Life skills needed to survive in real world
Raising the leaders and innovators of tomorrow will undoubtedly involve a bit of trial and error, but science can easily answer some of the broader questions.
It shows, for example, that kids who have unstructured time to learn, experiment and create in their early school years generally go on to have higher IQs and better academic results. It also shows the importance of a 'holistic' education, which includes school work, extra-curricular activities, and due attention to aspects of social and emotional development.
'There are still a lot of contradictions between what science tells us and what we are doing,' says John Shanahan, child psychologist and qualified teacher for special education needs. 'Sometimes, parents get so focused on the academic side of things that they forget the importance of other ways of learning and of just being a kid.'
Striking the right balance may not be easy, but doing so will help youngsters become well rounded, self-confident, and more aware of the world around them.
Shanahan says the basic steps are simple enough. Children should try out, but preferably have extended experience of, an individual sport, a team sport, a social activity such as scouts or guides, and some form of music or drama. 'It has a positive impact on developing social, emotional and interpersonal skills. And with these 'life skills', people are more confident and ready to go outside the box,' he says.
Shanahan says some local schools are now emphasising this aspect. For instance, the 'MindUP' programme, overseen by the Hawn Foundation, is designed to complement a standard curriculum and help children find happiness and success by managing their emotions. In a few minutes a day, students can be taught to focus on their breathing to stay calm, understand how the brain works, and see the links between what they are thinking and how they behave.
'It helps kids to manage their feelings, connect in real life, and be more resilient,' he says. 'You need the same skills if you're about to enter a big business meeting.'