The Importance of Teaching Life Skills in Homeschooling
Socialization is a key topic among homeschoolers and particularly from naysayers of homeschooling. It could be that they aren't really asking about our children's actual socialization skills, but more about are we essential life skills they hope our children are learning.
Learning how to be a productive part of society is one of the most important things you can teach your child. It’s more important than math, science, or literature, and has a direct bearing on the rest of their lives. And it’s far more than your child’s being able to talk to a variety of different people.
So, how do we go about teaching life skills, and which life skills are the most important? The most important thing to know, right from the beginning, is that the “most important” life skills, will differ from child to child, sometimes even within the same family.
At first thought, life skills might not seem like an important addition to your homeschooling day. After all, aren’t you doing life already? Isn’t a chore chart and the incentives they earn from it enough to constitute teaching life skills? What about just living day to day within the family unit? Well, it would be nice if these things really were enough. But until you have that child heading off for college with their life skills (or lack thereof) for real-life, you won’t fully realize just how important it really is!
The Importance of Teaching Life Skills in Homeschooling
It should be super easy just to know what life skills are needed, shouldn’t it? I mean, after all, we are living them every single day. However, teaching them to our children can sometimes leave us with that “deer in the headlights” feeling. We wonder how this messy, unorganized tween could possibly be expected to keep up with regular lessons and life skills work. But the truth is it’s just as important as all the other lessons we teach and can be learned in much the same way: trial and error, practice, and lots of patience.
When it comes to knowing what you should actually teach with regard to life skills, just think about what your children will need to know when living on their own in the real world. Some children come by certain life competencies naturally. For instance, some are natural extremely organized, keeping things clean and tidy without your ever even needing to ask them. Others might be inclined towards cooking or saving money. Some may have great social skills. However, even if they’re great in some areas, they also need practice in areas where they’re not so well-versed.
For the college-bound child, think in terms of dorm life. For the child that isn’t planning on leaving home right away after graduation, think about planning for the future. For those going into the military, think strict adherence to specific rules. It helps greatly to know which direction your child is headed, but some things are just a given. And with just a bit of planning and thinking ahead, it will be easier than you think to figure that out.
We can’t always know exactly what the future holds for our children, even if they have specific plans for their future when they are grown-up. Things can change so quickly that sometimes there’s no chance to plan. That’s where we can help students with preplanning for life skills. It’s our job to have them so prepared for problem-solving that when life throws them a curveball they’ll have the skills necessary to think it through, deal with it, and stay in the game.
It’s also important for our children to learn, and be confident in, a certain level of independence, even at an early age as little ones. Some children are scared even to try for fear that they’re just going to “do it wrong”. Others might be incredibly disheartened if they see us come right along behind them after they have finished a task, and do it over in what we consider to be “the right way”. Teaching them an acceptable way of doing things is needed so they can learn, however, we never want to make our kids feel inferior by doing something over when it wasn't done the way we would have done it.
Taking the time to actually teach the process to our children can not only assist us by having their participation for certain tasks, but it can help our child tremendously. It gives them a sense that they are doing the task correctly because it’s been explained and modeled to them in a way that they can understand and replicate. There’s just nothing like the look in a child’s eyes when they finally catch on to something they've been trying to learn or to do for the first time!
It's also important to remember that teaching life skills also means teaching our young adults that it's ok to change their minds. If they've started down a path and realize that that path isn't for them, there's nothing wrong with changing paths. Decision-making skills are needed in all areas of life and all kinds of restarts can happen in life.
If we've given our kids the assurance of learning something new, they’ll gain the confidence they need to go forward in life without hunkering down under all kinds of “what if’s”. This confidence starts in the preschoolers' stage, in their desire to do it by themselves, whatever “it” happens to be, and continues right through the young adult years. Leaving them to flail around in failure through trial and error can sometimes serve a purpose with natural consequences, but if it’s within our power to teach and model, the benefits could be far greater in some instances.
As you teach these life skills to your child, whether it’s laundry or cooking, or driving, there is a perfect opportunity for familial bonds to be strengthened. This one-on-one time is a great opportunity to share thoughts, fears, and plans, leading to more trust in each other during this very crucial time. In a world where screen time has taken over so many lives, I cannot stress enough the importance of taking these moments every chance you can get!
Which Life Skills Do We Teach?
- Communication - Effective ways to communicate are some of the most important life skills you can teach while homeschooling. This doesn’t mean simply knowing how and what to speak or write but goes far beyond. Listening, for instance, is important in the communication skill set, as is being able to express a thought confidently and clearly for feeling. Understanding social cues and knowing when to contribute to an ongoing conversation are factors as well. Learning good communication skills offers young people the opportunity to build self-esteem and self-awareness.
