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7 Skills Kids Should Master By College (and Even Preschool)

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Over the past decade, I've taught philosophy to many hundreds of undergraduate students. Most of these students have been bright, engaging and inquisitive. Most of them had reasonable success in my classes, too.

In my experience, the ones who tended to do well are the ones who have mastered some important skills before entering college. Perhaps surprisingly, these skills aren't incredibly sophisticated.

In fact, they are skills we expect preschoolers to master.

So if you're interested in helping your kid get college-ready—and, in all honesty, instill them with some important life skills—make sure that they are able to:

1. Say 'please' and 'thank you'

The demanding, ungrateful preschooler who keeps shouting for a "Cookie! NOW!" often doesn't get what they want. The demanding college student who acts as if it's their God-given right to a 50-point extra credit assignment often doesn't get what they want either.

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A simple "please" rarely results in any sort of extravagant gift. But for me it has, on occasion, yielded some additional flexibility and (yes) a small extra-credit assignment for the entire class.

2. Be OK with "no"

College professors aren't always amenable to extra credit, grade changes or due date extensions. Parents aren't always amenable to extra dessert, rule changes or bedtime extensions. No one likes to hear the word "no," but everyone should be able to hear it without throwing a tantrum (or storming out of the classroom).

3. Own up to mistakes

No matter what age we are, perfectionism can deter our capacity for learning and enjoyment. Not admitting when we do make mistakes can be just as disruptive to our lives.

The preschooler who drew a crayon collage all over a bedroom wall should be able to admit to their mistake and—if we're open to miracles—help their parent clean it up. The college student who didn't read an assignment in its entirety, leaving out important details in their work, should be able to admit to this mistake and—if we're open to burgeoning adulthood—accept a lower grade.

4. Figure out how to live with rules you don't like

Few preschoolers adore bedtime. Most actively hate their parents' expectations about not drawing on the walls. (You can see that I have some experience with this one.) Similarly, few college students adore attendance requirements or homework expectations.

But college students who don't show up to class or complete their assignments won't pass the class. Preschoolers who don't go to bed on time won't pass life. (Or at least that's how it can feel to their parents.)

5. Ask questions

This is a fun skill—and one that small children often master without any guidance. But somewhere along the way, many of us become self-conscious about asking questions.

I might not want each one of my students to ask as many questions as a toddler does each and every day. (I think the last running total I heard was somewhere close to 400 in 24 hours.) But I do want each one of them to rediscover the comfort that toddlers and preschoolers have when it comes to asking questions. It helps everyone learn more, expands minds and open the asker up to all of the wonderful possibilities that come with an education.

6. Look for something on their own before asking for help

Once, 15 whole weeks into the semester, a student asked me where they could find the course readings. These readings were on the course syllabus. They were on our online course calendar. And I had just written the readings on the board during the previous class.

I told the student as much and sent them back searching.

It reminded me of the time when my preschool-aged son scream-whined for me to help him find his favorite stuffed animal. Which happened to be next to him. Half-draped over his leg. Right in front of his face.

I kindly asked him to take a moment to look for the beloved toy himself before requesting my help again.

7. Experience the joy of hard work and discovery

Have you ever seen the look on a preschooler's face when they complete a difficult puzzle or construct a huge tower or put on their clothes or draw a beautiful picture all by themselves?

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It's very similar to the look I see on my students' faces when they ace an exam or persevere through a challenging reading or improve their written work.

It's a look we all could stand to have every once in a while, whether we're a preschool-aged, college-aged, or far beyond those years entirely.

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