Eleven skills kids* need to learn ASAP.

I recently saw an article in eSchool news outlining the “Ten Skills Every Student Should Learn” According to the article, they are:

  1. Read
  2. Type
  3. Write
  4. Communicate effectively, and with respect
  5. Question
  6. Resourcefulness
  7. Be accountable
  8. How to learn
  9. To think critically
  10. How to be happy

A fair list. I can’t really see how any of these could hurt a student in today’s world. I guess my issue is the apples to oranges simplicity of it all. For instance, is learning to be happy (which takes decades for some) akin to learning to type (which, in truth, can be mastered in a few weeks/months)? Still, I felt the list was a bit cold, like perhaps the key attributes for the perfect “student,” not just attributes that help kids at any level.

I propose the following list, not in response or rebuttal, but as a supplement. These are skills I think kids need to learn as soon as possible, at whatever age or grade that happens. Most will be gradual, requiring parental, educational, and community support. These may take the entire village:

1. Learn to be flexible. We drill routine so much with young people, and then they often go into professions where every day is a crapshoot. We need to support adaptational flexibility. We must model improvisation not as a function of failure, but of positive effort. We need to value those who take alternate routes to positive ends.

2. Learn to see differences as opportunities. Children know how to do this well, then they watch adults long enough to see that they see some people as just…different, and that it’s a problem. Kids who are encouraged to see diversity as truly beneficial, and not simply something to tolerate, will thrive in this world. This branches out into seeing life in general as a mosaic, not a monochrome photo.

3. Learn to be brave, but only when it is rational. Kids need to fear electricity, heights, busy streets, preventable diseases, drugs and alcohol, sunburn and pollution. But they also need to know that fear is dangerous, that fear allows us to follow blindly and to make poor decisions. Fearing people who believe differently or who challenge their views are not rational fears. Bravery needs to be valued for how kids treat each other in difficult situations, not just for jumping off the high diving board at the pool.

4. Learn to innovate. Some kids learn this before Kindergarten. Some struggle with it as teens. Some never master it. It comes with creativity and confidence, but kids need to know that something new and unique has value, if nothing more than because it creates ideas that become other innovations.

5. Learn to weigh advice. This is a tough one, but one I feel most kids can master by their early teens. Weighing advice is about thinking critically about advice, and weighing it against one’s own principles. It is not the same as questioning authority, but it offers the practice of making one’s own decisions in the context of listening to others.

6. Learn to trust. How often is this listed as a crucial skill? In fact, I think most kids are discouraged from trusting. Learning to trust people also means learning what it takes for someone to earn their trust. Without learning to trust, and how to evaluate the level of trust in others, kids never learn to give of themselves. I feel this is a key to learning, loving, decision-making, leadership, and personal conduct.

7. Learn to know themselves. Do kids know if they are introverted or extroverted? Or are they just shy and feel like they are not ok? We hate to classify people, but there is a value in helping kids find out what kind of person they are so they can learn some of the positives they can leverage and pitfalls they might avoid from others who are like them. We are all unique, yes, but yet people are also similar in some ways. Do we discuss this with kids enough that they can grasp their own identity? Sometimes being unique is an isolating feeling for kids. They also need to feel they are “normal,” too.

8. Learn to respect their bodies. This is a very general sentiment that covers a lot of areas: healthy diet, exercise, sexual health, healthy behaviors. Once children understand their body is their one and only “Me Suit” it is easy to help them understand that poisoning it, mutilating it, or allowing it to rot is damaging. This leads to very positive discussions about how others treat our bodies, and how our habits affect how our body will function in the future.

9. Learn that friends come and go, but everyone needs a friend. I was moved to pieces by a 14-year-old girl who shared with me that she had been abandoned by many of her friends because they decided they were going to be drinking and having sex (which she said she was not ready to do), she felt very alone, so she asked her mom for a dog to be her friend while she worked on building new friendships. I was so sad for her, but the more I thought about it, I knew she knew something VITAL. She knew that not having many friends was better than having risky friends, and she knew how to cope with the transition. I wish all kids understood friendship in this way. It’s no surprise this girl is now quite popular with a different (less risky) crowd. Kids need to understand that friendships conditional upon whether they provide actual loyalty and similarity in principles.

10. Learn to USE media, not simply consume it. We are in the 21st century and screens and gadgets are not going anywhere. Kids need to learn that media are tools. They need to learn that video games are tools which help pass time or help kids escape from reality for a while. They need to understand that books help us think critically and creatively, and that television gives us information and entertainment. They need to see the Internet as a window into a world of chaotic knowledge and creativity. But we cannot allow kids to think of these tools as streams of data that they mindlessly and continuously download and consume. I don’t think it matters much (within reason) how much time kids spend with media, as long as they understand WHY they are spending time with it. When kids ask “can I watch TV for a while?” ask them why. Help them learn that media is not a default. If they can say “because I want to kill some time before Grandma comes over,” that’s a fair start. It’s amazing how easy it is to teach kids to use media with a purpose.

11. Learn to understand how they value. All kids value. Some value money, some value mom and dad’s approval, some value winning, some value grades. It is important to help kids understand what they value and why they value it. This meta-consciousness is very attainable early in life, but needs some prodding by caring adults. We too often equate a kid’s values as part of their inherent personality, when actually, values change over time. The kids who can identify what they value will have an easier time making good decisions, and will be less likely to be victims of peer pressure and others’ malicious influences.

* I understand some may not care for my frequent use of the word “kids” in this context, but I think if we keep looking for euphemisms that make them seem like simply “learners,” “students,” or “young people,” we may forget that they are, for lack of a better word, still kids. Forgive me 🙂


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