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21st Century Skills: What Children Today Need to Excel

Modern education has changed dramatically compared with previous generations. For instance, decades ago, the education system focused on the 3R’s (Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic) whereas now it emphasizes higher order reasoning and problem skills.  Earlier, kids were rewarded if they were “knowledgeable” and could retain large amounts of information.  But in the Digital Age, where access to information is often free and unlimited, retention is no longer important. Rather, kids need to be able to understand and create output with this information.

To thrive in this new world and way of living, kids should be well versed in 21st century skills.

Our guide to 21st Century Skills:

  • What are 21st century skills?
  • Why are 21st century skills important?
  • Life Skills
  • Literacy Skills
  • Learning Skills

What are 21st Century Skills?

21st Century Skills are those that help children successfully navigate this time. Today’s children are thrust into a confusing range of subjects, extra-curricular activities, and different teaching methods. It becomes a necessity to break through the clutter and figure out what the core questions are regarding what skills children actually need to excel as they grow- and for that reason, these 21st century interdisciplinary themes are being increasingly tied into academics.

Why are 21st Century Skills so important?

To hold information-age jobs, people need the ability to think critically and deeply about issues they are presented with, solve problems with creativity, work with others, communicate clearly over various forms of media, learn to adapt to ever-changing technologies, and withstand floods of information. All this requires students to be flexible, take initiative, lead when necessary, with the end result of producing new and useful results.

In addition to this, the lines between different disciplines have become blurred due to advances in technology, and we are now preparing our children for a future that involves technology that doesn’t yet exist, and jobs that cannot be imagined at present. Much of what we learn in childhood becomes obsolete by the time we reach adulthood- and that means more than simple knowledge, we need to focus on 21st century skills that will allow children to navigate new spaces, while they learn and relearn through the course of their lives.

With all this information, the question becomes: How do we empower the youth of today to navigate the vast amount of knowledge they are exposed to, and to reach where they want to be in this hyper-competitive, technology-driven, globalized world?

The three types of 21st Century Skills

Life Skills – Flexibility and Adaptability, Initiative and Self Direction, Social and Cross-cultural Skills, Productivity and Accountability

These skills are the more  intangible aspects of a child’s development that help them to succeed both personally and professionally.

Literacy Skills- Information literacy, Media literacy, Technology literacy

These skills focus on how children can access, separate, and evaluate information, think independently and analytically about that information, and apply technology effectivel

Learning Skills- The four C’s (Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication)

These help students conduct the mental processes they require to adapt and improve in a modern work environment.

Life Skills Your Child Needs To Succeed

It’s necessary for parents and children alike to understand that skills don’t always refer to only what a person is capable of doing- while technical skills are important, a person needs a good mix of both technical skills and “soft skills” to be successful. These 21st century skills are the more  intangible aspects of a child’s development that help them to succeed both personally and professionally.

Read on to learn more about teaching these 21st century skills and their importance in your child’s development:

1. Flexibility and Adaptability

Kids who are brought up to think flexibly from a young age find themselves to be better at coping with changes in life, as well being able to solve problems better. They will be better equipped at dealing with unexpected or last-minute developments- a crucial collection of 21st century skills.

For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world with no warning in 2020, and forced many lifestyle changes on people, including children. There were many new factors we were forced to get used to. Cultivating flexibility and adaptability is important, not just for big situations like this, but numerous day-to-day incidents as well.

These are not typically skills that can be taught in school, so it’s important that parents nurture them in kids from a young age. Here are some ways you can foster these 21st century skills in your child:

  • Let your kids experience failures

It’s important for kids to get used to the idea of failure. Allow them to experience small failures in daily life. Teach them that failure is an inevitable part of any undertaking, and there is no shame in failing. If kids learn to cope with failures from a young age, they become better problem solvers, and learn to adapt. Allow your child to understand where they went wrong, and come up with the way out by themselves. You can also tell them about the failures you have faced in your own life, and the ways you have overcome them.

  • Let your kid have a flexible routine

Try not make your kid’s daily routine too rigid. It is important to cultivate a disciplined routine, but make sure your kid is able to adapt to changes. You can start with small changes such as switching up their playtime and homework times, or encouraging them to try some new hobby. This ensures that your child won’t be upset by surprises, or stressed out by change.

2. Initiative and Self Direction

Initiative and self-direction are important 21st century skills for children to develop independence and better decision making skills. Parents need to encourage children to follow their interests and develop independent thinking. Both in school and in the workplace in the future, taking initiative is considered an essential skill for students and professionals. For this, it’s important to allow children to explore and discover things on their own, instead of lecturing them, or insisting on a certain way of doing things. Do make sure your child knows you are there to support them and help them, so that they have the security to go ahead and attempt new things on their own.

