Why aren’t Life Skills Taught in School and How Kids Can Learn Them

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When we think of “life skills” our minds tend to go in a few different directions. You might be thinking of survival skills, the kind people need in everyday situations rather than wilderness survival. Some people think of the world of business and work, as life skills often go hand-in-hand with corporate success. Educators often consider life skills to be basic self-care actions like feeding, dressing and cooking for one’s self.

All of these are correct… and they’re all dead wrong.

So why aren’t life skills taught in school? More importantly, how do we uncover what are the life skills kids need to learn at any age? Think of common sense… if common sense actually existed.

 

 

 

 

Why life skills aren’t taught in school

If you’re asking yourself why real-world skills aren’t part of the school system, you’re already ahead of the game. It shows that you understand the importance of developing these real-world skills, even if you don’t already have a grasp of which skills this refers to.

However, If you- like many people debate– believe that school doesn’t prepare us for life because life skills classes aren’t taught in school. Then, you’re missing an important point. Here it goes.

Life skills are common sense, which means that they are learned through experience. Well, you could now ask, why aren’t life experiences taught in school?

You may already see how that question is nonsensical. We learn about the real world in school every day. However, the school system can’t represent the real world. The real world is too complex for schools to copy.

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For example, pretend you’re lost in the freezing wild. You need water, which is common sense. But what if you eat some snow, it’s a source of clean drinking water that will help you survive, right? Wrong.

In a freezing environment, eating snow will lead to hypothermia occurring faster. Instead, you want to start a fire and melt the snow to survive (Don’t quit reading just yet. We’re talking extreme survival situations here.)

Now, you’ve learned about hypothermia and other interesting phenomena at school, but only through everyday experience do they become common sense to you.

Should teachers or parents teach life skills?

It might seem impossible to “teach” life skills. After all, some people just seem incapable of making good choices. But in reality, those people aren’t incapable, they just didn’t practice enough. Life skills can be learned anywhere, including in school. But can they be taught? not in the traditional sense.

See, it takes modeling or having parents and teachers demonstrate their own good life skills at every turn. You can’t teach your kids to save their allowance if you’re whipping out the credit card every time you want something. You can’t demand that they eat more vegetables if you’re swinging through the fast-food drive-thru four times a week.

Let me give you an example of how life skills can be modeled in school.

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One teacher of at-risk high school students uses a model she calls “Three Steps.” In any situation, you pause and ask yourself, “What will happen next? And then what? And then what?”

This teacher uses this strategy brilliantly to de-escalate problems. For example, a student might be angry and want to hit someone. The teacher would say, “And then what?” The student would stop and say, “I’ll get sent to the office.” The teacher would calmly say, “And then what?” Sighing, the student would mumble, “They’ll call my caseworker and I’ll get locked up again.”

The goal there was immediate and short term. But this type of strategy can easily be modeled for children who need to learn critical thinking. Showing your kids how you evaluate a situation and weigh the outcomes is a great tool for their success. Asking the question, “And then what?” when your child presents an issue or request can help them make better choices for themselves.

So, Life Skills are Important. But Which Ones?

The drinking skill up above probably is not going to be a big factor in your kids’ lives, but there are so many other skills that will. Those other skills will also have the power to make or break them. It can lift them up to achieve success or tear down any hope of opportunity.

There’s good news and bad news about this question, though. First for the good news: the World Health Organization has created a list of ten essential life skills. However, the bad news is that their life skills are “categories” of skills rather than actual examples. So let’s take a look at both.

Here are what the WHO considers the 10 vital life skills for all humans, in no particular order: Click on each skill to view it.

Problem Solving
Critical Thinking
Effective Communication
Decision Making
Creative Thinking
Interpersonal Relationships
Self-Awareness
Empathy
Coping with stress
Handling Emotions

 

It seems like a pretty straightforward list until you realize that these are types of life skills, not actual, tangible skills. Where do you begin? Which ones do you start with? What are the activities that you use at every developmental milestone?

Below you’ll find not only age-appropriate life skills but examples and activities that you can do to help prepare your children for the real world. Instilling these skills in your kids is important. However, making sure this is an ongoing process and not a once-and-done idea is vital.

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10 Examples Of Life Skills That aren’t taught in school

The WHO life skills list is great, but it doesn’t exactly answer the question, “What are the life skills that aren’t taught in school?” Now that you have access to some broad skills, it’s time to come up with real-world examples of life skills that aren’t taught in school, and how to put those skills into use.

A number of sources online have compiled their lists of life skills that aren’t taught in school, and they all have merit. But here’s our favorite ten, in no particular order of importance.