Teaching good communication skills involves allowing your child the opportunity to write and give speeches, contribute to a debate, or write a letter. If you’re part of a homeschooling co-op group, there are probably opportunities there for these activities, or you could look further towards colleges or even a community theater. For younger children, think in terms of scavenger hunts, for learning to listen or follow written directions, and playing telephone games that involve their taking a detailed message to recite back to you.
- Grocery shopping - This might seem like something your child could be pretty good at, but without the right skill set, they could go broke long before their actual needs are met. A well-stocked pantry is important, as are healthy foods, and meeting these needs first should be a primary goal. Add in teaching how to make a good grocery list, shopping the sales, and preplanning for a week can lead to a well-run future household. Teaching money management as a part of grocery shopping is a natural way of teaching budgeting.
- Cooking - Once the groceries are purchased and in place, cooking is the next logical step. You can actually start this process early by teaching young children about measuring cups, mixing foods, and selecting ingredients for a recipe. As they get into high school, they can learn to plan meals for the week, starting first with a single day, and then preparing recipes themselves.
- Money Management - Learning how to manage money is another skill that too often gets left off because we think the knowledge will somehow simply manifest itself. However, we should begin teaching these skills from an early age. The benefits that will carry over into adulthood for our children will be worth more than you can imagine. Learning how to open a bank account, use a credit card, and create a savings account are taught in some public schools, however weightier matters are not. What public school student can tell you how credit actually works? Can they calculate interest and explain mortgages and other lending terms? Can they figure out which is the better buy at the grocery store? Do they know how to plan towards retirement? All of these are an important part of managing money.
Interestingly enough, these are often things that are not even considered worthy of teaching until college-level. By that time, many young adults have already gotten themselves buried under a mountain of debt. It’s far better to begin teaching these theories early, and extensively, so they will not be left to find out the hard way.
- Time management - Is another huge factor in life skills, and also another that you should begin teaching from a young age. It’s difficult, especially for the unmotivated child or teen, but with just a bit of creativity and coercion, it’s easier than you think. For instance, give them a chunk of their schedule over which they are in charge, along with a list of activities that must be done in that timeframe. Then teach them about taking care of the high-priority aspects first, which can include making a list that allows them to check off things they’ve already finished.
This can take time, there’s no doubt. And there will be all manner of eye-rolling, sighing, and possibly some disagreement. But if we push through, they will soon find out that it’s actually a very helpful life skill they can put to use in so many areas, especially as they get into the upper teen years or take a job. Their chosen profession or job will force them to realize that “time is money”. It might take some years, but eventually, you’ll get a “thank you” for the effort expended here.
- General life skills - Everyday skills like using a washing machine, knowing how to apply first aid, taking care of our mental health are all very different skills but are all needed just the same. Teaching these types of everyday skills will be used in the most practical ways in life. Overlooking these types of things are doing a disservice to our children.
Years ago, I knew a homeschooling mom in Nebraska who told me that a child should know how to run and manage the kitchen by the age of 12. Life skills were a heavy skillset in her homeschool, with seven children, and the household ran amazingly smooth as everyone pitched in, not only for chores and general household management but with older children helping to teach the younger ones. If we start early enough, we can instill plenty of common-sense life skills into our children that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
Life Skills for Special Needs Children
We cannot… no, we must not… throw away the idea of life skills if we are homeschooling a special needs child. There may even be those that tell you there’s no point, but as their parent, you know there is a point! In fact, I was told that my own autistic son would never look me in the eyes and would most assuredly not speak to me in a conversational manner. Our special needs child might go through different child development stages, but helping them to become as self-sufficient as possible should be a long-term goal we strive for.
I am happy to report that he now not only does both, but unless you know him personally, you might not even know that he has autism! He has several deficits in reading and giving social cues, and he’s not able effectively to count money, but otherwise, he does many things that “normal” 24-year-olds do.
Special needs parents know that not every special needs child is alike. For some, life skills might include learning how to brush their hair, shave, or shower, with all the steps included. For others, it might be learning how to cook, shop, or even drive a car. Only the parent really knows what these children really need to learn but, as the mother of a special needs child myself, allow me to encourage you to start as early as you possibly can. For these children, learning takes two, three, or four times as long as “normal” children, and sometimes longer. Practice is a keyword for these children, and we must give them ample opportunity to do so.
Life skills are crucial, not just for some children, but for all children. And we must always factor them into our homeschooling days, starting as early as possible. For those that did not begin homeschooling from the start, I urge you not to lose heart. If you’re only beginning the homeschooling journey in middle school, then that’s your starting point. It might be a little more time-consuming and stressful, but once you find a routine, it will be so worth it.
In the meantime, enjoy the journey and do what you can, where you can. You don’t have to do it all right away, and bad days will happen. When they do, take some time to regroup and start over! Just like the rest of us, you’ll figure it out!
To borrow a cornerstone Scripture of the Homeschool Solutions podcast: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9)