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The goal of every educator, and the purpose of our education system, is to prepare students for success in learning and life. This includes preparing students for successfully joining the workforce. Yet, recently, young adults have been making headlines as studies like the recent Educational Testing Service’s report find they are ill-prepared for the working world.
Research increasingly shows that students are leaving college without the essential social-emotional skills required to thrive in a business setting. Though employers have always valued skills like collaboration, patience and communication, our traditional education system seems to sidestep their importance. Conventional academic subjects, such as language and math remain critical; however, the case for cultivating essential life skills and character traits early in a child’s educational track gains more supporting evidence as the business community struggles to find qualified candidates who work well with others, are honest, respectful and communicate effectively,
Academic knowledge is just one aspect of the foundation children need to be successful in school, in life and in their careers. Business leaders have been vocal about the challenges they are facing to find young candidates who possess what they refer to as “soft skills,” or skills that allow people to interact harmoniously with others. According to a 2014 study by Bentley University, 61% of business leaders believe these types of interpersonal and social-emotional skills are the most important skills for young employees to have, yet 63% gave recent college graduates a “C” grade or lower on soft skills.
As with skill development in all subject areas, preschool is the best place to begin nurturing social-emotional skills that help children establish the right foundation. In fact, a recent report by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child recommends that all early-childhood programs balance academic learning with emotional and social development. At Primrose Schools, social-emotional skills are an integral component of our curriculum and are fostered through robust life skills and character development programs. Children participate in daily classroom experiences that nurture life skills and character traits such as being responsible for the environment, teamwork, respect and kindness. Lessons are presented in a variety of formats, including class discussions, art projects, puppet play, games, role playing and experiential giving projects, ensuring every child develops a comprehensive understanding of each concept. Though these activities are designed specifically for the developmental abilities of pre-K age groups, life skills and character development can be integrated into more advanced curriculum as children progress through grade levels.
It’s both rewarding and inspiring to see children as young as three years old not only embrace the concept of giving without expectation, but also find joy in it. It’s also delightful to see them happily “clean up” their classrooms and put away their toys with a sense of pride. Feedback from elementary-school teachers and parents alike reinforces that children who experience our life skills and character development program display key social and emotional traits, including acting with responsibility, being more considerate of their peers, following directions respectfully, and even demonstrating more honesty and compassion than typical of their age group. The life skills and character traits we’re nurturing are the same ones identified as lacking in young adults today by businesses struggling to find ready candidates.
It’s no coincidence that social-emotional skills are gaining more attention now, as individuals reared in a time of digital distractions, decreased personal interactions and increased globalization begin to enter the workforce. Never before have these skills been more important, and yet never before have they required such a concerted effort to instill in young children. We must take a more purposeful and intentional approach to integrating social-emotional skill development into education. Life skills and character development lessons should start during the first five years we know to be so critical for early brain development, and they should continue to be nurtured through all grade levels. By ensuring a whole-child approach to education, we can encourage and enhance children’s cognitive and social-emotional development, helping them to become well-rounded adults along the way that prepares them for success in school, life and the workforce.
Jo Kirchner is president and CEO of Primrose Schools, a national accredited early education and care provider serving 46,000-plus children in more than 300 schools across 25 states. She is an active board member of Reach Out and Read, AdvancED, ReadyNation and the Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC).
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