COMMENT: Should children be taught life lessons in school?

May 20, 2016 Published by

The American website, Quartz, recently published an article about how schools around the world are starting to teach children not only about academic subjects like science, maths and English, but also emotional and social subjects like perseverance and gratitude. Governments have started to see the benefits of helping children to learn these skills, and are adding them to the curriculum.

kids-in-playground-playing-noughts-crossesI think it’s great that the importance of these skills is being recognised. All societies and cultures need to teach children more than just the traditional academic, school-based knowledge in order to set them up for adult life, and also to help them have a happy, healthy childhood.

However, my concern is that schools should not be responsible for all of the lessons that children need to learn in life. Our children are only in school for a certain amount of time, so the knowledge they can gather there of course has its limits. I also feel that the more formal environment of a school doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the development of these skills.

Traits such as perseverance and confidence just can’t be taught from a textbook, or in the classroom. Social and emotional abilities are more of a bi-product of how adults engage with a child and the feedback they give and how that is delivered, when the child is engaged in an activity or lesson.

The skills that we are focussing on here are crucial for adult life. We can’t give up when things get tough if we are looking after a baby and holding down a job, while still keeping a house running. We need to exercise self-control in the workplace and also at home to a certain degree. But in my mind it is the families who have the biggest impact on these, not schools. If children are seeing parents regularly display these skills at home on a daily basis, they will learn and copy and in turn will develop them for themselves.

[pullquote align="right" cite="" link="" color="#05b1cc" class="" size=""]Traits such as perseverance and confidence just can’t be taught from a textbook, or in the classroom.[/pullquote]

I also worry about the measurement of social and emotional skills if they are taught in schools. In an education system like that in the UK, with league tables and learning outcomes, teachers will find it difficult to know where to prioritise and will very likely be tempted to stick with teaching the more traditional subjects.

We need to address the way in which the more academic subjects are taught, to make sure they are delivered in a way that helps children to improve the important softer subjects at the same time. So rather than Monday’s lesson being on perseverance, it should be that Monday’s science lesson is designed in a way that helps children to learn perseverance while they also learn science.


 [pullquote align="full" cite="" link="" color="#05b1cc" class="" size=""]As parents, our own behaviour around children is the best way for them to learn[/pullquote]

As parents, our own behaviour around children is the best way for them to learn, but there are also a range of games and activities that can help to develop personal, social and emotional skills here and apps that can help here.

There is lots of advice on the website on this topic and tips for helping develop these skills through play here.

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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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