Hard skills vs. Soft skills? What skills does my child need?

These days there’s more pressure than ever to set our kids up for “success.” At the same time, there’s discord regarding which skills are the most important. There’s even debate on what we should be calling different subsets of skills or if we should differentiate between skill sets at all! One common quantification is “Hard skills” and “Soft Skills.” Hard skills are defined as “the specific knowledge and abilities required for success in a job” and “soft skills” are “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” Hard skills are much more tangibly measurable and easier to teach, while learning soft skills tends to be more experiential and harder to track.

Some experts, however, think using these labels is detrimental to personal and professional development, citing that the term “soft skills” carries the connotation of being less important or frivolous, when in reality interpersonal skills are critical for success in the workplace and in society in general. Instead, these folks suggest a language shift that uses “Technical Skills” and “Essential Skills.” Regardless of what you want to call them, everyone seems to agree that both types of skills are vital when it comes to pursuing success. At TIC, with a half day of technology instruction and a half day of athletics, our summer camps have been following that very model for over 35 years.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen more and more technology-based camps pop up in our area. Learning technology is important, as a staggering 80% of future jobs will require a STEM education. But learning STEM is not enough. Our kids need to be able to work well with others, communicate effectively, practice empathy, and lead with authenticity. AND they need to be able to do all of these things with confidence. That’s where our athletics program comes in. Studies have shown that sports help develop essential skills at very high rates. Not every kid loves sports or wants to be an athlete (I myself was one of those kids), but the social benefits of play and being active can be enjoyed even by kids whose own personal nightmare is gym class- at least at TIC. We designed our athletics portion of the day to involve choice and variation with a ratio of staff that allows us to cater to individual needs. Our goal is for kids to participate in whatever way they are feeling in that moment. Sometimes it’s stepping out of their comfort zone and trying something new, and sometimes it’s honoring that they may not be feeling a full-on basketball game at the moment and want to make up their own silly game on the side. We listen, we accommodate whenever possible, and we create an encouraging space where our campers feel open to trying because failure is okay. Supportive and open environments (like the ones at summer camp) are fundamental to developing these essential skills.

Essential skill development doesn’t stop in athletics, however. Our technology program was also designed with a holistic approach in mind. While they are learning technical skills from knowledgeable staff at a 1:4 ratio that allows for lots of individual instruction, our campers are also working in partners or small groups and setting goals together. They are learning to work as a team while they are learning programming, engineering, or other software. They are collaborating on visions, communicating their ideas, and learning how to manage different tasks on their way to completing a common objective. That is some adult stuff! In fact, it basically replicates a real work environment (except I’ve heard most offices don’t have theme days) (although I think we can all agree they totally should). Our entire program has been intentionally designed to create these opportunities for development. Beyond that, it’s also a huge factor in the way we train our staff each summer and the main consideration as we continue to change and adapt our operations in order to be the best at what we do.

But this is not why you should send your kid to us.

Skill development is important and TIC does it very well, but it’s not the most important thing that your child will get from our camp. The most important thing we do for our campers (and staff) is providing an environment where they can feel free to explore the person they want to be. Many staff and campers over the years have said that their favorite thing about TIC is that it’s the only place they feel like they can truly be themselves. You can’t quantify the value in that. It’s the reason we offer choices whenever we can. It’s the reason we have such a high ratio of staff to campers and can provide personalized attention. It’s the reason that every season and every session are different- because each session is created by the campers who are there for those two weeks. The campers create the TIC culture based on their interests and their humor and they can see that ripple out into the whole camp. All of our traditions started with one camper or a small group of campers that had an idea, brought it up, and were told “yes.” We don’t just allow our campers to be creative and put themselves out there, we actively value it and show them the positive impact that their passion and sincerity can have. And isn’t that what we want for all of our kids? For them to feel like who they are makes a difference? Technical and Essential skills are wonderful, but they will not lead a person to success if they don’t know who they are and what they want to contribute to the world. Having unabashed confidence in who you are and what you’re about is a skill- and we think it’s the most important one.

This is what TIC is about. It’s more than a technology camp and it’s more than a sports camp. It’s about more than developing skills that will look good on a college or job application. It’s about valuing your kids for the people they are and the people they want to become. Our community benefits just as much from their presence as they benefit from ours.


We hope you will join our TIC community for Summer 2020! Our Early Bird Registration is now open!

Enroll here and please reach out if you have any questions! 703-876-2868 or [email protected]