Soft Skills Start in Pre-K

By Shlomo Maital

Coke machine

In 1982, engineers at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, built a Coke machine connected to the Internet (or the existing network – Internet did not yet exist), that could report how many Cokes had been sold and how cold they were.   This was perhaps the birth of what we know now as the Internet of Everything – everything, everyone, connected, everywhere, all the time, by Internet. By 2025, only 10 years from now, some 25 to 50 billion devices will be connected – cars (self drive), fridges, people, computers, machines, virtually everything.

   Great? A new 20 trillion dollar industry? Jobs?   Happy people?

   Perhaps. But the downside could be, a sharp decline in people’s social skills.  When things talk to each other, people need not.   And social skills, society, collaboration, community, friendship, helping others, this is what makes us human, what keeps the world more or less together.

     Writing in the New York Times, Oct. 18, Claire Cain Miller makes a key point: “Occupations that require strong social skills have grown much more than others since 1980”.   Yet cultivating those social skills is on the decline, in schools focused on homework and tests.   Increasingly, worldwide, even kindergarten kids are getting homework, instead of time to play.    The graph below shows how crucial social skills are in the kind of jobs that are coveted.

Preschool skills

   We recently visited Touchstone Community School in Grafton, MA.   We spoke with Cheryl and Tamara, who teach young children.   We shared recess with the kids, and romped in big grassy fields, threw frizbees and learned to do cartwheels.   We saw how vital recess, and play, are, for young children. And above all, we saw how easily very young children related to us, strangers,   called us by first names (a Touchstone touchstone), asked how we are, what we are doing, and even interviewed us. Those social skills did not just happen. They were cultivated.   And they grew especially in playtime, in recess.   We saw an older boy play with a wheel device, and a small child stood in front of it. The natural instinct: shove him aside. What the boy did?   Gently put his hand on the small child’s shoulder, explain to him that he was in the way, and ask him if he would please move aside.   THAT is a social skill. Perhaps as important as knowing 8 times 9 is 72.

   Technical skills can be automated, the author notes.   But social skills? We have to learn them, make them a part of our social DNA from an early age. Pre-kindergarten is crucial for this.   We must do everything to preserve the ‘soft’ skills learned in school, because they are the ones that are ‘hard’ to acquire later, and make us employable.