P21, a leading organization in promoting 21st century skills in education, describes 4 foundational skills for worker success:

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity

In January of this year, the Washington Post wrote a great article on Google’s research into what skills make the most successful employees. The Post writes:

“Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998… The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including other’s different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

Open-Ended Materials Support Development of “Soft Skills”

Open-ended materials support children in developing “soft skills” like the ones discussed in the article above.

When materials can be used in more than one way, children assign meaning and purpose which often requires communication with one another.

Ramps are a perfect example of these skills in action. When children are playing with ramps, they naturally bump into problems and come upon many design decisions that need to be made. They discover the need to communicate their thoughts with one another to form a cohesive plan. During this design and planning process, children are exercising:

  • Language skills
  • Social skills
  • Listening
  • Turn-taking
  • Flexibility
  • Perseverance

Design flaws and complications are inevitably going to arise when children work with ramps and other open-ended engineering materials. Solving problems requires many social and emotional skills. Problem solving may lead to testing out more than one solution.  Some will work and some will fail. These failures are important opportunities for children to practice flexibility, compromise, understanding multiple perspectives, and being supportive of others. All of these skills are essential to support children in becoming well-rounded collaborative people.

How can you offer challenges in collaborative experiences to promote the development of the “soft skills” mentioned above?

Jordan Kaseeska is the Education Specialist at Kodo Kids. She received her undergraduate degree from Colombia College Chicago in Early Childhood Education and went on to earn her masters degree from University of Colorado- at Denver in Education and Human Development with a focus in Early Literacy. She has used her passion for constructionist style teaching in both public and private early childhood and elementary schools.