Book Smart is not the only Goal

Book Smart is not the only Goal

By: Rifka Schonfeld, Director S.O.S (Strategies for Optimum Success)

“The only source of knowledge is experience.” – Albert Einstein


It’s no surprise that Albert Einstein was not a huge fan of school. Though he later lectured at universities around the world and changed the way we think about science, he struggled as a student in school. As Einstein points out in the quote above, school is extremely important, but so is the learning children do outside of school. In her book, Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs , Ellen Galinksy writes, “It is clear that there is information children need to learn – facts, figures, concepts, insights, and understandings. But we have neglected something that is equally essential – children need life skills.”


What are these life skills? Why does your child need these life skills? How can you they gain and practice these life skills?


I’ve written about Executive Function Disorder (EFD) in the past, and Galinsky actually pinpoints these life skills within the range of executive functions. What do I mean by executive function? In their book, Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, Peg Dawson and Richard Guare explain:


Executive skills allow us to organize our behavior over time and override immediate demands in favor of longer-term goals. Through the use of these skills we can plan and organize activities, sustain attention, and persist to complete a task. Executive skills enable us to manage our emotions and monitor our thoughts in order to work more efficiently and effectively. Simply stated, these skills help us to regulate our behavior.


Among the individual skills that allow people to self-regulate are:


  • Planning: the ability to create a roadmap to reach a goal. This also includes the ability to focus only on what is important.
  • Organization: the ability to keep track of multiple sets of information and materials.
  • Time management: the ability to understand how much time one has, and to figure out how to divide it in order to meet a goal.
  • Working memory: the ability to hold information in mind even while performing other tasks.
  • Metacognition: the ability to self-monitor and recognize when you are doing something poorly or well.
  • Response inhibition: the ability to think before you speak or act.
  • Sustained attention: the ability to attend to a situation or task in spite of distraction, fatigue or boredom.

Galinksy further elucidates that executive functions effectively pull together our feelings and thinking so that we can reflect, analyze, plan, and evaluate. All of these executive functions are performed by the prefrontal cortex of the brain: an area devoted to higher level thinking and problem solving.


The Seven Essential Life Skills


Focus and self-control.

This life skill allows you to focus on the “right” information in a world full of distractions. It also helps you to curb impulsive behavior and control yourself.


Tips for parents: Parents of younger children can play games that require that children pay attention to rules and follow directions such as “Red Light, Green Light” and “Simon Says.” Parents of older children should encourage their children to pursue their passions. The more motivated they are, they more they will pay attention to what they are learning.


Perspective taking.

This skill involves figuring out what others think and feel, and creates a foundation for children to understand other people’s intentions. When children understand other people’s perspectives, they are less likely to be involved in fights and conflicts.


Tips for parents: Parents of younger children can help a child understand they that he or she is “heard” by imitating the sounds infants make, repeating words toddlers make, or helping children express themselves. Parents of older children can help them understand the actions of others by discussing their motivations. They can also use fights as an opportunity to discuss the two sides of a story.



Once you are able to understand other people’s perspectives, the skill of communicating involves understanding how your communication is going to be understood by others.


Tips for parents: Ask questions that go beyond the “here and now,” such as, “If you do that, what do you think will happen next?” You can also read with children in ways that use books as a platform for conversations. Ask questions about the reasons characters acted or what they think the characters are going to do on the next page.



Making connections.

This skill requires putting information into different categories and understanding what is the same and what is different. The ability to make unusual connections is the heart of creativity.


Tips for parents: Parents of younger children can play matching games which will help with making connections. Parents of older children can talk about math when in the supermarket or famous artists when drawing at home.


Critical thinking.

When we think critically, we think about “what causes what” to happen. Galinsky explains that is it the “ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions, and actions.”


Tips for parents: Help children think critically by allowing them to resolve issues on their own without jumping in too quickly. Help them learn the resources available to them to learn and check facts on their own.


Taking on challenges.

Since the world we live in involves challenges, children who are willing to proactively take on a challenge will do better in school and in life. This skill also involves resilience in the face of adversity.


Tips for parents: Praise your child’s efforts (not their successes). Children will be more likely to try new, hard things if they know that is a virtue in and of itself. Get support for yourself as a parent. If you aren’t able to face challenges, you won’t be able to teach your child to face them.


Self-directed, engaged learning.

This skill involves continued engagement in learning and knowledge.


Tips for parents: Provide first-hand learning experiences. Continue learning yourself as a model for your children. Create a community of learners with those around you.




We all want our children to have the skills for success in the future. One piece of that puzzle is school. Another piece is these seven life skills that will ultimately help them succeed in and out of school!

An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools.   In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness.  She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at You can view the web at


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