily: That's a great quote, we have a professor here in the US at Stanford, Dr. Boaler who says..."fast thinking isn't always deep thinking."

Yvonne: Yes, I love that one.

Emily: It's beautiful. It is a really different way to view intelligence rather than focused on speed.

Yvonne: Exactly, exactly.

Emily: What is the grandfather ultimately trying to teach the two children?

Yvonne: Well what he does, he recognizes Julia's fear to fail, and that makes him tell the story. His message is that we all have a lot of brainpower and resilience. He ends the story with the words that it is stupid to think that you can see right away what someone can achieve, and that is really sad that there are still people (and he means Julia) who believe this.

Emily: Awesome. Why did you make the story so complex?

Yvonne: I wrote a 'story in a story' for the reason that children can identify with at least two characters: They can identify with Talalom, the Moon boy who runs away, and one of the twins. This gives them the opportunity to learn with Talalom (who turns out to be the hero) and one of the twins (the shy child or the 'do now, think later' one).

Emily: I see. In what ways do the children change in the story?

Yvonne: Well, it takes a lot of time to change and then – in reality I mean - and Ben is the boy and he doesn't change very much in the story. But Julia, she is touched by the story and she gets a glimmer of hope because of the Talalom who returns and turns out to be the hero and makes her think like, "OK, maybe it isn't a destiny for me to stay this way forever."

Emily: It makes me want to read it to my little children!

Yvonne: Thank you! I did translate it actually into English.

Emily: Great! So tell me, how does your material provide reflection and practice for children as they learn to have more of a growth mindset?

Yvonne: There are group exercises and individual exercises and there are frames with information. What I did was I studied Howard Gardner's theory about multiple intelligences and designed the exercises in all the eight identified intelligences. The workbook is really designed to create awareness. I do that by exercises which make the children think about everything they have already learned, like the things Rebuseveryone can do like walking and talking, and they'll realize that they couldn't walk from one day to the other. They practiced a lot. And this creates the awareness that they need to put effort in something if they want to learn something. There is also a rebus which tells about the effect of practice, I put it in it and its effect that solving a puzzle creates dopamine, a happiness hormone, and dopamine also contributes to memory building. And what I think is the design of the book is very challenging. The designer really did a good job.

Emily: So it sounds like there is a lot of reflection and personalizing of the work.

Yvonne: Yes, and there's four weeks – there's one hour each week for four weeks.

Emily: And Yvonne, your work is translated in what languages right now?

Yvonne: Only in English and I did it myself and I had a native speaker check what I translated, and I am thinking about publishing it in English.

Emily: Wonderful. What are you looking forward to? What's next for you with growth mindsets in the Netherlands?

Yvonne: I'd love to spread the mindset theory in Europe, not just the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a very small country..., but also in Europe. I wrote the book to explain all children about the theory and the benefit of effort. If you can't do it right now, you can learn it. Next step is to involve the teachers and I am busy doing that. And then the parents... they have so much influence on the mindset of their children! I think they really have to be taught about it. And I deeply believe that knowledge about the mindset theory and especially adopting the growth mindset makes children happier. And also their parents!

Emily: And that's how you started, right, as a parent being inspired by your children.

Yvonne: Yes, yes, exactly, and by the mindset theory.

Emily: Thank you Yvonne for your time and for sharing your strategy and progress and your future plans with us!

Yvonne: Thank you very much – you are welcome.

Emily: That was Yvonne van de Ven author of Stone of Clear Thinking and developer of growth mindset instructional materials in Dutch based out of the Netherlands. If you have more interest in Yvonne's work, contact us at

Are you interested in a copy of Stone of Clear Thinking in English (or another language)?  Click this survey to tell Yvonne about your interest!