It’s The “Non Academic Skills” That Deepen Social & Life Skills

special education & the benefits of non academic skills

More and more evidence reflects the need to allow students to develop as people and not just students. It’s time to think beyond the emphasis of academics and give importance to teaching/learning other stuff. “Stuff” that does not directly measure tests scores or IQs, but instead prepares students for success and independent living. We’ve come to recognize this “stuff” as non-academic skills.

These skills will help students enhance their social skills, work skills, and life skills.

Let’s face it, life is tough even without the unique challenges that special education kids face. How to equip them with the emotional intelligence to slay the everyday dragons when we’ve hardly passed these hurdles ourselves can be like… well, trying to slay a dragon with a butter knife.

The trick to teaching these nonacademic tools is to first, gain the knowledge as to exactly what you should be teaching, and then apply appropriate exercises for the application of these tools.

Whether you are a parent or teacher, you may be surprised how much you can learn when teaching to special education kids. Without a doubt, these lessons offer a whole lot of empathy to both the student and tutor, and can only help both parties as they take on everyday life.

Without further ado, we’re going to discuss seven specific “non academic” skills. These skills, along with the implementation of different lessons and activities, will help kids deepen their everyday social and life skills.

SEVEN Must-Know Life Lessons

1.     Character

The qualities that make a good character can include any number of things but to give us all a focal point, let’s include enthusiasm, grit, optimism, self-control, thankfulness, curiosity and social intelligence. All of these fall under one all-encompassing trait: positivity. The aforementioned qualities are designed to prepare students for success. And no, we’re not just referring to academic success, but overall life success, which include happiness and being an overall good person.

And no, we’re not just referring to academic success, but overall life success, which include happiness and being an overall good person.

An Exercise for Character

Use team games where kids work together to solve a problem. At the end, offer a reward to all of the students. This helps them to experience the aforementioned qualities while exploring other key skills such as problem solving. You can follow up on this activity by reviewing the different emotions your kids or students experienced during their team game so they can learn to recognize different character qualities.

2.     21st Century Skills

21st century skills help student’s independent livingKnowing how to navigate technology is a must-know, not only for professionals, but also for society as a whole. In today’s world, 21st century skills are useful for developing independent living skills, problem-solving skills, and career skills. Think about it, Google usually solves any of the small “do it yourself” fixtures around your home. Likewise, your student should know how to navigate through technology to find a quick fix for something that may be needed.

Allow Kids to be Kids

There are tons of apps and computer games out there. Allow kids to browse and play these. They often help them learn basic tools and skill sets they may need to navigate through different situations.

3.     Grit

Learning to get going when the going gets rough is a difficult lesson. Often, it leaves us adults wanting to hide under the blankets! Having the courage and determination to resolve an obstacle or finish something that was once started is a key indication of one’s grit.

Encourage Kids to Follow Through

Whether it’s projects, sports, games or difficult math homework, always encourage kids to finish what they started. Learning not to quit any activity that deems to be “difficult” will foster their grit and help strengthen their character.

4.     Growth Mindset

girl increases growth mindset by taking up hobby

This is the firm belief that although talent is a gift, determination is the most useful tool. When you practice anything over and over again, positive results are bound to come around. Look at Mick Jagger, he may be semi-tone deaf, but he still managed to be a lead singer of one of the most famous rock-n-roll bands!

Take Up a Hobby

Playing a sport, playing an instrument, practicing art, or any other activity teach special education kids that with enough persistent effort, they can grow a talent from the ground up, and this is an invaluable life skill that can be applied to just about every challenge they may face.

5.     Non-cognitive Traits & Habits

There is more to life than books and academic achievement. Non-cognitive traits & habits include self-discipline, persistence, feelings, and behaviors. As we live our lives and experience more feelings and different kinds of behaviors, our non-cognitive traits & habits grow. Nobel Prize winner, James Heckman, examined how non-cognitive traits & habits affected not only education but also work and life.

Create a Positive Habit

Even the smallest positive habit can make a huge difference in a child’s life. For example, teaching them to wash their hands whenever they come home is a great one parents can easily implement. Plus, it may mean you miss out on some of those much-hated germs kids bring home.

6.     Social & Emotional Skills

SEL refers to a student’s ability to express emotions appropriately, show empathy for others, build positive relationships and generally make good decisions.

SEL refers to a student’s ability to express emotions appropriately, show empathy for others, build positive relationships and generally make good decisions. It allows teachers to better connect with their students, which helps them academically and improves discipline. This is especially the case for students in special education and those with severe behavioral issues.

Get To Know Someone

Get to know your students! We encourage teachers and educators to become more involved in their students’ emotional and social needs. You may find that a student who’s been constantly tardy and not turning in their homework may just be having a hard time emotionally after finding out that his or her parents are going through a divorce. Instead of outright punishing the student for their tardiness, teachers might instead take an empathetic approach and learn how their student’s current situation may be affecting him.

7.     Soft Skills


Good manners and punctuality are great examples of soft skills. Employers define “soft skills” as anything from being able to write a resume to having a firm handshake. Soft skills as a great complement to social skills and are both vital skill sets for the work force.

The Handshake

Learning to shake hands when you greet someone is a great way to leave a positive impression. Whenever possible, encourage special education kids to shake hands with someone when appropriate (like at a job interview!)

This is just some of the “stuff” we believe will allow kids to develop as people and not just students.

Source: NPR, “Nonacademic Skills Are Key To Success. But What Should We Call Them?” by Anya Kamenetz

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At James Stanfield, We Think You Should Know:

More and more evidence shows the importance of “other skills,” aside from just academics, when determining a student’s life success. At Stanfield, we believe that for students with special needs, social skills and non academic skills are a better predictor of success in life than academic achievement. Consequently, our programs integrate VideoModeling and social and emotional learning (SEL). These Stanfield methods effectively teach special needs students SEL skills such as the ability to recognize how another person is feeling, and how to moderate their emotional response in difficult situations. See the BeCool program as well as others, in the Stanfield library by clicking here!



Categories: Autism , Bullying , Conflict & Anger Management , Developmental Disabilities , Life Skills , Parenting , School To Work Skills , Social Skills & Fitting In , Special Education , Transition Skills , Work & Employability
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