Archive for the ‘Life Skills for Kids’ Category

School subjects essential for business success (no – they’re not the ones you think)

February 19, 2015

gregor kick

I have a friend, Blythe Scott, who’s an artist (at . She’s made the point many times that at primary school, parents are keen to get their children to experience as many different activities as possible.

However when it comes to secondary school, the same parents are rather quick to relegate these activities to being merely hobbies, whilst ‘serious’ subjects take on a higher value in a mini rat-race of academic success.

Sir Ken Robinson has pointed out that in pretty much every culture, there’s a hierarchy of school subjects, with maths, science and language at the top, humanities in the middle…and arts and the bottom.

Prof. Howard Gardner, in his work on Multiple Intelligences points out that the academic system values a very narrow skills set, and that success can be found with a whole raft of talents, many of which simply aren’t recognised in most academic curricula.

So here are three subjects – yep, some of the ones that usually get sidelined as hobbies – that provide youngsters with skills that are critical to business and personal success.


PE and performance management

Physical Education. Something at which I was absolutely hopeless at school, and one of those subjects that can be seen as a lightweight choice for those who don’t have academic ability. Am I right…or am I right? If you’re good at the sciences and you’re pretty sporty too, you’re going to feel a moral and social obligation to be a doctor rather than a sports coach, aren’t you, whatever your heart is telling you?!

However. At a recent parents evening at my son’s school, the transferable skills that PE offers were spelled out for me.

Part of the (Scottish curriculum) course involves students gauging their own performance, measuring against their own expectations and benchmarking against others in their peer group.

They’ll then devise a plan to improve and build on that performance, and review again at regular intervals.

If this sounds faintly familiar, so it should: because it’s the same process for performance management and development that businesses follow.

Here at school level, in one of those ‘also ran’ subjects, students are building a mindset of constant performance improvement, AND developing the skills required to achieve it. And what business doesn’t want that?


Music and teamworking

Music is another subject which, unless someone is absolutely determined, becomes a nice pastime and a subject that’s dropped in favour of something deemed more job-worthy.

However, a considerable amount of research done amongst under-achieving youngsters has demonstrated that improving one’s ability in music improves all round academic ability and indeed one’s attention span and ability to focus.

Consider also the teamwork and trust that’s required in an ensemble situation, be it the full blown symphony orchestra, with its section leaders working under the overall direction of the conductor, or a small ensemble like a string quartet.

Music ensembles provide a valuable metaphor – and indeed many leadership and team working lessons – from which the business community can learn.


Art and innovation

I’ve recently devised a creativity and innovation workshop which focuses on the work of leading artists and inventors, distilling practical techniques which can be applied in the workplace to problem solving, product / service innovation and so on.

Who better to look to when considering creativity than artists, after all?

Again, at school level – art remains one of those subjects which often scores fewer brownie points than more academic subjects.

Yet there are those who suggest that teaching art should be as important as teaching language or numbers (Betty Edwards, author of ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ being one of them), because it gives us a valuable visual vocabulary which most of us lack.

The ability to visualise. The ability to take concepts and represent them as matter. The ability to imagine and turn that imagination into something tangible. The processes involved in creating a piece of art are, in fact, the fundamental principles of creativity in any context….and creativity is the forerunner of business innovation.


So don’t be too quick to look down on subject areas that are traditionally taken by those seen to be not so academic. They may be teaching valuable life and workplace skills that the ‘clever’ kids never get to develop.


How to study for exams

March 26, 2013

With exams just around the corner, many young people are starting to worry about how to study and revise, how to remember what they’ve learned, and how to make a good account of themselves in their exams.

Knowing how to study is a life skill: the principles are exactly the same at school as at college, university and even when you’re taking professional exams in the workplace. Learn the core skills NOW, and they’ll serve you well in the future.

Here are five top tips to help you to prepare for your exams:

1) Make a plan. And follow it.

Having a clear plan for how to prepare for exams and knowing how to study can help to minimise stress, so invest a little time to draw up a realistic study schedule.

Make your study plan / timetable when you’re in a calm frame of mind. Don’t wait until you’re in a panic and then jump from subject to subject trying to cram it all in.

Set yourself a timetable, and schedule in breaks, which will allow your subconscious to ‘digest’ the information you’ve studied.

2) Know your learning style.

Some people learn best from what they hear (auditory learners) some from what they see (visual) and some through what they do (haptic). Play to your strengths:

Visual learners

  • Capture the information you need to study and remember visually. Mind maps are a good example (look up Tony Buzan and mind maps). It’ll be easier for you to remember a visual image of a colourful mind map than a string of facts.
  • Use drawings and illustrations to help you.
  • Represent key facts in a flow chart: historical facts, for example, or the plot line of a play or novel.
  • Turn your information into something you can LOOK AT.

Auditory Learners

  • Consider recording yourself reading information onto your phone, and listening to it.
  • Read your study notes out loud to yourself so you can hear it.
  • Think about listening to music as you study, BUT be careful that you’re not listening to songs that will distract you.
  • Turn your study notes into something you can HEAR.

Haptic learners

  • The act of creating a mind map or flow chart with your information can be helpful to you.
  • Changing your location as you study may also help: if you remember, for example, being in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea, this can help to trigger memories of the thing you were studying at the time.
  • Associate your information with something you DO.

3) Check your understanding.

