In the 21st Century, soft skills are essential

Photo Credit:deathtothestockphoto.com

Photo Credit:deathtothestockphoto.com

As homeschoolers, we always seem to be looking for the right curriculum or the most popular and effective education methods.

We are just as susceptible to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) as our kids, aren't we?. What if we aren't doing The Best or The Latest Thing in our homeschool? Will our kids still receive a quality education, or are we scarring them for life?  

There are always new buzzwords making noise in the education arena. Whole language, flipped classrooms, Common Core, grit, Bloom's Taxonomy, emotional intelligence, life hacks, etc. . . and it's just too much to keep up with. Now a popular conversation amongst educators is 21st Century Skills, especially those referred to as 'soft skills'.   

Let me decipher some of this edubabble for you. 

Soft skills are "people skills"- character traits that allow us to interact with others in a pleasant and mutually beneficial way. 

Basically, we are talking about the "S" word - socialization. This is most certainly not a new idea.   

Children have always needed to know how to act appropriately in a variety of situations. But soft skills are very difficult to measure, even though they are essential to success.  

Hard skills are much easier to define - reading, writing, speaking, understanding and using math concepts and operations, and using computers. School has traditionally been the place where kids learned these hard skills relevant to their time, place, and culture.  

What is new is the necessary hard skills are not as easily prescribed in the 21st Century as in the past. Thirty years ago our parents knew the specific skill sets required for a career or vocation, whether it was blue collar or white collar, small business or large corporation.   

In today's world, parents and teachers aren't exactly sure what information our kids will need to know in five, ten, or twenty years. We aren't even sure about next year. Technology advances exponentially, and these advances often result in radical changes to job descriptions and qualifications.   

The good news is that soft skills are applicable no matter where the future takes your children, and they serve as tools which can be used in any career.  In preparation for a world we can't imagine, we can still give our children the means to prosper.

Critical thinking 

The ability to analyze logically, ask questions and gather information, and assess objectively, and draw reasonable conclusions is essential for success. Those who cannot process information are doomed to take everyone else's word for it, and they seldom make significant discoveries or contributions.  

There are resources available to help children develop critical thinking, such these workbooks from The Critical Thinking Company. Parents can also stimulate their child's mind regularly with open-ended questions like :  

  • What is the similarity/difference between ___ and ___?  

  • Describe the process of ___________ and explain how/why it works.  

  • Why do you think it is important to _____?  

  • What does ______ remind you of?  

  • How is ________ relevant to everyday life?  

  • If you had to argue for or against ______, what would you say?  

  • What do you think causes ______? Provide support for your answer.  

When you are teaching kids to think critically, don't be too quick to correct them if they are reaching faulty conclusions. Keep asking questions to help them work through the issues logically and search for support for their answers. This ability is a foundation on which many other competencies depend.  

Problem solving 

The kissin' cousin of Critical Thinking, problem solving goes a step further, and what's more, it's much more enjoyable than it sounds. The best resources for problem solving are games.  

Many games involve: 

  • strategizing (Othello, Stratego, Monopoly, chess, and checkers) 
  • answering questions (20 Questions, Apples to Apples, Pictionary, Taboo) 
  • and solving mysteries (Guess Who, Clue, WhoDunIt, Mystery of the Abbey). 

Building games like Jenga and Shishkaball also work on those areas of the brain involved in assessing situations and making predictions.   

Your child also needs to know how to ask for help when they need it. It's tempting to hide our lack of knowledge because we don't want people to think we are ignorant, but pretending to have necessary information is a disaster in the making. Knowing how to ask questions to fill in knowledge gaps is a valuable problem solving strategy.  

Problem solving could also be described as adaptability, and who hasn't had to be flexible and adjust to the rapid pace of change in our society? Whether it's office politics or new software, problem solving skills will help your child be ready for just about anything.  

Creativity

The first thing that comes to mind when talking about creativity is usually fine arts, and this is a great place to start. With paper, glue, crayons, markers, or a piano, guitar, and drums, all kids need is some free time to begin creating something unique.  

Likewise, the best toys are those that do not tell kids what to do and how to do it. Legos and K'Nex are some of our family's favorite toys that are still going strong 26 years later, and there's something to be said for a backyard and a bunch of sticks as well.  

Storytelling also exercises creativity. When reading aloud, stop here and there and ask them to finish the chapter the way they'd like to see the story progress. Listen to them when they tell you stories about their day, their dreams, their imaginary adventures.

