Life Skills Science

This section on Life Skills Science is divided into 5 sections (A – E).

Table of Contents

A) Galinsky's "Mind in the Making"

In 2010, Ellen Galinsky published her well-researched book, “Mind in the Making—The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.” Here’s her list of 7 targeted life skills and the positive benefits to be achieved when children learn them. This is all still perfectly relevant today.

Life Skill         Benefits for Children
1. Focus and self-control Concentration, multitasking, patience, improved listening
2. Perspective taking Reduced aggression and conflicts, empathy, understanding others
3. Communicating Understand what to communicate, how and why
4. Making connections Improved creativity, better decision-making
5. Critical thinking Improved reasoning and reflection
6. Taking on challenges Growth mindset, look for challenges, resilience, calmness
7. Self-directed, engaged learning Improved active learning, not passive

Galinsky suggests that the life skills of perspective taking, making connections, and taking on challenges are often not given enough importance by those teaching life skills. She also makes the point that, “the life skill of focus and self-control is maybe just as important in today’s modern world as IQ.”

Galinsky explains that children can become better overall learners if we help them engage their executive brain functions, which are cognitive (mental) processes that the prefrontal cortex of the brain uses to manage attention, emotions and behaviors to achieve goals. These processes consist of attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory and cognitive flexibility, as follows:

Teaching that focuses on giving children learning opportunities to use their executive brain functions, leads to better, deeper learning outcomes. This can also be beneficial to children with learning difficulties.

Some key observations from Mind in the Making:

At CIC, we support Galinsky’s list of life skills and the expected benefits, and we continue to seek new opportunities to apply her recommendations in our programs. We also note that Galinsky’s 7 individual life skills can be lined up with one or more of the UNICEF LS categories.

Chess is well-suited to executive brain function use, and we try to give our students opportunities to develop and flex their executive functions in our programs. Executive brain functions also appear to be also linked to both STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) and transversal skills (employability skills for the 21st century). Several studies by researchers on these relationships are underway.

Here’s a great YouTube video from Stephanie Carlson that explains Executive function skills in children.

B) Mindset and Improvement in both Life and Chess

In our view, Galinsky’s sixth life skill—taking on challenges—is extremely important. But, the willingness to take on challenges depends on having the right mindset.

Carol Dweck’s Theory of Mindset (2006) has shown that as children’s minds develop, they may possess greater tendencies towards having either a ‘fixed mindset’ or a ‘growth mindset.’ (Here is a link to a 2014 YouTube video Dweck did called Developing a Growth Mindset.)

Those that have a fixed mindset see their abilities as a fixed trait and they will often give up in the face of stress or a challenge. Others who have a growth mindset see their abilities as something to develop and they will continue to pursue a challenge until resolved. Mindsets emerge during early years but they’re not immutable. Children respond to their situations. If they’re praised for their effort and the strategies they’re using, they’re more likely to want to learn and try harder. If they’re praised for their intelligence, they often make less progress.

Galinsky says that she originally thought that her life skill #6 was ‘resilience’ but she later changed it to ‘taking on challenges’ – being proactive rather than reactive when difficulties arise. Her mother called this
“getting back on the horse after falling off” and Galinsky says that this “momism” is quite appropriate. In her book, Galinsky recommends 13 different techniques that parents and others can apply to help children develop more of a growth mindset. Two biggies are: teaching children that the brain is like a muscle which gets stronger with use; and praising children for their effort not their intelligence.

In 2020, Barry Hymer and Peter Wells published their “clarifying” book, “Chess Improvement – It’s all in the mindset.” The theme of the book is that improvement in chess comes from having the right kind of mindset. Here are some of their most important conclusions:

Hymer/Wells also present some practical implications for parents and chess coaches concerning motivation:

C) Life Skills Recap

In the Life Skills – Introduction section, we reviewed the cognitive and “softer” life skills that can be taught to children when they learn chess. The categories were personal/self-awareness, interpersonal and behavioural/social.

In the Life Skills – Models section, we reviewed a couple of important models (Moreno and UNICEF) that show us that life skills may be grouped or classified in different ways. We also viewed UNICEF’s life skills continuum which shows which life skills categories are relevant at different ages.

Here in the Life Skills – Science section, we learned about a more targeted approach (“Mind in the Making”) to teaching life skills developed by Ellen Galinsky. That approach emphasizes focus and self-control, and getting children to more actively use their executive brain functions – mental processes that help them manage attention, emotions and behaviours to achieve goals. Carol Dweck’s theory of the need to develop a growth mindset is also seen as being very important. We also learned from Hymer/Wells about their latest insights into the role of growth and fixed mindsets in chess improvement.

It is interesting that different researchers, both talking about personal improvement in the context of teaching children (one researcher focused on teaching life skills and two researchers focused on teaching chess) – ten plus years apart – are both saying that having a growth mindset is extremely important. The major difference we see is that in the recent case of Hymer/Wells, there seems to be a little more willingness to accept a degree of fixed mindset as a short-term coaching/coping strategy.

D) Three Interesting Articles

E) References on Life Skills