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Skills for Success

Whether we are 5 years old or fifty, our potential to thrive depends on a complex and interdependent set of skills and capabilities that begin to emerge during the earliest years of life. These skills are not innate—they are the product of early developmental experiences that shape the fundamental qualities of cognition, conduct and character we carry to our first day of kindergarten and beyond.

Children who begin their lives with the benefit of supportive, engaging interactions with parents and caregivers, and safe, stimulating early environments are well positioned to succeed in the K-12 system and mature as responsible, productive members of their families and communities. 

Cognition, Character and Conduct

As children progress through the K-12 system and grow toward adulthood, they will acquire a sophisticated array of skills to learn and function in many different kinds of environments and circumstances.  The lifelong process is rooted in core cognitive, emotional and social competencies built upon a healthy neural architecture in the first three years. In fact, the same skills that describe a child's readiness for kindergarten are much the same as those that guide our success as adult citizens, parents and workers.

  • Cognition and Learning Skills: The ability to focus attention, filter out distractions, prioritize tasks and goals, follow instructions and demonstrate abstract reasoning.
  • Emotional/Pro-Social Skills and Behaviors: Empathy, adaptability, impulse control and the ability to form strong attachments with parents and peers. Emotional and social competencies are as critical to academic success—if not more so—than standard measures of cognition or IQ.
  • Language and Communications Skills: A child's command of self expression, comprehension and vocabulary are known predictors of academic success. Regular exposure to language-rich environments beginning in the earliest days of life puts children on the path to developing these critical competencies, long before the age of kindergarten entry.
  • Character Strengths: Perseverance, self-confidence and a sense of personal responsibility play a critical role guiding children's life trajectories. These qualities are not wholly fixed in our genetic code, but are cultivated through quality early learning experiences.

Strong Interactions Build Strong Skills

Virtually every experience children encounter in their first three years has a direct effect upon their emerging skills base. But few early experiences are as critical to healthy cognitive, emotional and social development as serve-and-return interactions with capable, highly-engaged parents and caregivers.

These important exchanges begin in the earliest days of infancy, when a child attempts to communicate by babbling, crying or gesturing. When parents and caregivers respond to these signals by engaging with the child through comforting words and sounds, direct eye contact, touch and other methods, it sets in motion a volley of back-and-forth interactions that grows more sustained and complex. Serve-and-return interactions progressively build children's command of early language skills, emotional attachment and self-regulation—paving the way for even more sophisticated skills as they grow toward the age of kindergarten entry.



The qualities and attributes we value most in our family members, neighbors, civic leaders and co-workers are the same as those that first take root during the infant and toddler years.

Without a solid base of cognitive, emotional and social competencies, children are unlikely to grow up to become healthy, productive students and adults.