Becoming brilliant: The 6 essential skills children need to become successful adults

4. Critical thinking. Yes, even a toddler can rock this skill, mama.

Becoming brilliant: The 6 essential skills children need to become successful adults

In the 1890s, William James of Harvard, the father of modern-day psychology, claimed that babies experience a world of “blooming, buzzing confusion.”   The narrative was not much different in 1946 when the famous pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock thought that there was little going on in the mind of a young baby.

Boy, have things changed.

In the last 40 years, we have discovered that babies are expert pattern-seekers who are making real sense out of the sounds they hear and the sights they see.  Babies—even two-day-olds—seem quite aware that a mother’s voice is different from a stranger’s and can even tell when they are hearing a language that is not like their own.

They are aware that objects cannot magically pierce a table but will stop falling when they hit something solid.

And by the beginning of the first year, they not only produce their first words, but they are starting to understand that objects like tables don’t move on their own.  They already sense that Harry Potter’s world is impossible and people don’t just fly through walls or enter stations at platform 9 and 3/4.

Our babies and toddlers watch us, watch the world, and are learning constantly.

Our new book, Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells us About Raising Successful Children, celebrates what babies and toddlers learn and uses this as a basis to rethink what it means to be successful in a 21st Century global world.

It also gives us a chance to arrange our homes, communities, and classrooms in ways that will build these skills for success.

What have the babies and toddlers taught us?  That the skills for success rest in what we call the 6Cs – a suite of skills born from a multitude of studies in the science of learning.

Collaboration is the first “C” because forming relationships with others, working in teams, and being part of a community is a key foundation for all learning that will follow.

When we roll a ball back and forth on the floor (even if your 14-month-old seems to roll that ball backwards), you are building collaboration.  When you open your arms for a hug, read a book together, or clap hands to play patty-cake, you are collaborating.

And when together you navigate how to get the food from plate into mouth (instead of from table to floor), you are helping your child learn to control the impulse to just smoosh that food or to create a hamburger rain shower.

Communication is built on collaboration.  After all, you have to have someone to talk to if you are going to communicate.

And communication includes everything from making your wants known (pointing, jumping, or using your words) to listening when others are talking (a rare event in toddlerhood).

It includes mastering a language with rich vocabulary (whassat?) or even two languages with rich vocabularies.

Content is key and is built from collaboration and communication. Children do learn better when they read a book with a nurturing adult as part of a bedtime routine.

And they learn from popular and friendly “parasocial” characters which is why 3-year-olds learn to count from the Sesame Street’s character The Count.

But learning about stuff is not all there is—our babies and toddlers are natural explorers who also need to learn how to focus their attention and to flexibly move from one activity to another.

These are called executive function skills and babies and toddlers learn these when they sit quietly concentrating on a book or when they focus while building a high tower of blocks.  Even learning how to work with an adult while stirring the brownie mix is teaching attention and learning to learn skills.

Critical thinking is the way that we sift through mountains of content.  And yes, even our toddlers can do a bit of critical thinking.

We can ask, do you want to drink your milk in a cup or on a plate? Picking a plate would be pretty inefficient if you are really thirsty.  And our children know that.

Creative innovation happens when children start to put things together in new ways to make a toy out of blocks or cardboard, or use a plastic bowl as a hat.

And we can help them see the world in new ways by playing out these unusual scenarios. To a 14-month-old, using that bowl as a hat can be pretty hilarious!

Confidence is something we must help our children learn. When they approach the stairs, do we teach them never to go near the stairs, or to turn around backwards and to make sure they are with an adult.

Do we want them to color carefully, or are they allowed to make a bit of a mess as they explore how to use a crayon?  Those scribbles that have thick continuous lines are showing us a child who has the persistence or grit to keep going after the first marks get on the page.

The table below shows us that these skills are as relevant to our babies and toddlers as they are to us and our colleagues in the workplace.  Try it for yourself.

In collaboration, are you a person who likes to do thingstotally by yourself or do you like to build things together?  When your toddler is getting dressed, do you let the 2.5-year-old work with you to get those pants on or do you just take over?

And how about in critical thinking—do you weigh the evidence in favor of or against what you think, or are you a “seeing is believing” kind of person?

Knowing our own responses helps us see what we model for our children.

In one classic case in our house, my 3-year-old asked me if all vehicles had wheels.  “Well,” I quipped, “not all. Boats don’t have wheels.” He quickly ran upstairs to retrieve a Babar book in which the elephant king gave the monkey Zephir a new boat.  And guess what, he was rolling the boat to the lake on wheels. Our kids are pretty smart. ?

We can create environments that foster the 6Cs. The more opportunities our children get to practice these skills, the better they will be in mastering them. Our point in #BecomingBrilliant is that learning happens early and continues until we are at least 99.

It happens in school and out and it is about more than focusing squarely on counting and learning the alphabet.

Happy to say that this kind of learning is everywhere if we just open our eyes and change the lens on what we see.

Bonus: It does not cost anything because we can engage our learning muscles anywhere and at any time.  No need to spend money on those “educational toys” (though the box can be fun).

Just see the world a bit through your children’s eyes and talk with them about what you both see.

Let’s build a world worthy of our children and help them grow to be happy, healthy, caring, social, and thinking children today who will be collaborative, creative, critical thinkers, and responsible citizens of tomorrow.  Our babies are watching us. We can do this!

This article was co-written by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff.

Join Motherly

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

Keep reading Show less
Our Partners

Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

Keep reading Show less