How does creativity prepare kids for the future? It's an important aspect of both critical thinking and problem solving. Often described as 'out-of-the-box' thinking, a creative mind searches for solutions found outside the normal boundaries, and breaks through from "What is." to "What is possible?" 

Communication

Communication is the exchange of ideas, and success in any field depends on our ability to connect with others. We not only need to be able to speak and write clearly and succinctly, but to listen attentively and ask relevant questions. 

As you might expect, the best way to practice communication skills is to spend time communicating.

Pay attention to the mechanics of speech, like

  • breath control
  • volume
  • eye contact
  • gestures
  • and pronunciation.

Then move toward

  • focusing on the topic
  • supporting an argument
  • storytelling
  • making analogies
  • and avoiding cliches.  

If you don't feel confident about teaching writing skills, use a program from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, WriteShopBraveWriter, or Time 4 Writing. Most vocations in our information age are heavily dependent on communicating within the organization and with the outside world, so don't skimp on resources in this area.

Social Skills 

You'd think that knowing how to make eye contact, introduce yourself, shake hands, and say magic words like "Please" and "Thank You" would be common sense, acquired through the course of normal everyday life. However, it is evidence that social skills are severely lacking in our society, and kids will not learn these behaviors from each other or by watching television.  Parents must actively model a courteous and friendly manner.

Role playing different situations, like making a purchase, offering congratulations, expressing sympathy - these can prepare your child for the real thing. Give them the opportunity to experience the real thing as soon and often as possible.

Habits are developed by repetition over time, and civil, culturally appropriate behavior requires some practice. Social skills also build confidence, which results in a more relaxed, friendly demeanor when interacting with people, especially in new situations.  

As one might expect, knowing how to adapt socially will take your child more places than making foolish and embarrassing mistakes, and feeling scared and inadequate. This can be difficult for a parent who is shy or introverted. But this is where the homeschool rubber meets the road of real life - we have taken on the task of preparing our children for the future, so we must meet the challenge. It's ironic when we are the ones who learn the most.

Teamwork 

Working efficiently and pleasantly with others greatly depends on one's communication and social skills. Your child does not want to be That Guy who makes collaborating on a project a total nightmare. When someone is ego-driven, narrow-minded, and unable to communicate clearly or effectively, they often have no idea why others avoid working with them. Their careers, as well as their interpersonal relationships, often deteriorate as a result. 
 
Teamwork is more than knowing how to share toys or take turns on the swings at the park. True collaboration involves equal participation of everyone on the team, each person using their particular gifts to benefit the group, and mutual respect. Generosity also plays a part, because when the effort is shared among the group, so is the credit.  

Ethics 

Do I really need to explain that one? Apparently so, if one reads the daily headlines. Politicians, celebrities, athletes, and professionals from every vocation make the news with their underhanded business practices and dishonest behavior. 

Kids see these famous people 'succeeding', and need to understand the importance of being trustworthy, responsible, and dependable. They also need to know the difference between being well-known and respected, and being notorious. 

Success doesn't mean much if it is obtained deceitfully and results in harm to others, and no legitimate business will employ someone who is unprincipled and crooked.  Encourage your kids to admit to their mistakes, apologize when they have wronged someone, and keep their word. 

The motto in our house is "I'll trust you until you give me a reason not to". This has been a tremendous motivation for them to be dependable, and honest even when they've messed up.

Perseverance 

Also known as a 'work ethic', kids need to learn endurance, even if the going is difficult. They forget that learning to ride a bike or skateboard was hard work and took time because they were motivated and had their eyes on the result, not the process. This is more difficult when it comes to learning, but delight-directed methods help kids connect information to their real world goals and  be more excited about acquiring new skills.

Diligence and determination will be the qualities that keep your kids on track regardless of discouragement and hardship. Whether they work for someone else or start their own business, no one ever gained traction by quitting.

It takes small steps to teach perseverance to children. They need to overcome minor obstacles and feel a sense of accomplishment, each time gaining confidence in their ability to push themselves a little bit farther. Parents can serve as an examples of dedication and tenacity.

Photo Credit: StockSnap.io

Photo Credit: StockSnap.io

This list is by no means exhaustive, but the point is to encourage you as a parent to remember that just living your every day life can give your child a rich and diverse educational experience. We can get so caught up in memorization, drills, and grade point averages that we aren't asking ourselves how these things will help our kids become strong, capable adults in rewarding careers. There's so much more to education than academics.

Do you have questions about how to teach soft skills? Share them in the comments below -