Parents can create an environment which supports and encourages questions, exploration and curiosity. Encourage your child to seek out the answers they want on their own before they come to you with them. Ask questions like “what do you think?” or “what is your opinion?” to your children, so that they may develop their own view on things. Ensure that your child has access to an environment where they can interact with their peers. Teamwork and group activities are a great way to teach children to take initiative. 

Recognize your child’s interests and encourage them to pursue it further. For example, if your child likes painting, encourage them to try out different types of paint (watercolour, acrylics etc.), and ask them which they like the most and why. Small steps will help your child develop crucial 21st century skills.

3. Social and Cross-cultural Skills

These are, of course, essential 21st century skills for children to have both in school and in the workplace in the future, and include being able to work in a team or in diverse environments. Social skills also include behaving appropriately according to context, respecting others, and being able to resolve conflicts.

You can ensure your child is regularly interacting with other children, to encourage open-mindedness and improve social skills. Get your child to participate in team-oriented activities. Teach your child that they will meet a lot of different types of people wherever they go, and to get used to interacting with people whose ideas can be very different from the ones they grew up with. 

You can also teach your child about different cultures from a young age, and how to appreciate varied cultures.

4. Productivity and Accountability

In our fast-paced world, it is important for kids to learn the importance of productivity and sticking to deadlines. Time management and the ability to handle responsibilities well are essential 21st century skills that allow kids to grow up to be productive and successful individuals in the workplace. 

  • You can start by assigning kids small tasks to do, such as putting away their belongings, or organizing their rooms. Avoid nagging kids to complete their tasks, as this might put them off doing it. Instead, set deadlines for them to complete their tasks.
  • Provide rewards for completing tasks. For example, if they complete their homework within time, they can have an hour of playtime, or such. 
  • Help your child create a schedule for themselves. This will ensure kids learn how to manage their time, and teach them the importance of being organized.
  • Ensure they understand the consequences of not completing tasks. This will teach them to be accountable, and provide them with motivation to complete their tasks.

With the development of these 21st century skills, you can ensure that your child’s development is comprehensive and well-rounded. These are some of the more intangible aspects of your child’s development that can go overlooked, but are actually some of the most fundamental skills required and act as a base for the other ones.

Literacy in the Digital Age

In this day and age, it’s important to equip children by teaching them digital literacy. 21st century skills relating to literacy focus on how children can access, separate, and evaluate information, think independently and analytically about that information, and apply technology effectively

The world today is dealing with a truly massive amount of information. The amount of information generated and processed everyday is so large megabytes and gigabytes are not enough to measure it. In such a time, it is naturally important for children to get good at dealing with having large amounts of information thrown at them every day. It is important for children to understand and possess information literacy.

What is information literacy in 21st century skills?

Information literacy refers to the ability to identify, find, evaluate, and use information effectively. Tons of information is available at your fingertips now, just a few clicks away. While that means you have a lot of good information available easily, it also means there’s a lot of bad information that’s just as easy to find. One of the important 21st century skills kids can learn is the ability to distinguish between them, and think critically about the information and its sources. The presence of the internet means information literacy is closely intertwined with digital literacy and media literacy. 

How to Find Information

The internet is the main source of information for almost everyone now. Children are no strangers to using the internet from a very young age, which makes it important that your child knows how to find information efficiently as part of their 21st century skills. You can start by helping them properly articulate their questions, and teaching them how to focus on certain keywords.

For example, if your child wants to learn more about dinosaurs. Just typing “dinosaurs” into a search engine will give you a lot of information about dinosaurs, but the query is too vague to give you any useful information. You can help your child to narrow down what exactly they want to find out about dinosaurs. Is it about when they lived? Is it how they went extinct? Is it about a particular kind of dinosaur? 

Credibility of a Source

21st century skills include the ability to distinguish between so-called good websites and bad websites, or websites which are just plain unreliable. For example, Wikipedia is a good website for finding out basic information about a topic, but for further research, it is not a very reliable source. This is because it allows anyone to edit its contents, and while editors are required to provide sources, the information may not always be completely correct. Generally, it is a good idea to stick to websites which are specifically for educational purposes, such as Britannica

It is also a good idea to check multiple sources. For example, let’s say your child wants to know if a velociraptor was a herbivore or a carnivore. The best way to find that information is to look through two or three websites about dinosaur facts, and check if they all say the same thing, that is, the velociraptor is indeed a carnivore. 

If we are talking about more current events, then the news is always a good place to turn to. For example, if someone says there were aliens spotted in Australia, then it would be reasonable to believe that it would be a big news item. Teach your child to search up keywords and look up the latest news articles. Obviously, if there is nothing being reported about an event, then it is likely that that event did not happen, and you’ve received fake news. The ability to distinguish between real news and made-up unreliable reporting is one of our vital 21st century skills.

