Soft Skills: Fostering Success in Young Learners

 When it comes to fostering success in young learners, most parents would often think of ways on how to improve their academic performance. However, in today’s global economic landscape, did you know skills such as self-confidence, leadership, collaboration and communication rank as the top skills essential in the workplace? These are called soft skills which enable an individual to interact with others, work effectively in a given environment, and achieve their goals, complementing academic or intellectual skills. 

Throughout the past years, most schools focused more on teaching hard skills such as Math, Science, and reading since these are well-defined, more measurable, and easier to categorize than soft skills. However, employers agree soft skills to be just as important as hard skills when evaluating candidates for a job. Majority of today’s employers also perceive a lack of sufficient soft skills among the graduates seeking to be part of the workforce. Because of this, many educational institutions have made changes with the traditional content-based instruction to include opportunities to hone these essential skills. 

In the 1990’s the National Association for Literacy and the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) in the US determined four major categories: communication skills, interpersonal skills, decision making skills, and lifelong learning skills.

Children from a very young age learn these soft skills through socialization and picking up the values, attitudes, and habits from interactions with those around them, going well beyond employment and producing benefits in their overall development and future success.

Learning this set of skills starts in the home and parents have an important and active role to play. So, how do we help children learn soft skills early on? Here some practical things we can do with them at home:

Communication Skills

Effective communication is a key skill that facilitates meaningful social interactions and builds healthy relationships, as well as a positive sense of self. To help children learn this skill, we can model appropriate behaviors in listening, responding, and expressing needs, feelings, and ideas. Knowing when to listen and when to speak, using the right tone and appropriate nonverbal language also encourage respect and self-control. 

Allow children to have enough time to process what they need to say and express themselves freely without fear of criticism. Ask them questions to direct them in explaining what they think or feel. Let them follow verbal directions in doing a chore or in preparing a meal. Read a book with them often and point out new words and their meanings to increase vocabulary. By some estimates, reading a 1000 books before Kindergarten could lead to children being exposed to 30 Million words. Yes, there is the ‘a’s and ‘the’s but the richness of vocabulary in books cannot be overstated. (Check out the book Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain)

Interpersonal Skills

Besides learning how to communicate with others, children also need to learn the value of teamwork. Being tolerant of individual differences and resolving conflicts are also part of interpersonal skills, which are much needed in today’s world. Younger children may have difficulty with sharing and seeing things from another person’s perspective. But as they grow older and continue to interact with others, parents can make learning opportunities out of challenging situations, like conflicts to foster empathy and cooperation. Soon enough, young learners begin to realize that their actions have consequences, both positive and negative. They also become better at handling their emotions with proper guidance.  

Play a board game with your child or have them join a sport to help them learn how to work as a team, take turns, follow rules and instructions, and manage emotions when they win or lose. Take part in the community through volunteering for a noble cause to promote collaboration and unity in making a difference. Talk about social injustices and reflect together with them, asking them probing questions about how they feel, what are some things they don’t understand yet, and what they could do to make the situation better.

Decision Making Skills

    Every decision we make in life affects our health and well-being. That is why it is imperative for children to learn how to make responsible decisions at the right time. It may start out with simple situations such as choosing a toy or game to play, what clothes to wear for that day, or whether to do homework or put it off the next day. For younger children, they may need to be given two options. On the other hand, older children can already be led through the process of identifying the problem, brainstorming on solutions, and talking about the logical consequences of making each decision.

Children need to practice making even just small decisions to develop the skill and gain the confidence in doing so. Parents can help them through providing scaffolding as they learn, guiding them through weighing the pros and cons and gradually stepping back as they progress. Decision-making also helps learners develop critical thinking, problem solving, and metacognitive skills which help them move forward in life.   

Lifelong Learning Skills

Exhibiting personal responsibility, a good work ethic, self-management, creativity, adaptability and perseverance are all a part of lifelong learning skills. Lifelong learning is about maintaining a positive disposition towards learning. It’s the core skill that enables individuals to improve their understanding of themselves and the world around them, and also enhances their quality of life. 

Does your learner keep at a task until it’s done or does he/she give up in the middle of the process? How does your child respond when inconveniences or challenges come along the way? 

To hone lifelong learning skills, encourage learners to try out something new like an interest or skill they want to explore. Let them get creative and just have fun while learning just for the sake of it. Instead of putting much emphasis on the product, focus on the process. Provide support and positive reinforcement when they need to accomplish a difficult task, which they would rather give up on. Have them handle some responsibilities at home which are developmentally appropriate, giving them enough room to make mistakes and learn from them. 

For your young learners, you can alway try one of our classes to explore something new. Maybe French, or Yoga, or crafting, we are always offering opportunities that go beyond the academics and into exploration, to give learners the opportunity to practice these skills. If your learner is a teen, we also have something for them. Social club, anyone? These skills are so valuable that gaming, health, and even finances make up part of what we offer. 

Check out our schedule to see what’s coming up. Maybe there is something your learner can try that will help them develop those soft skills. 

Northern Lights Academy Team