The idea of someone 'going soft' doesn't have overly positive connotations for adults, but when it comes to children, softness is a valuable part of their learning and development.
Soft skills help children thrive in their first years and succeed later in life, so let's see what these skills entail and how educators nurture them in the early learning environment.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are the non-cognitive skills that people need when communicating and interacting with one another.
These social-emotional skills are used when children:
- Greet and farewell each other
- Learn to work together in pairs and groups
- Solve problems and think creatively
- Learn to collaborate on a specific task
- Develop resilience
- Motivate themselves
- Learn patience, self-control, and listening skills
- Learn to resolve conflict
Soft skills help children lead harmonious lives, but they are also important when it comes to learning and achievement. In fact, soft skills interact with 'hard' cognitive skills, like literacy and numeracy, to enable success in education, employment and life generally.
Early childhood expert, Laurien Beane says that soft skills and academic skills are equally important in the early learning years, and that both skill sets help children succeed in school.
This is because 'Achievement is driven by intellectual ability as well as by the self-regulation, positive attitudes, motivation and conscientiousness that are required to complete educational milestones.'
Soft skills have been described as the 'building blocks’ for a child's future, in that they positively impact their work prospects and life experiences down the track, and this thinking is supported by an American study that looked at 735 students over 20 years.
After two decades of research, it was found that, 'Kindergarten students who exhibited traits such as being more likely to share, cooperate or be helpful with other kids, were also more likely to be successful as young adults,' with regard to things like finishing degrees and gaining full-time employment.
In contrast, the study found that, 'Students who exhibited weaker social competency skills were more likely to drop out of high school, abuse drugs and alcohol and need greater government assistance.'
How do educators teach soft skills?
Early childhood educators recognise the value of soft and hard skills, and as part of the Early Learning Framework, they help under fives develop the social, emotional and academic skills that will set them up for life.
In fact, it's been said that, 'Early years learning has a stronger focus on whole-of-child development than school education,' and when it comes to soft skills, educators provide youngsters with chances to create, collaborate, self-regulate and problem-solve every day.
In high quality early learning settings children develop soft skills by:
- Communicating with their peers and educators
- Forming and maintaining friendships
- Following routines that require listening and patience
- Playing games that involve self-control and teamwork
- Learning about emotions, e.g. with books, puppets, drawings and role-play
- Doing creative activities, e.g. art, craft and imaginary play
- Collaborating on specific projects, e.g. growing seeds or building a cubby
- Practising how to take turns, share, negotiate and resolve disagreements
Of course, parents also play a key role in teaching children soft skills, and mums and dads can consolidate their child's social-emotional learning by:
- Modelling positive behaviour and self-control
- Talking about a broad range of feelings, not just 'happy' and 'sad'
- Teaching their child how to be resilient
- Encouraging them to build relationships, e.g. supporting their early friendships and encouraging them to greet/farewell people they meet
'Going soft' isn't a bad thing at all. It's an important part of being human, and these skills help children to learn well, play well and grow up to be well-rounded people.