VOLUME 24 #3

Current cover


image of Roberta Golinkoff playing with a 4 year old girl
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

Becoming Brilliant

OUR FACULTY | ABCs and 123s are the some of the first nuggets of knowledge children learn. From the start, one UD professor says, teachers and parents should be placing emphasis on a single number—six—and a single letter—C. Together, the 6Cs stand for collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity and confidence, as well as the skill most heavily emphasized in schools today, content.

Collectively, they comprise the foundation for a new book, Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children, written by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor in UD’s School of Education (pictured above), and co-author Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University.

The authors argue that the American educational model is not adequately preparing its small citizens for success in the 21st century. Instead, they say, we should focus on the six skills that will help children become the thinkers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. These foundational “soft” skills—best articulated by the 6Cs—are critical for today’s kids to develop and to thrive in the global workforce as well as in their personal lives.

An excerpt from UD Prof. Roberta Golinkoff’s new book, Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children

Somehow, somewhere in our society, we divorced play and learning as if one was the antithesis of the other. Indeed, in one of our papers, we likened the split between play and learning as analogous to the Capulets and Montagues from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The unfortunate mantra goes: If you are playing, you cannot be working. But [Carla] Rinaldi [an internationally renowned expert in early childhood education] and many other psychologists and educators caution us to think differently. “Play and learning are completely interdependent,” she suggested, “like the wings of a butterfly where play is one wing and work the other” (personal communication, August 2015). The butterfly will never fly without both.

Nested within play, Rinaldi added, are the seeds of citizenship and democracy. What might she mean? Rinaldi suggested that in play we have freedom. Children—the owners of their own play—become the drivers of the system and the stewards of what they create. But in play that freedom is not total; it is constrained by the rules of the group. That is, we cannot do anything we want to in that soccer game because it would not be fair to the others playing with us. So we must learn to work with others (collaboration) to move that ball down the field and to communicate our desire to pass to Sherry while seeing the field from others’ perspectives too. We have to understand the game and the evolving rules (content), think critically about solutions to any disputes, create new solutions to problems on and off the field among our teammates, and have the confidence and grit to first propose and then follow through on these solutions. This sounds a bit like a lesson in democracy and in how to be a good citizen. The games we play as children set the stage for us to understand how democracies work. Play is powerful.


Parents, grandparents, caregivers and the other adults in our children’s lives are their best teachers. But don’t think “teachy-preachy”—we don’t mean just telling and children listening. Think of following children’s interests, answering their questions and telling them what they want to know or helping them find the answers—all in the context of playing a board game or walking around the zoo. This is guided play. We have tested it scientifically. We compared children’s learning when they were engaged in guided play versus when they were with a kind adult who just told them the same information. Children learn more in guided play than didactic instruction (sitting and listening). Whether children are learning new vocabulary or about what makes a triangle a triangle, they do better when they can be engaged and active. This is when children are using their brains to think and transform. Sitting and listening are what many schools are like now, with big people telling little people how it is. The irony is that the little people don’t retain what they are told. It’s too passive a way to learn.