P21 (Partnership for 21st Century Learning) just launched a new framework for integrating 21st century skills into learning programs for early learners (P21 News Release 9.20.17.) I love P21 because I think they provide a scope and sequence of skills that today’s learners and schools need. However, I became a little skeptical after reading that they “developed the new framework alongside educators, education experts, and business leaders from early childhood development organizations such as Crayola, Fisher-Price, and The Goddard School to ensure these competencies can be applied in both formal and informal settings” (P21.) I love Crayola and Fisher-Price, but they have skin in the game so I was hesitant to fully buy in. After taking a deeper dive into their framework, I discovered they also partnered with various departments of education, as well as the National Association of Education.
I am happy to say that P21’s 21st Century Skills Early Learning Framework is proving to be extremely helpful to me by presenting a scope and sequence of skills beginning with “Toddler/Early Preschool” to “Preschool/Pre-Kindergarten” and then to “Kindergarten.” The first early learning skill areas include the famous “4 C’s”: creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, The next area focuses on early learning life and career goals: flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural, productivity and accountability and finally, leadership and responsibility. The last early learning skills area focuses on literacy with “Information, Media, and Technology.” The framework provides a chart with specific skills in each of the above areas and then an example of how that skill progresses to the next developmental group.
I find that students are extremely creative and tech savvy at a very early age. However, many students need specific instruction in transitioning, self-regulating and cooperating collaboratively with other students. In group settings, some students are having difficulty sitting at circle-time and looking for adult direction. I usually rely on organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child for research-based information on early childhood learning and development. These organizations provide excellent information about how children’s brains develop and how to provide support in order to build resilience, reduce toxic stress, and grow executive functioning and self-regulation skills. I am so glad I found these resources and am able to pair that learning with P21’s 21st Century Skills Early Learning Framework .
I am also very excited to be a part of this incredible time in education. We are learning more and more about the brain every single day and this learning is going to lead to better education for our children. But we can’t do this alone and only in our schools. Parents are our students’ first and most important teachers and we need to help educate them. They need to know the importance of “serve and return” with their children and how this back and forth communication helps create new neural connections in their children’s brains. We need to share that doing something as small as playing dolls with their child is modeling appropriate social behavior through play and creates an intimacy and empathy that no one else but a parent can create with them. We must let parents know that getting enough sleep and implementing daily routines with some consistency creates a space for their children to know boundaries and feel safe.
This is an incredibly big job, but I am completely optimistic in our ability to do it. Educating our children for their futures has always been the task at hand. It is the most important work we will ever do, but we need to do it together–home and school.