When my children were very young, I began trying to plan out their education: where they would learn, how they would learn it, and what we would do for them to get it.
I recognize that a strong education can help secure a better future. In our society, reading, writing, math and sciences matter if you want a good career.
But there is so much more to being a happy human being than how much you earn or how many pieces of paper hang on your wall. What about being able to manage your bills, or cook a healthy meal? In our rush to give our kids the tools they need to be employable, we sometimes forget the tools they need to live healthfully and happily.
Here is a list of 5 skills I think every child should learn before they leave home. Each can be introduced slowly and can be adapted for every age and stage. But, I believe that each is a vital skill many kids are not being taught and my hope would be that knowing better would result in doing better. What do you think?
1. Growing Your Own Food
Our modern lives afford us many comforts, but have left us more disconnected from our food than ever. We walk the aisles of the grocery store, where everything we need (and a lot of what we don’t need) sits waiting on brightly lit shelves. In fact, more than ever, retailers are going all out to grab our attention, and even more, the attention of our children. Particularly in America, where manufacturers will use different ingredients in the same product than they would in other countries, there is a heavy-handed plan to create an addiction to processed and junk foods in our kids.
But if everything people eat comes from the same place, how do young children truly grasp the difference between whole and processed foods? How can we really impress upon them the importance and value of clean, whole foods, and what it takes to grow and harvest?An explanation is one thing, but some hands-on experience can be the clincher.
Enter gardening, a great way to teach kids where real food comes from.
If a big backyard garden is out of the question, small pots on the deck or balcony are a great place to start. Our family has a modest garden box because it’s what we can feasibly manage. There are also many communities that offer shared garden spaces. And sometimes, you just start small because you’re learning. We have fallen in love with the AeroGarden! It’s a great way to teach children about gardening, hydroponically even, and it’s a simple start that they can fall in love with.
With a little help, children can grow some seeds indoors, transplant everything outside when the time is right, and water their plants each day.
The result? A child with hands-on experience on how food gets from ground to table. And when you know the organic heirloom tomatoes your family is eating came from the plants you’ve been tending all season, they’ll taste even more delicious. There is pride in every bite! Homegrown food can also stimulate discussions on everything from eco farming to healthy portion sizes. Additionally, there are some life lessons in what might happen when things don’t grow as hoped for, or conditions lead to not being able to harvest food? An appreciation you may not be able to cultivate otherwise may come from a little soil and some seeds.
2. Preparing a Meal from Scratch
How many of us have humorous stories about the two or three “meals” we knew how to make when we left home?
Thankfully, cooking is a skill that can be learned well before our children leave for college. When we involve our kids in the cooking process, they not only learn a valuable skill, but they might find that they enjoy cooking and become creative little chefs on their own. Plus, if you have picky eaters, there’s nothing like the pride in making your own meal that inspires you to eat!
Little ones can’t make an entire meal on their own, but they can count out strawberries or scrub potatoes in the sink. They can also get hands-on experience with fractions and weight by measuring out ingredients.
Older kids can practice chopping vegetables, experimenting with spices, and even following recipes with minimal supervision.
When children help prepare family meals, the sense of accomplishment is a reward in itself.
Most importantly, just like gardening, cooking teaches mindful eating. When a child works with whole foods and natural ingredients, it’s much easier to explain why processed foods are the less healthy choice.
3. Managing Your Money
Household debt is an increasing problem in the U.S., Canada and many other nations around the world. With record amounts of outstanding loans, easy access to credit, and advertisements everywhere we look, teaching our children to budget can pay off for the rest of their lives.
Whether it’s explaining the household finances or how unit prices work at the grocery store, kids who learn that money only stretches so far are more likely to think twice about where their own cash is going.
Many families choose to give an allowance because it gives children an opportunity to have their own money. This then lets children have control over their own finances, save for something they want, or give to a cause they believe in. In our house, we do not pay an allowance for chores. No one pays me to make my bed or do the laundry.
But, I do get paid for using my brain to the best of its ability, and so does my husband. So, we base our son’s allowance ($9 a week for an 8-year-old, with 1/3 being saved and 1/3 being given to charity and the other 1/3 kept for whatever he wants) on the fact that provided he does his best in school, he earns it. For most kids of school-age, school *is* their job, and so that’s how we give him a way to ‘earn’ income and budget.
Alos, never be afraid to say, “I’m sorry, but we can’t afford that right now.” If children learn this reality at a young age, they may steer clear from using credit cards on a whim when they get older.
In short, good money management is empowering, and can lead to a more secure future down the line.
4. Organizing Your Space
“A place for everything and everything in its place,” might seem a tad stuffy, but there is something to be said for knowing where to find all the art supplies when a sudden burst of creativity comes on.
Disorganization can be a frustrating time waster. But while some people are inherently tidy, the art of organization is a skill most of us need to learn. The earlier the lessons begin, the more likely it is to become a lifelong habit.
Of course, clutter and mess are a reality in most households. Life happens! But with the right tools and mindset, children can tackle a bedroom cleanup faster and with less anxiety. From sorting out broken or unused toys to throwing too-small clothes in a donation pile, kids of all ages can learn how to keep their space more useable, livable and comfortable.
And we have to get past wanting it done ‘right’ or ‘quickly.’ Sometimes it’ll take us working with our kiddos repeatedly until they get the hang of organizing, and sometimes it won’t be like you would organize. The purpose is to show them the power of organization, though, and when they learn it for themselves, it’s invaluable.
5. Time Management
This is a skill many of us struggle with in adulthood, in part because our family lives are so busy. On top of appointments and errands, learning, working, cooking, fixing, exercising, celebrating, creating and playing must all get factored in. It’s enough to make your head spin!
But scheduling is a beast that needs to be tamed whenever possible. It helps our lives run more smoothly and allows us to carve out some time for the good stuff.
My family has a whiteboard calendar in the kitchen. Each month, one of the kids becomes the keeper of the calendar, wiping last month clean, writing out the days of the current month, and placing any events and regular chores on the appropriate spaces. We all know to refer to that calendar daily.
On particularly busy weeks or months, someone will write “relaxation weekend” across a Saturday and Sunday, or “movie night!” on a Friday, so we all know to be home and available for some serious family time (and popcorn!) I love when our kids recognize the value of downtime and make room for it in their lives.
Getting children involved in everything from creating time-saving meal plans to prioritizing how they spend their own free moments can lead to some savvy adults with some serious time management skills.
We live in a busy world, and lucky for us, we have access to a lot of modern conveniences that make that world less busy, but often in a busier way. When we take a few purposed steps to make sure our kids have some vital, basic skills, we’re leading the way for them to be successful young adults who have skills despite the technology available.