Another thing to keep in mind is how old the source is, and how recent the information it contains is. Generally, with websites, it is easy to check when they were last updated or accessed. If a website was last updated, say ten years ago, then it is a good bet that the information it contains is outdated and therefore, will be of no use now.

Staying Safe Online

Teach your child to protect their own information online. It is obviously a good idea to make sure none of your personal information is available publicly online. Teach them to beware of the possibility of doxxing. Doxxing is the act of finding and publishing private information about someone as a form of harassment, revenge, or punishment. Hidden behind screens, it is easy for trolls and cyberbullies to wreak havoc. Teach your child to steer clear of spaces where they can be found and limit what information they share online. Read our article about cybersecurity for more tips.


With these 21st century skills, your child will be well-equipped to handle the demands of living in a world so saturated with technology and information. After all, the internet has become something of a necessary evil, and is here to stay, and with the development of these skills, your child can take full advantage of the massive amount of information at their fingertips, and learn to put it to use in the most productive way.

Learning Skills

In a fast-changing world, today’s children are required to prepare for a future that will involve  technologies and jobs that don’t yet exist. This means that, more than simple knowledge, we  need to focus on helping them to learn the fundamental 21st century skills that will allow them to survive. Read on to learn about the 4 C’s that make up Learning Skills in the  21st century and help children excel in today’s world:

Breaking down the 4 C’s of Learning

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to understand concepts, question the information we are presented with and analyze our thinking patterns. Higher critical reasoning ability often leads to enhanced learning ability, higher empathy and greater independent thinking in children. And in the workplace, it is the tool that helps us to identify problems and arrive at the right solutions. 

How do we start to build critical thinking as one of our vital 21st century skills  in young children? You can start as simply as rewarding curiosity. Answer the questions that your child asks you patiently and with an open mind. Praise them for asking good questions and where you don’t have the answers, look for answers together so that they internalize the value of learning. The more they are encouraged, the more the complexity of their questions will grow, and the greater their ability to question the things and people around them. 

Encourage your child to engage in fun activities that sharpen their critical thinking ability, from reading to debate to coding.


Children are already blessed with limitless imaginations but creativity – the ability to exercise one’s imagination and transform ideas into output – can be developed and honed. Much like a muscle, the more we exercise it the stronger it becomes.

Creativity is the foundation of innovation and problem solving, both of which are undeniable competitive advantages in the workplace, thus making it a vital part of 21st century skills.  It also allows us to view things from multiple perspectives, to adapt to new circumstances and create unique output. This is why it is so important to emphasize creative activities in children from a young age, when they are more moldable.

Aside from encouraging your child to take up hobbies such as music, dance, theater, creative writing, art, design and coding there are numerous things you can do to encourage creativity in your child in daily life. 


Collaboration is the act of working together with others towards a common goal. It is best taught early in life, helping children to think beyond their own needs. Collaboration helps children make friends, nurtures empathy towards others, builds willingness and ability to make compromises, understand external perspectives and understand the concept of win-win situations- it is one of the 21st century skills that helps them truly understand teamwork.

To help hone your child’s collaborative skills, start with encouraging them to share their things with friends and siblings. For older kids, involve them in a team sport or in group activities such as a band, choir, theater production. Encourage them to take up roles such as babysitting or tutoring which involve working with younger kids. Involve them in household chores and hosting to reinforce the feeling of teamwork at home!


Childhood is where the foundations are laid for communication skills; later in life, these allow us to express ideas clearly, identify and express emotions with maturity, solve problems and form connections with other people.

Babies begin exploring communication very early in life, through gestures, expressions, and sounds. As they learn to speak, they develop an understanding of grammar and vocabulary, which expands throughout childhood, with each new conversation. As children grow older, effective communication skills expand beyond just language, to include the ability to understand emotions and navigate different situations and personality types. Good communication is one of the 21st century skills that are an important determinant of healthy personal relationships as well as career success and growth. 

To equip your child’s communication skills, encourage them to read (or read with them), encourage them to share their thoughts and opinions at home. Involve them in extra-curricular activities that encourage expression, including blogging, creative writing, theater and public speaking. You can also explore Camp K12’s Art of Communication course which includes these and many other activities designed to help your child become a confident and effective communicator. 

A new age requires new abilities

With the world as it is at present, we know that the four C’s are crucial to every child that wants to lead a happy and successful life.  At Camp K12, we are dedicated to teaching your child 21st century skills that go beyond what they will learn in a classroom. Our courses in both Coding and English focus on nurturing critical thinking, bolstering creativity, encouraging collaboration, and enhancing communication skills.

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