Life Skills 101
Pulling together a list of things kids need to learn
I sometimes joke that Ruby is the person in infomercials. You know, the person who is completely flustered by the idea of spreading a blanket over their lap or buttoning a blouse. The person who encounters catastrophe by opening a window or trying to put a dish away. The person who can’t crack an egg or put ketchup on a burger without something dramatic happening.
None of this is because she’s not capable. She is entirely capable of pouring her own milk, making her own sandwiches, packing her own backpack. She even packs for sleepovers and trips by herself, and she’s flown solo possibly more times than I have.
Still, though, she has a flair for the theatrical that sometimes contrasts with her independent streak, which is what results in the infomercial-worthy antics. The other day, I asked her to pick up a book she’d dropped in the hallway. It was an entirely reasonable request, given politely, to do something she was 1,000 percent able to do with ease. (Yes, I know 1,000 percent is not a real thing.) But she was in a mood, and so she walked to the hallway, picked the book up with her toes, and hopped back to her room, scowling at me the whole time to make sure I registered just how much of an imposition this was on her.
We hear a lot these days about how incompetent millennials are, how they are weak, spoiled snowflakes who expect everyone to cater to them. I work on a college campus, though, so I know that this is not true – these kids are smart, engaged, caring, funny. But some of them are just figuring out how basic things work, which is why they sometimes need to be told that Room 405 is on the fourth floor or, as in the case of one of my long-ago interns, that things are filed by last name and not first name and that “the” doesn’t count as the first word. I needed to learn these things, too, once upon a time. We all did.
I want my kids to be functional adults, so I teach them all the time. When we go to a new building, I show them how to read the building directory. When we are at the airport, I show them how to find flights and terminals and baggage claims. When we are at restaurants, I try (and sometimes fail) to teach them basic table manners and etiquette.
There are some things, though, that are falling through the cracks. And so I asked last week on Facebook what are some things kids need to learn how to do by the time they are high school freshmen. Then I pulled together my own list of life skills that I’d like Ruby to try this summer.
Here are mine:
- Do a load of your own laundry, from start to finish, including folding and putting away.
- Write a handwritten thank you note to someone — it doesn’t have to be for a gift; it can be to a teacher, friend, or neighbor who has helped you.
- Find a recipe and make it, including writing out a grocery list for ingredients and reading reviews from other people who have made the recipe for any helpful feedback.
- Read two books that aren’t part of your required reading.
- Volunteer at a food pantry or other nonprofit organization.
- Build a model (car, airplane, boat).
- Visit the websites of three colleges you’re interested in and take notes about what you like about them.
- Draw your own comic.
- Read the newspaper and write a letter to the editor about something you’ve read.
- Take a CPR, first aid, or baby-sitting course.
- Watch while I show where the fuse box is, how to open it, and how to reset a flipped circuit breaker.
- Make a travel brochure for a place you’d like to visit. Research it to find out the main attractions and places to stay.
- Make your bed — put clean sheets on and everything.
- Go berry-picking.
- Go grocery shopping and try to keep track of how much each item costs. Try to guess the total amount of all the items and see how close you get. (My mom taught me this, and I am freakishly good at it. I would kill on The Price Is Right.)
- Make yourself a cozy study space for when school starts again.
- Write five haiku.
- Get rid of seven things you don’t play with anymore.
- Research who your state representatives are.
- Go without your iPhone or any technology for at least 24 hours (not counting the three weeks of camp).
What would you add?