What are the 21st century skills for kids?
With the rapidly changing global economy, preparing our next generation of problem-solvers for the 21st century means that we start early in equipping them with experiences in creativity and resilience. The way in which knowledge and skills are valued has changed with each new era of technology. As we approach 2022, the ability to hold knowledge of theoretical concepts in our heads has been transferred to the Cloud and expansive data centers.
The 21st-century skills we should be teaching our kids should instead revolve around processing and thinking critically about this now easily accessible information. The early childhood education system operates on three main vectors: learning skills, literacy skills, and life skills – all of which can be refined to prepare kids for the changing demands of the world.
Literacy and life skills are better taught a little further along the development process, typically in primary and secondary school. Learning skills, however, can be introduced to younger children and honed from age two and onwards. The modern education framework is transforming to reflect these three vectors of skills and ensuring that childhood learning effectively prepares the next generation of kids to meet these shifting standards of knowledge.
Learning skills for kids
Learning skills are the set of skills that equip people to acquire new knowledge and logically process it. Many research institutions and learning systems have refined the skillset to focus on the four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills.
Arguably the most important of these four skills is critical thinking. The concept is discussed and touted heavily for good reason. Critical thinking is the ability to apply productive intellectual curiosity to a given set of information, allowing one to discern what is relevant and plausible, and thereby solve problems in the informational gaps. Especially during this era of misinformation spreading like wildfire, critical thinking is what enables us to pause in our evaluation of the information handed to us. In children, this may start with simple questions about why the world around us works as it does. It is our responsibility as educators and mentors to answer these questions openly and to make space for more questions along the way.
The notion of polarity when it comes to creativity should be left in the 20th century – creativity is absolutely something that can be learned and refined, and to children, it comes as easy as ever! Children are already gifted with a wilder imagination than they know what to do with, and it is the responsibility of the education system to equip them with the tools to train that skill and make it stronger. Coding is a wonderful way to train this muscle because it introduces a challenge that requires concentration and a logical understanding of a problem, and then opens your brain up to a more speculative mode where exploring and probing is celebrated as it leads to potential solutions. Creating an open space for unorthodox approaches to problem-solving celebrates a child’s creativity, and ensures it will stick around into their adulthood.
Collaboration and cooperative learning teach children how teamwork towards a common goal will often produce greater results. The social maturity, empathy, and self-concept required for an adept collaborator, child, or adult, must be practiced and rewarded. In children specifically, this can be done through cooperative projects and experiences, where negotiations take place, each begins to identify the others’ strengths and weaknesses, and unity is formed towards a common goal. In adults and children alike, collaborative experiences prove to participants that even those with dissimilar opinions and goals can be thoughtful and valid.
In tandem with collaboration comes communication skills. It is imperative to teach children at a young age that the loudest voice in the room is not necessarily the right one, and even more so, being the loudest voice does not immediately garner respect. Our standards and expectations for effective communication are developed during our childhood, and it is with these carefully honed skills that we begin to understand how expressing ourselves can lead to problem-solving and connecting with others. Communication starts and ends with listening and empathy and should be taught to expand your mindset, as opposed to only sharing your opinion.
Literacy skills for kids
Literacy skills make up the second vector along which childhood education is framed in the 21st century. The literacy skillset enables people to acquire more knowledge through effective information processing and mediums like technology and media. Literacy skills go far beyond the ability to read and include tools to create new knowledge and effectively share it with others.
Literacy skills at the basic level start with information literacy: the ability to work productively with information through the process of understanding, applying, and eventually creating something from it. Information literacy includes many of the traditional skills you think of when you hear “literacy” – reading, investigating, and writing. Much of information literacy is enabled by strong learning skills – not only researching appropriately to find new knowledge, but thinking critically about it, questioning and probing for biases, and then applying it to your problem-solving.
Media literacy is now more important than ever as we’ve entered the age of torrential content entering kids’ lives through television, texts, social media, targeted advertising, and video games. A media-literate child can observe these many forms of media and understand the messages each of them disseminates, before internalizing them. It is important for children to understand that the content they are constantly inundated with has been created with the specific purpose of targeting and influencing them. Media literacy enables one to think critically about this information overload, be an intellectually aware consumer of media, and recognize the media provider’s intentions. Teaching media literacy comes in different forms, but it is most effective when media is introduced as an exchange of ideas, and openly questioned about its origin and intention.
Lastly, but certainly not least, comes technology literacy: the ability to effectively use and master digital services and interfaces to acquire new knowledge. This could mean computers, smartphones, various software, and services like email, social media, and the cloud. As the technological revolution continues to push forward, children and adults alike become reliant on technology to express themselves and their opinions, develop themselves personally and professionally, connect to each other, and innovate.
Literacy Skills for Kids
Outside of pure learning and literacy, much of our enjoyment and human progress are developed through life skills. These are valuable life lessons that prepare us to handle the real world, beginning with a sense of self and how our value contributes to the world around us. For children entering the 21st century, these soft skills ensure they’ll continue learning and growing into their adulthood. We’ll be exploring five skills here, and how they can be developed intentionally through daily activities: adaptability, leadership, initiative, productivity, and social skills.
