Five Life Skills We Can Teach Our Children Now
2020 has been a year when we as parents have done more teaching than we ever imagined. Between navigating online platforms and class video calls (the horror!), motivating less-than-enthusiastic children to complete their maths worksheets (without losing our patience), and balancing family and work life (or not, as has more often been the case), we can all be forgiven for being glad to see the back of home schooling last spring. But as we handed our children's education back over to their teachers at the end of the summer holidays (and did a little happy dance), we at Good People have started to think about the lessons they’re not learning in the classroom - the life skills that can’t be found in books but only really be learned by doing.
A study in the States has found that, while 58% of 3- to 5-year-olds can navigate a smartphone, less than 15% of them know how to make their own breakfast. In our rush to accomplish our daily to-do lists, have we started doing everything for our little ones instead of taking the time to let them figure out how to do it for themselves?
Let’s slow down and consider the ways we can begin to put our children on a path towards independence with some of these simple ideas for teaching important life skills now - no matter their age.
This can be a tough one - even for us parents. But learning to be on time is one of those life skills we can help our little ones to master early on - and maybe avoid a whole load of stress at the same time. Not only does teaching them to tell the time, stay on task and keep to a schedule help make our days easier, it also - essentially - means punctuality will be part of their DNA later on when they need to arrive for an exam on time or attend a job interview.
Set them up for success with these pointers:
If they’re going to get ready for school independently, make sure they have plenty of time to work with - so they don’t feel rushed and you don’t feel stressed. Do a test run on the weekend so that they know how long it takes them "from wake-up to out the door". Have them lay out their clothes and pack their school bags the night before, and challenge them to think of ideas that could make the process quicker and smoother each day. Turn something that has potential to be stressful into a fun challenge you can tackle together.
Give them visual cues that show them what they’ve accomplished and what they still have to do in their window of time. Hang a clock somewhere prominent and stick task cards on the wall below in two columns - “To Do” and “Done”. Moving the task cards across from one column to the other helps them feel a sense of purpose and motivates them to keep going.
Give them plenty of positive reinforcement, and remind them that they can ask for help if they need to - even as adults, we could all learn to ask for help.
Tending a garden
Planting seeds in a garden is a wonderful activity and beneficial for all stages of development - from motor skills in toddlers to stress relief and reconnecting with nature for teenagers.
Lots of children plant seeds with their teachers at school, or with us in the garden as a fun spring-time activity, but do they learn to look after those seeds when they grow? To water them, feed them and prune them? Giving our kids responsibility for their plants teaches them, well, responsibility. They learn to remember to check up on them and keep them healthy, and they reap a vast sense of achievement when their strawberry bush bears fruit, their beans are served at dinner or their roses make up a beautiful centrepiece on the table.
Make sure that when children have had fun getting dirty and planting their seeds in the soil, they learn about the follow-through of bringing those seeds to their potential. They won’t have to look too far to find the metaphor in that task.
Writing a letter
In this world of fast-paced technology, the art of letter writing is in danger of being lost. Teach your children now the joy of sending and receiving a letter.
Maybe they have grandparents living far away - or even just down the road in isolation. Never before has it been more important to prioritise connection with family and friends we can't see regularly. Perhaps you could arrange with a friend who has kids of the same age to set up a "pen pal" system so your children can trade letters (or pictures for little ones).
As they get older, teach them the five parts of a well-written letter (date, greeting, body, closing and signature), and how to address an envelope, apply a stamp and post it off. The joy of free expression through the written word and the anticipation of a letter in the post with their name on it are simple pleasures that are impossible to put a value on.
Simple meal prep
“Invite your child to help make meals, assign him jobs to do, and stay calm when the flour spills and the eggshells fly,” says Christina Dymock, a mother of four and author of the book Young Chefs.
You can think up age-appropriate meals for children of any age to get involved with - little ones can spoon yoghurt into a bowl, older ones can chop fruit and vegetables (as you keep a careful eye and make sure their knife skills are up to scratch, of course!). Try sitting down with a cup of tea and directing your children in their food prep as they do it completely on their own - it will definitely get messy but you'll be surprised by how much fun you all have. And as they become more comfortable with reading, children love to follow a recipe from start to finish.
Take the meal prep task a step further by suggesting they plan a menu for a special occasion and set the table. This will, if nothing else, teach them how much effort you put into their meals every single day.
As we teach our little ones to count, we can also teach them the value of money, so that they learn how to save and spend wisely, and understand that, for example, using a credit card isn’t “free money”.
Agree an amount for weekly pocket money, and teach them how to spend it - or watch it grown. We all know far too well the supermarket toy aisle dilemma - do we buy them that little something they're asking for to keep the peace or do we refuse them and risk meltdown in aisle 13? This can be avoided by suggesting that when you get home, they can count out the money they need for the toy from their piggy bank, and buy it for themselves next time you're at the shops. This usually works like magic - it helps them learn to fight the impulse for instant gratification, it makes them think about how much they really want the toy, and it creates anticipation, drawing out the moment of pleasure. You could also teach them about comparison shopping - suggest that they may like to wait until their item of choice is on sale so they get more for their money.
The same goes for the weekly grocery shop - use it as an opportunity to teach them about value. Make a game of it when you’re at the supermarket together, perhaps challenging them to find the cheapest paper towel or best-value meat package. Be open with your children about your budgeting for your own family, and nurture a sense of control over money, so that they grow up understanding where it comes from and how to get the most out of it.
Look for lessons everywhere
Everybody’s favourite Super Nanny, Jo Frost, says in her book Confident Toddler Care, “When you teach your child life skills, you are moving him from one step on the ladder of human development to the next, helping him to grow mentally, emotionally and physically.” If we stay open to looking for them, we will find a multitude of tasks from our everyday lives that we can turn into teaching moments with our children, and in the process prepare them for the world that awaits them.
If these ideas have inspired you, you may start to see opportunities to teach life skills in other areas too. We’d love to hear about the experiences, tips and tricks from the Good People family in the comments below.
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