By: Kim Lancaster, Franchise Owner, Primrose School of Brassfield and New Irving Park

The Skills Needed for Future Career Success and How to Nurture Them in Early Childhood

When parents think about the earliest skills they should be nurturing in their children, language, reading and motor skills likely come to mind. However, a recent survey revealed that another set of skills may be just as important to develop early in life to give children the foundation they need for future success.

According to a national survey of human resources (HR) managers responsible for hiring, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, self-control, adaptability and working memory – collectively referred to as executive function skills – are essential to succeeding in today’s workplace. In fact, survey respondents agreed that these skills are more important than good grades, technical skills and other factors when it comes to hiring.

Yet, the majority of those surveyed said that entry-level employees are rarely proficient in executive function skills, and agreed that they are difficult to teach. One in four respondents also indicated employees are becoming less proficient in executive function skills over time – a concerning trend given that research suggests these skills will only become more valued as society evolves.

These statistics may sound worrisome, but encouragingly, executive function skills actually have their foundational roots in early childhood. The Harvard Center on the Developing Child reports that children’s early life experiences influence their capacity for executive function skills, and laying the foundation for such skills is one of the most important tasks of the early childhood years.

All of the adults in a child’s life – parents, grandparents, teachers and others – therefore have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help set him or her on a pathway for success. And nurturing the executive function skills needed to succeed later in life doesn’t have to be difficult – try the following fun activities for children at home:

  • Develop problem solving through play. Children work through their understanding of the world as they play. For example, when children play with blocks, they learn that putting heavier blocks on top make block towers tumble more quickly, but putting heavier blocks on the bottom make the tower stronger.
  • Promote critical thinking by asking thought-provoking questions. Whether you’re playing with blocks or at the grocery story, ask your child simple, open-ended questions like “Why do you think…” and “What if…” to inspire deeper thinking. Be sure to give your child plenty of time to answer the question, refraining from giving the answer yourself.
  • Encourage teamwork by leading by example. Children learn how to respond to others mostly by watching their parents and caregivers. Make it a point to model behaviors like listening and being respectful at home.
  • Cultivate self-control by giving instructions. Instructions don’t immediately sound like much fun, but singing songs like the hokey pokey and playing games like Simon Says actually encourage self-control by requiring children to move in a specific way at a particular time.
  • Nurture adaptability through dramatic play. Children can practice adaptability – the ability to take in and adapt to new information – by using everyday objects in new ways, like turning a paper towel roll into a telescope.
  • Foster working memory by reading aloud. Consistently reading aloud with children reinforces sounds and letters, helping them learn and store information in a way that feels more like play. Take things a step further by making up a story together. As the complexity of the story grows, your child will get more practice remembering the information.

By intentionally nurturing these skills during first five years of life, parents and caregivers can help set children up for success that will last a lifetime.

To learn about Primrose School Brassfield or New Irving Park, visit or You may also call to speak with a member of our Leadership Team at 336.286.0500 or 336.286.8889. For more helpful parenting tips and information, visit our blog at and sign up for the Pointers for Parents newsletter.


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