Illustration of a girl under a tree with a telescope

The new report, What Makes Me? Core Capacities for Living and Learning, names nine core capacities deemed essential for learning and the healthy development of children and their societies.

Launched by UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, with funding and support from the Fetzer Institute and the Learning for Well-being Foundation, the report finds that core capacities—as understood through physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual perspectives—enable children to better understand and interact with the world around them and realize their unique potential. Of particular interest to Fetzer is the study’s inquiry into the spiritual development and spiritual wellbeing of children and the report’s assessment that this perspective is underutilized in efforts to promote child well-being and development.

“We believe that the purpose of education is to develop the whole person, and that the collective role of parents, educators, and society is to create environments and conditions for young people to learn, develop, and explore. This includes the spiritual dimension of life and overall spiritual wellbeing,” says Fetzer Senior Program Officer Xiaoan Li.

The report underscores core capacities—discerning patterns, embodying, empathizing, inquiring, listening, observing, reflecting, relaxing, and sensing—as innate human capacities that develop early in life and contribute to children's well-being and development. The research recommends that these capacities should be promoted, supported, and protected by education systems.

"COVID-19 is the worst crisis for children in UNICEF’s 75-year-history. Now more than ever, children need these skills to learn effectively," said Director of UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Gunilla Olsson. "Drawing from the best evidence, this research identifies the most promising practices that promote and protect the essential capacities that children need to overcome adversity and fulfill their potential," she added.

By seeking ways to optimize practices for child development outcomes, this research contributes to improving the effectiveness and efficiency in improving public policies for children.

Key findings from the report, which surveyed 260 published studies, include:

  • All children have innate capacities that support lifelong learning and development, and these capacities need to be nourished and protected.
  • Children's capacities are interconnected with the capacities of adults, who play a modelling role and influence children's chances of developing such capacities themselves.
  • An evaluation of an eight-week mindfulness training program for children aged 7-9 in England found significant gains in children’s emotional well-being and metacognition skills.
  • Children’s levels of empathy significantly affect their social functioning, such as prosocial behaviors, bullying, and quality of relationships with parents and peers.

Based on the report findings, Fetzer is planning to address several areas of gaps that have been identified, including the need for more focused research on the role of spiritual development in early childhood and adolescence as well as applications of core capacities in family and educational settings. 

Visit the What Makes Me? microsite and download the full report.



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The Office of Research – Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. Its core mandate is to undertake cutting-edge, policy-relevant research that equips the organization and the wider global community to deliver results for children. 

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At its heart, the Learning for Well-being Foundation is a group of people—team, community, board—who have come together to support a shared vision and the activities that can enliven that vision.  We are committed to manifesting a world where each one of us can participate fully, in a holistic and systemic way, to discover and enrich our unique qualities and experience our common humanity, on the individual and collective level.