Send kindergarteners to school with these key social and emotional skills

For all parents of soon-to-be kindergarteners, by now, you’re well-acquainted with all the work that goes into preparing a child for school. Kindergarten readiness has long been associated with the ABCs and 123s, and understandably so. Mastering skills such as being able to count and recite the alphabet, and knowing one’s shapes and colors all serve to lay a strong foundation for reading, writing and arithmetic.

That said, it’s worth noting that an ability to develop and maintain relationships has recently been added to this list of so-called IQ skills. Its addition makes clear that social and emotional skills, along with several other skills often misleadingly described as “soft” and “non-cognitive,” are now being acknowledged as critical when it comes to school readiness.

Honing the ability to focus and pay attention, be a good listener, share, take turns and play nice with others may seem like common sense. Yet these types of “other” skills are now collectively being recognized to be of equal, if not greater importance, than IQ skills by everyone from educators, pediatricians and neuroscientists to economists, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

[Read: 6 New Rules for Praising to Raise Kind, Successful Kids.]

With that in mind, it’s important as the new school year begins that parents integrate teaching kids what I like to refer to as Qi (think positive “life force”) skills as well, while helping them develop as students. This is something that you’ll want to do, of course, not just before their first day, but as they continue to grow and develop, both in the classroom and outside of it. Here’s a breakdown of Qi skills — which I’ve also outlined in my book “The Toddler Brain” and my children’s book, “Jumping Into Kindergarten” you’ll want to be sure to encourage and cultivate:

Cute little boy playing with a tablet pc on sofa at home
1. Me skills: These are made up of self-awareness, self-control and impulse control, along with focus and attention. Me skills are what allow children to be in control of their thoughts, feelings and actions. Examples of how to foster Me skills range from helping children learn how to take deep breaths to calm down, to spending time reading aloud, not only to increase their love of books, but their attention spans. Playing games that involve concentration, patience and taking turns also offer fun opportunities to develop Me skills. (Getty Images) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/IuriiSokolov)
A group of hands piled together
2. We skills: Simply put, these are people skills. Think of what communication, collaboration, teamwork, empathy and active listening might look like for a 5-year-old, and what you get is budding emotional intelligence and the ability to “put your listening ears on,” think about others’ feelings and share. Given that the ability to read other people is as important as learning to read, one fun and effective way to cultivate We skills is to use the emotions commonly illustrated in children’s books to help your child more skillfully recognize, name and understand them. (Getty Images) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/NikonShutterman)
Happy little boy looking through magnifying glass on a sunny day
3. Why skills: As you might guess, these relate to curiosity and questioning. The goal here is to help children learn to apply their innate sense of wonder and curiosity in constructive ways. You can easily model and encourage Why skills at home by posing lots of questions yourself, and taking the time to let your children ask questions — whether about the books you read together or things they see or experience. [Read: Why We Need Social and Emotional Learning in Schools.] (Getty Images) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Wavebreakmedia)
Happy schoolgirl preschool girl with book near school board blackboard
4. Will skills: These represent motivation, perseverance and drive — the skills necessary to become a member of what my children’s elementary school principal wisely called the “can-do club.” Will skills are necessary to keep trying and learn new things, and to work to figure things out instead of just giving up. An important element of fostering this key skillset is to avoid jumping in too quickly to help or giving your child the answer. Rather, allow your child the time and encouragement necessary to stick with tasks as they become more challenging — whether that’s learning to tie shoelaces or decipher words on a page. (Getty Images) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/evgenyatamanenko)
Two business persons plan a project. Team work in office.
5. Wiggle skills: Now I am well aware that wiggling has never been considered much of a skill by the parents of young, active children (much less kindergarten teachers). But before taking a “sit still and look but don’t touch” approach, it’s worth considering the fact that all of us, and most especially young children, generally learn best about the world by physically interacting with it. So, our goal as parents and teachers should be finding ways for our children to put their propensity to be constantly moving — or doing something, rather than passively observing — to work in constructive ways. Wiggle skills can easily be cultivated by simply allowing children plenty of opportunities to look, touch, feel, smell and interact with the world around them, from building blocks to playing outdoors to turning the pages of a book. (Getty Images) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Choreograph)
Child sticking plaster on leg - young tourist glued patch
6. Wobble skills: Like the egg-shaped toys called Weebles and their decades-old claim to fame, “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down,” Wobble skills represent the ability to make mistakes, fall down or fail and get right back up again. While it’s only natural for parents to celebrate our children’s successes, remind yourself and your soon-to-be kindergartener that the ability to wobble — learning to get things wrong and then fix or figure them out — is cause for greater celebration than simply getting it right. (Getty Images) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Wojciech Kozielczyk)
Little child girl in a pilot's costume is playing and dreaming of flying over the clouds. Portrait of funny kid on a background of bright blue wall with yellow stars and white clouds
7. What If skills: Finally, innovation, imagination and creativity give us the ability to imagine the world not just as it is, but as it could be. With their make-believe worlds, imaginary friends and fanciful stories, children are naturally gifted in this area. It’s easy to cultivate these valuable skills by simply valuing, encouraging and giving children plenty of opportunities to use their imagination, such as through art, storytelling, dress-up and imaginary play. [See: 13 Tips for Getting Kids Health-Ready for Back to School.] (Getty Images) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Sergey Nazarov)
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Cute little boy playing with a tablet pc on sofa at home
A group of hands piled together
Happy little boy looking through magnifying glass on a sunny day
Happy schoolgirl preschool girl with book near school board blackboard
Two business persons plan a project. Team work in office.
Child sticking plaster on leg - young tourist glued patch
Little child girl in a pilot's costume is playing and dreaming of flying over the clouds. Portrait of funny kid on a background of bright blue wall with yellow stars and white clouds

As the summer winds down, I must admit I find myself imagining what my own back-to-school parenting experience will be like. After all, this is the year I send the last of my children off to college and officially exchange my longstanding membership in the parents of school-age children’s club for the empty nest club. My kids’ Spiderman backpacks, glue sticks and kid-friendly scissors have long since been replaced with laptops, mechanical pencils and lots of expensive textbooks. What hasn’t changed is the fact that I will be sending my daughter, along with her two brothers, off to college with the very same key skills they each took with them to kindergarten — Qi skills that are proving themselves to be valuable not only in school but ultimately in life.

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Send Kindergarteners to School With These Key Social and Emotional Skills originally appeared on usnews.com

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