  • Time Management
  • Personal Hygiene
  • Home maintenance/cleanliness
  • Planning ahead and Organization
  • Healthy choices/nutrition
  • Decision-making
  • Money/spending Management
  • Self-advocacy
  • Bouncing Back From Failure
  • Proactive Care

This list is not at all comprehensive. Some of the skills, like time management and decision-making, will be a constant work in progress as your child develops. Others, like money management and good nutrition, can be introduced early but really can’t be utilized safely until your child is a little older.

However, skills like bouncing back from failure and self-advocacy (standing up for yourself) can start the moment your child begins to navigate the world around them. Don’t put off any of these skills as being for “older” kids. You can begin modeling these skills through your own words and actions at any age.

How do you “teach” your child to look at a situation and think, “I should do something about that,” when they’re not able to care for themselves?

That’s where things like good nutritional/health habits, proactive care (taking care of a problem before it becomes a big problem), and home care are important. Learning to do their own laundry, rinse out their own dishes, or get help fixing that hole in their backpack while it’s still small are huge experiences. Don’t be fooled into thinking those things are beyond a child’s grasp, though.

Hint: the sooner you start requiring things like laundry and washing up their dishes, the more likely it will become a habit.

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How do you teach children life skills?

Remeber when we said that life skills can’t be taught in the traditional sense? Right, we broke the lists of life skills out there into broader categories, and came up with only three that will help you teach children life skills the right way.

First, there’s caring for others. Next, caring for yourself. Finally, caring for the world as a whole. In an effort to teach these basic ideas to kids, though, you have to invoke one of the most important life skills of all: empathy.

Empathy For Others

Empathy starts at home, and it has to be modeled every day. Phrases like, “That’s not my problem” or “Sucks to be you” have no business in your home. Even if the meaning behind them is correct—it really isn’t your problem, for example—the phrases lack all empathy. Find better ways to phrase these and other sentiments so that empathy is front and center at all times. Try, “I wish I could help, but I can’t” or “Wow, that must be awful for you,” just for starters.

Empathy For Yourself

After empathy for others, self-worth may be the most valuable life skill. After all, a child who doesn’t see their own worth certainly cannot step up and help others. Teaching self-confidence through valid praise is important. Demonstrating self-care through “me time” and activities for the family also teaches this skill.

Remember, it’s never too early to teach life skills. They just have to be age appropriate and developmentally possible. Empathy can be modeled even for children who cannot speak yet. Self-care and self-confidence should be a daily focus in your family.

Empathy For The World

After these two vital skills, perhaps the most important one to focus on is critical thinking, which includes a broader world view. Teaching your children the value of pausing to look at a situation might be the most important thing they ever learn. Like that proverbial “common sense,” though, critical thinking is equal parts stopping to figure out a problem and having learned experience to draw on.

One of the best ways kids learn about any topic is through doing. Even better, when it comes to life skills, playing around is an awesome tool. It’s easy to incorporate role-playing, games with prizes, and pretend play that will reinforce life skills.

4 Life Skills Activities

1. Kitchen Helpers 

Demonstrate good nutritional choices and planning ahead by having your kids give input into the weekly menu. Let them help by being the chef, complete with their own apron and utensils. Even funny video games about cooking can show good choices at work.

2. Money management

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Chore charts are a great way to help your kids understand the power of money… as well as the benefits of saving. You can make your own game similar to Monopoly, only one that doesn’t take ten hours and lead to broken living room furniture. A checkbook register for your kids where they write their earned and deducted money can also get them in the habit of keeping track of their spending.

3. Lights, camera, toothbrush!

There are so many ways to make personal hygiene fun, but doesn’t it seem like the younger kids have all the best toys and gadgets? Invest in an LED light show shower head (surprisingly inexpensive online), toothbrushing timer game apps for mobile devices, even a Bluetooth speaker for your shower to encourage your kids to enjoy personal hygiene, not just suffer through it.

4. Standing up for yourself

Perhaps the scariest thing about being a parent is thinking about someone hurting our kids. Teaching your kids how to stand up for themselves is important, but how do you teach your kids to fight back without it leading to problems at home? Make a game of it. Award prizes for the best “snappy comeback” to a bullying situation, a predator, even a teacher at school who isn’t playing fair. Demonstrate how to be polite but effective, or when to let all heck break loose and scream.

Conclusion

There are so many things our kids need to know, and it can feel like there’s a ticking clock hanging over your head. Your kids will leave home someday, and it’s up to you to prepare them along the way. But you can’t possibly cram a childhood worth of life skills into that last year before they move on. Understanding what are the life skills your kid needs to know will help you plan for their instruction and practice all along the way.

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