Scenario 1 :: Eight-month-old Isabelle waves her arms with excitement as she watches her neighbor’s dog chasing a ball. She glances up at her mother, then back at the dog, and babbles with excitement. Her mother smiles, makes eye contact with her, and says, “You are so excited to watch Max play fetch. He’s running fast!”
Scenario 2 :: 4-year-olds Jack and Malik are building a bridge with blocks. Despite the fact their younger siblings are racing around the room, the two boys continue to concentrate and discuss what kind of blocks they will need to build a bridge for their trucks to cross.
Scenario 3 :: Three five-year-olds decide to play “school” together. They must choose who will be the teacher and who will be the pupils. What will the teacher read? What games will they play at recess? When can they switch roles? All these decisions are discussed and debated with great fervor.
So which of these scenarios are preparing children for future success in the classroom and in relationships?
Answer :: All of them!
Each of the above examples are experiences that are building blocks for future learning. They all promote not only cognitive growth, but social-emotional development as well. While many adults think what children need to be prepared for school is basic knowledge (colors, letters, numbers) or innate intelligence, recent research indicates that there are certain skills that are more crucial for success than a child’s IQ. More importantly, these are skills that parents can easily encourage in everyday life.
The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Ellen Galinsky’s “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs” identifies these crucial abilities as:
- focus and self-control
- perspective taking
- making connections
- critical thinking
- taking on challenges
- self-directed, engaged learning
Galinsky discusses research findings in all these areas and identifies simple ways parents can help children develop the tools they need for success. Returning to Jack and Malik, for example, both boys are using their focus and self-control to tune out distractions in their environment and keep working on the task at hand. Their learning is self-directed, requires communication and critical thinking (how will they figure out how to make those blocks transform into a bridge?). Having been given the time, space and materials they need for this endeavor, Jack and Malik are strengthening those executive function skills that will serve them well in their kindergarten classroom next year.
When baby Isabelle’s mother notes her daughter’s interest in the dog and responds to her by identifying what Isabelle is feeling and seeing, mom is encouraging language skills, but also being someone that Isabelle can trust to help her interpret the world. Similar experiences throughout the day help Isabelle grow into a confident, curious toddler who knows her caregiver will help her when she needs it.
And the three preschoolers engaged in a game of make-believe school are involved in a scenario familiar to all parents and caregivers. Children who engage in fantasy, make-believe play are using their imagination, setting goals, problem-solving, and negotiating with one another. Parents can encourage this kind of play by having materials available to make simple props (blocks, fabric, paper, scissors, glue), and by setting limits on screen time so there is lots of time available for this kind of play. Reading stories to children is also a way to encourage this kind of creativity, as children will often use literature as a jumping-off point for their own stories.
Want to learn more?
Join us at The Parenting Center for “What Kids Need to Succeed,” a two-part class based on the strategies and skills featured “Mind in the Making.” The class meets Mondays, Feb 23 and March 2 from 7-8:30 pm. The cost is $25 for Parenting Center members, $35 for nonmembers. Call (504) 896-9591 to sign up or register online.
About Lisa Phillips
Lisa Phillips, MSW, GSW, is a social worker and has been a Parent Educator at The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital since 2001. She received her BA from Occidental College and her MSW from Tulane University. She is the mother of two teenagers.