Non-Cognitive Skill Building – The Real Reason Our Kids Need School

At my children’s school, the teachers send out a weekly newsletter which details the lesson plans for the week. Over the last nine months, these newsletters have been focused on learning modules like multiplication tables and spelling tests. However, for the last week of school, the newsletter was slightly different. Since the teachers and classes were all in wind-down mode and the learning tasks had been completed for the year, the newsletter instructed the kids to “bring a board game to play” or “bring something for show and tell.”

I certainly don’t begrudge teachers for slowing down the lessons during the final week of school.  But the final newsletter got me thinking specifically about the purpose of school. Is it simply to teach our kids how to read, write, and perform math word problems? Or is it a place where kids learn other non-cognitive skills like presenting, networking, and navigating social situations?

Summer educational programs for kids are important to keep learning consistent even in the summer.

Have you ever wondered what is the purpose of school?
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James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, has also wondered about the real purpose of school. A few years ago, he met with students who were taking the General Educational Development Test, or the GED. As part of his research, Heckman noticed that most people who take the GED spend only approximately 32 hours preparing for it – and still manage to pass.  But kids that complete high school spend approximately 4,000 hours in the classroom before they are allowed to graduate. This is a difference of 3,968 hours yet the degrees are technically the same!

Comparing the statistics, he began to wonder if all of the hours that kids spend in school was even necessary. If a person could learn enough in 32 hours to obtain the same degree, what is the value of the other 3,968 hours?

To answer his question, he designed a study comparing the success of high school graduates against their counterparts who had dropped out of school but passed the GED test.  His study yielded some interesting results. He noticed that although people that had passed the GED test performed better than dropouts that didn’t pass the test, they were nowhere near as successful as high school graduates that spent 4000 hours in school. In addition, he noted that dropping out of high school seemed to give permission to drop out of other things. GED and high school dropouts seemed to get divorced more, drop out of the army more, and in general, more frequently drop out of society.

From these results, Heckman concluded that the 4,000 hours spent in school was not just to develop cognitive skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic. The real purpose of school was also to develop non-cognitive skills like delayed gratification and the ability to start and finish tasks.

Heckman’s research supports the importance of playing board games during the last week of class. Even though students are not engaged in hard cognitive learning, they are still developing and growing through the games that they play and the interactions they have with their classmates.

The Brain Chase Summer Learning Challenge also supports Heckman’s conclusions regarding the value of non-cognitive skills. For this reason, we have added supplementary “experiences” to augment our summer learning program. Participants that sign up for Brain Chase will be expected to complete six additional bonus challenges including an online tour of the Smithsonian, an orienteering course, and a “mystery” experience. These experiences are designed to broaden participant’s awareness of the world around them and help them develop other non-cognitive skills.

In addition, Brain Chase is built around a real treasure hunt. To decipher the clues and find the treasure, participants will have to draw on various non-cognitive skills such as deduction, critical thinking, and analysis. Participants may also find it helpful to share tips and clues with their friends, further enforcing networking and team building skills.

Brain Chase is a summer educational program for kids

The buried treasure – a reason to keep learning this summer.


It is not too late to sign up for Brain Chase. The first episode kicks off on June 30th. Sign up today and help your child develop both cognitive and noncognitive skills by competing in the six-week learning challenge.

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