Test yourself. Pause from time to time and take a moment to remember what you’ve just studied – don’t just relentlessly plough on.

Look through past papers to see the types of question that are asked so that you’re familiar with the layout of the exam paper itself, and the style of the questions.

If you come across something that you’ve completely forgotten, or didn’t fully grasp in the first place – don’t guess, ask your teacher! They want you to succeed!

4) Look after yourself.

Don’t be tempted to rely on coffee and sugar to see you through. Your brain needs proper nutrition to work efficiently, so eat properly, even if you’re feeling a bit sick with nerves!

Try to get a decent night’s sleep too – don’t sit up till all hours thinking that will help you. It probably won’t. Look after yourself!

5) Think positive!

THINK POSITIVE before you go in to the exam. You’re doing yourself no favours by going in with an attitude of “I’m hopeless at maths – this is going to be awful!”, as this will have a negative impact on your performance.

Make a conscious effort to tell yourself something like, “I’ve prepared for this exam, and I’m going to give it my best shot”. It might sound like a small thing, but positive thinking can have a big impact.

Knowing that you’re walking into an exam room as prepared as you can be will give you confidence, so follow these tips … and good luck!

A Recipe for Disaster? (Seven 12-year-olds bake a cake)

February 11, 2011

In what might have been a recipe for disaster, my daughter and six of her friends (yes, that’s seven pre-teens) baked a cake the other day. I set them the task of baking and decorating the cake (which they were all keen to do) and then tidy the kitchen (which they were noticeably LESS keen to do) and then walked away and left them to it … only to sneak back to see what they were up to from time to time.

Somewhat predictably, the first few minutes descended into chaos – everybody wanted to mix, so the kitchen was full of girls waving spoons in the air and shouting.

Somehow, two of them took the lead and appointed tasks: someone had to get the ingredients, another had to weigh them out, one of them started to mix the ingredients and then passed it on to someone else, and so on. Astonishingly, they were soon working like a well-oiled machine.

Personal agendas came to the fore when it came to the decoration. Someone grabbed the the jelly diamonds, someone else wanted the chocolate curls; others were worried that they’d be left with nothing, and snatched at whatever was left on the table.

Initial ideas of each decorating their own slice quickly gave way to a consensus about a uniform pattern where each girl had one type of decorating sweet, and put it in a pattern on the cake ensuring that, more or less, there would be the same amount of decoration on each slice.

By the time they’d finished, the cake genuinely looked – and tasted – as though one person had baked and decorated it.

The point?

Leaders will emerge in self-managed teams. Clear, agreed goals (we all want a nice cake with loads of sweets on it) fell into place. Roles were shared out, loosely according to who wanted to do what. Everyone took a turn – there were no observers, and no one felt left out.

Did it make a difference that they were all friends? Yes of course it did … but bear in mind that they are 11 or 12 years old, and one of them eating a spoonful of mixture or taking one sweet too many could have caused a major hissy fit amongst the rest.

Astonishingly, that bunch of kids provided a working model of both Bruce Tuckman’s stages of team development, and of the GRPI model (structured establishment of goals, roles, processes, interpersonal relationships.)

And at the end, the proof really WAS in the pudding – the cake was delicious…and the kitchen was tidy(ish).

How many workplace teams can claim such success?!

“Football Stickers are a Waste of Money”

July 9, 2010

I was chatting to my friend, the artist Blyth Scott yesterday evening (   and she made a very erudite point on the fascinating subject of…World Cup Football Sitckers. So much so, that I thought it warranted a quick blog post….

As an ardent sports fan ….actually, as someone who has no interest in sport whateosever and a deep-seated loathing of football in particular…. imagine my delight  at the start of the summer, when my son said he wanted to start collecting world cup football stickers.  As luck would have it (!) you could get the sticker album FREE at Morrisons supermarket, and you could even get a free packet of stickers with every £20 of groceries you bought. Or, of course, you could buy your stickers at the counter for 50p a pack.

Thinking that we might as well be tearing up his pocket money and setting fire to it, we let him get a sticker book. And what happened? The football sticker collecting has had a surprising number of beneficial side-effects.

He’s developed new relationships with kids he didn’t really know before, because they’ve been talking about their stickers.

He’s learned to be methodical and organised in sorting his stickers, and keeping them tidily in one place so he doesn’t lose any of them.

He’s developed assertiveness skills, as he’s had to tell a bigger boy who wanted a sticker that my son didn’t want to give him (it wasn’t a double!) that he couldn’t have it…but could swap for these instead (negotiation).

He’s learned enough facts and figures about the players in the World Cup that he can hold a conversation with almost anyone on the subject, building his confidence, and his ability to remember facts and figures.

He even discovered that his cub leader  worked at the supermarket and gave extra stickers  – that non-collectors didn’t want –  to any cub who came through the till…and then asked her what her shift pattern was.  He’d insist we shopped at times that coincided with her shift so he could get extra stickers from her. Surely, for an 8 year old that represents some sort of strategic planning?

The stickers have sparked an interest in some of the less obvious nations in the World Cup, prompting him to find out more about some of the Central and South American and African nations that he didn’t know much about. He can now not only draw the flag of  Honduras, but give you a good idea of the GDP and the country’s population figures!

Who’d have thought – certainly not me – that collecting footie stickers could be the springboard for some important early stage life skills?!