Ten Questions: 7. Are Life Skills Important for Academic Success?

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Living Wisdom School emphasizes helping children learn skills that will help them be successful in life. How important is that for academic success?

Helen: Academic success depends on bringing the whole child into the learning process — their energy, enthusiasm, commitment, and intensity. People might be tempted to categorize us as what we might call a very “precious” school — which might be good through about the fourth grade. But then people wonder what will happen when the students must deal with the “real world.” In fact, there’s an intensity of learning in our school, that’s embedded in everything we do. A visitor might not be aware of it, if they saw all these happy, enthusiastic children going about their business.

Two students at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, California

Does learning to express kindness, compassion, and other expansive attitudes contribute to academic success? The results at Living Wisdom School state, resoundingly, “Yes!” (Click to enlarge.)

Parents visit the school and comment about the “hum” in the classroom — a happy hum — and the intensity of focus they see in the children. You’re not always going to walk into a classroom that is totally quiet and subdued, because the children are very engaged and busy. I might walk into a class with a prospective parent and find the children on the floor doing math games in quiet voices, and they barely notice us as we walk through, because they’re fully engaged.

If I take the parents to the middle school, it’s a different hum — you might find a small group of children collaborating, or you might see a math tutor working with a student, or the kids might be working on their own. But there’s a positive, productive level of vibration in the classrooms, generated by their concentration and focus.

They aren’t intimidated by adults. I’ll sometimes bring parents on a tour of the school, and the children will take the initiative and come up and greet them. Sometimes, if I ask, “What are you working on?” they’ll give the visitors a mini-lesson, without any thought of being intimidated.

I’ve had admissions directors call and tell me that a graduates of ours “aced” the interview, and that their ability to sit and engage an adult was impressive.

A graduate of ours entered Gunn High School this year. He and his brother had been with us since kindergarten, and the parents naturally wondered what it would be like when they left. This boy went from a school of 60 to a high school with 2000 students.

The first day of school, a friend of his mother called her and said, “Zachary met a lot of students today.” And they eventually discovered the story. Thinking about going into a new environment, this boy went out and bought lots of gum. At school the first day, he saw a boy he’d been in orchestra with, and he went over and said, “Introduce me to your friends.” So he did, and Zachary gave them all gum. Whenever he would see one of the boys from that group, he would go over and do the same thing. He piggy-backed from one group to another all day and met literally over a hundred students.

His dad asked him, “Did you just come upon that?” He said, “No, Dad, I gave it some thought. It’s why I had you get the gum for me.” He was extremely shy, when he was little.

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