Adaptability is one of the most important skills for a child to develop early in their life. Although parents and educators typically focus on preparing children to excel and perform well, there is a greater need to show our children how to remain confident when an obstacle lands in their way. There are three parts to a child’s adaptability: behavioral, emotional, and cognitive. Each requires adjusting one’s actions, emotions, or thinking when faced with uncertainty. This skill enables children to stay resilient and move seamlessly from one obstacle or activity to the next because they trust their ability to handle it.
Leadership skills give children the confidence to have control over their lives and the agency to get things done, especially in group settings. All children have the potential to develop key leadership skills, although the development process continues through their lifetime. As mentors and educators, we can begin to shape a future generation of leaders by creating problem-solving situations in the classroom – starting as small as allowing them to choose what activity they want to participate in and asking why. Immediately, they are instilled with a sense of confidence in their decision and will begin to understand the consequences of their decision making. Additionally, we can model leadership by teaching children the importance of listening to others and sincerely valuing their perspective.
Initiative is a key factor to personal growth in children and adults alike. One of the most important traits we can instill in children is a sense of determination and willingness to try new things with reasonable risk. As their mentors, if we focus on their effort and lower the perceived activation energy to engaging in a challenge, we teach children that initiative and determination are rewarding regardless of a successful outcome. This instills a love of learning and enthusiastic diligence when faced with challenges.
Productivity comes from focus and self-control and can be taught and honed from a young age. Children already have a knack for imagination and creativity, and it is the job of their mentors and educators to give them the skills to follow through with their ideas. This can be in the form of instilling schedules, habits, or routines so they are given some idea of how to get things done. Additionally, we can teach them the skill of time management, and reward them when they ideate and execute in a timely manner.
Social skills enable people to interact, engage and connect with others in a way that brings them more joy. This soft skill is crucial to a child’s overall development and grows in tandem with their communication skills, listening skills, and confidence. By empowering our children with the ability to handle uncomfortable situations, speak with strangers, or take on feedback, we are giving them the ability to make and maintain friendships and stay fueled by human connection. This connection reaps benefits of collaboration, creativity, and comfort, setting them up for more success.
What kind of activities can teach kids important skills?
These skills will help develop and prepare children for the ever-changing technological and social landscape of the 21st century. The main goal of these skills is to teach children to be successful and perpetual learners, and that mentality can be primed during the first several years of their life. To equip children to be lifelong learners, we must cater to and train them to use their executive functioning.
Treat executive functioning as the backend command processor of the brain, operating in three categories: cognitive flexibility, cognitive memory, and impulse control. These interrelated processes enable us to plan, focus, recall, and be responsible for multiple things at once. Children are not born with a full grasp of their executive functioning skills, but they are born with the potential to develop that understanding. It is one of the education system’s most important responsibilities to provide environments that promote this growth. How? Through classroom and life activities that require practicing these 21st-century skills.
Mentors, educators, and parents can facilitate the growth of these executive functioning skills. By modeling appropriate social behavior, establishing good habits, maintaining supportive relationships, and encouraging children to play, kids challenge themselves and cope with stress. As we model doing each of these activities successfully, we provide children with the opportunity to evaluate the cause and effect of behavior. This reflection empowers them to direct their own decision-making without our supervision.
For children especially, there are ways to make developing these skills enjoyable! For example, the game of Simon Says is refining a child’s cognitive memory, and impulse control. Puzzles and other games that involve matching relevant pieces similarly exercise cognitive flexibility and memory. Any strategy and logic games are essentially workouts for our brain. They test our memory, juggle short and long-term gratification, and most importantly, reveal the social consequences of our decision-making.
Other classroom activities that hone a child’s executive functioning and learning skills include reviewing media, like books and movies. We can ask children, “What is the goal of the author?”. “Do you feel convinced of their goal?”. These questions refine and test media literacy. Students must make decisions by analyzing information and applying it to form their own opinion.
Hosting strategic debates about school activities or classroom procedures are another way to present an open-ended challenge to students and empower them to develop their own opinion about it. They will be met with opposition and must practice their social skills to remain collected and confident in their perspective.
Listeners can even participate by identifying which parts of the debate are fueled by known facts, and which are fueled by opinion. Executive functioning skills don’t always have to exercise our brain in a way that feels like thinking. Artistic expression is an enjoyable way for children to exercise their creativity and expression with no fear of judgment. These examples of 21st-century skills will promote personal growth by empowering them to trust themselves while understanding they will always have more to learn.
How can coding teach important skills to kids’?
Coding is quickly becoming one of the most tactical and crucial 21st-century skills that we can impart to children. We’ve spoken about some of the benefits of introducing coding skills early in this blog post. Being an effective communicator is incredibly important. But coding is catching up to also be an essential skill that develops people personally and professionally.
Coding is a priceless skill to have in the emerging technology job market. It hones mental stamina through critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. By encouraging children to learn coding at a young age, we prepare them for both life and technology-based problems. Both challenges can be addressed with a structured thought process and logical thinking. When it comes to programming there is no one right answer. Rather, students must problem-solving out of challenges. Thoughtfulness paired with persistence and creativity will benefit them in their daily lives.
The writing, storytelling, and communication skills that are refined during programming are a surprise. But is a central part of this essential skill. The next generation of leaders must start with computational and creative thinking. So they may finish with success.