With so much for our children to learn in today’s high-tech world, it’s all too easy for them to miss out on practical life skills, whether it’s running a load of wash, reading a map, or handwriting a letter. A recent study by the online security company AVG Technologies found that while 58 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds in the U.S. can navigate a smartphone, fewer than one out of six (15 percent) could make their own breakfast. “I see many parents doing everything for their kids instead of letting them figure out how to fend for themselves,” says Tim Elmore, founder of Growing Leaders, a nonprofit in Norcross, Georgia, that works with schools and civic groups to promote leadership qualities in children. Start teaching these life skills now, and put your kid on the path toward independence.
Too many teens head to college with no clue how to clean their clothes. Don’t let your kid become one of them. You can begin teaching your child when she is around 6. If you have a top-loading washer, keep a step stool nearby. Walk her through the process—how to measure and add the detergent, choose the settings, and start the machine. Amy Mascott, who blogs at TeachMama.com, taught her three kids (now 9, 10, and 12). She chose cute names for jobs: Wash Warrior, Super-Fly Dry Guy, Put ’Em Away Triple Play. Mascott says there have been snafus, like the time a whole load was folded and put away damp. “But I’m not aiming for perfection. I’m aiming for them to get the job done,” she says.
Lots of preschoolers learn to plant seeds in class but not how to transfer sprouts into a garden. Whitney Cohen, coauthor of The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids, shares the basics.
Your child already loves giving presents, and wrapping them makes it even more satisfying. Preschoolers can help cut the paper and stick on the tape, while kindergartners can complete additional steps with your help, like removing the price tag, finding the right size box, and wrapping paper all the way around the gift to make sure it fits before cutting it.
Toddlers can dictate a letter to a family member (enhanced with drawings), attach the stamp, and drop it into a mailbox. Teach an older child how to address an envelope and the five parts of a letter: date, greeting (“Dear…”), body, closing (“Sincerely”), and signature. You can also have them help with holiday cards, find a pen pal (sites such as Amazing Kids and International Pen Friends can help), or correspond with POTUS by having them address a letter to The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20500.
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 mom of four and author of Young Chefs. Yogurt with fruit is a good first DIY breakfast. Preschoolers can spoon yogurt into a bowl and add prewashed cut-up fruit. Work with kids 5 and older on making sandwiches and smoothies (monitor the blender closely). Around age 7 or 8, your kid can try toaster-oven faves like English-muffin pizza, or make a simple salad by ripping lettuce, dumping in croutons, and cutting up tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. By age 10, kids can use the stovetop with supervision for a grilled-cheese sandwich. Focus on safety and practice, and you might just have a MasterChef Junior on your hands.
If you’ve ever gotten lost following a GPS’s turn-by-turn voice directions, you know why being able to read a map is essential (even if it’s one on your phone). These activities will build your child’s navigational skills.
Teach your child from a young age not to freak out when he sees blood (and don’t overreact yourself). Giving him a game plan will distract him from the pain and come in handy when you’re not around to kiss his boo-boos: Apply pressure until the bleeding stops, rise the cut with water, dab on some antibiotic ointment, then apply a bandage.
Keep rags or a sponge handy for wiping toothpaste blobs off the sink. Toilet duties require greater skill. School-age kids can clean the lid, seat, and base with a disinfecting wipe. Make sure they wash their hands thoroughly afterward. Big kids can scrub the bowl with a nontoxic cleaner: Sprinkle the sides with baking soda, let it sit for a few minutes, pour in some vinegar, then scrub with a toilet brush.
Teaching kids to be smart consumers takes practice. This three-step approach worked for our family: