Building resilience in children with ordinary magic

An artist residing in rural Victoria makes herself a cup of tea, heads into her studio and starts the detailed process of creating a portrait entirely out of playdough of someone remarkable. She started this ritual at the beginning of the pandemic. We know this because we asked her to do it.


Guess Who? The wonderfully wise and courageous Malala Yousafzai made 100% out of playdough


We teach primary school students ways to build their resilience. One of our evidence-based methods is character strength education. Our strategy is simple: make our content super engaging.

We want children to feel awe as they marvel at the skill & artwork of faces being created purely out of playdough. We then deliver a recorded video lesson which is essentially a story of that particular person of the week. The stories are ones of setbacks, sadness, tragedy and stuff-ups. Depressing? Quite the opposite. Each person we feature has not only overcome these monumental challenges, but they have also gone on to flourish and be of benefit to those around them.

We created the Grow Your Mind Guess Who video series for 4 reasons:

1. Perspective is only something you learn with time and age - stories help this skill to develop

We cannot expect our children to have perspective about the pandemic and how that relates to other events that have occurred in history. This unrealistic (though at times tempting) expectation not only lacks empathy it also risks not validating children's feelings properly. We can, however, share REAL stories that remind students that humans are capable of being extraordinarily resilient.

2. We want children to know that we can all learn the skills to be resilient

Resilience is not an elusive trait that is only for the genetically blessed. It can be strengthened at any age. There is a BIG disclaimer for this statement though: we cannot do resilience alone, it is not just a personal thing. In fact, according to Dr Lucy Hone, a resilience expert, not seeing yourself represented in society is damaging for your resilience. This is why we make each person in our Guess Who series diverse in their ethnicity, gender, sexuality, profession, health, ability or disability, age and religion.



(From top left to right a snapshot of some of our Guess Who characters: Sophie Delezio, Eddie Woo, Nelson Mandela and Ruth Bader Ginsburg)


3. Resilience requires love, support, hope AND 'ordinary magic'

Where do you get this 'ordinary magic'? Again I call on Dr Lucy Hone's brilliant insight and knowledge on this.  Ordinary magic is really the ability to understand that suffering is part of life. As I mentioned earlier, perspective is only something you get with age, hence why we share the Guess Who stories: they have all suffered at varying points. Ordinary magic is looking for the good - no surprise that a key character strength in MANY of the people we spotlight is gratitude. And finally, ordinary magic is noticing which thoughts are helpful and which thoughts are harmful. At Grow Your Mind we refer to this as shark and dolphin thinking. Shark thoughts serve to bite you, they are not facts, they are harmful. Dolphin thoughts are helpful, they are not unrealistically positive, but they serve to build you up rather than tear you down. Again, no surprise here: the characters we spotlight in Guess Who use hope and optimism to enable them to bounce back.

 The playdough portrait of Eddie Jaku

Guess Who? The face of Eddie Jaku, a holocaust survivor, made out of playdough


4. Sparking awe and curiosity in students is our mission

We want students to wonder: who is this person, what are their strengths, how did they feel going through their adversity? We want them to feel genuinely inspired by these humans, to see that all of these character strengths are also within them in varying degrees. And we want to delight them by sparking awe at the truly magnificent playdough creations.

Florence Nightingale

Guess Who? The brilliant Florence Nightingale


We are genuinely proud of the Grow Your Mind Guess Who character strength project. Each week it is an honour to research and share the stories of these remarkable people. We have 10 examples of these lessons FREE to anyone on our youtube channel and at the time of writing this blog there are over 20 on our Digital for Teachers resource with learning activities linked to the curriculum for 5 - 12-year-olds.

The playdough creation of each face IS magical, the rest relies on young and old to call on the ordinary magic that resides in each and every one of us. 

* The Guess Who Character Strength series is just one component of the Grow Your Mind Digital for Teachers resource. We offer a whole school, curriculum-aligned digital wellbeing program. Based on four key pillars of research - positive psychology, public health, social and emotional learning + neuroscience.

Grow Your Mind is for primary school children, school staff and the community. It is used by 1500+ of educators and 45000+ students across Australia!

Find out more about the Grow Your Mind in-class digital subscription that will help you and your students thrive.