My book list of Top 10 Books to Teach Kids to Be More Responsible made me start to think about life skills that kids need before going off to college. That and the fact that my oldest, Grasshopper and Sensei, will be starting high school next fall so we have only 4 years to tackle this list!
What are the life skills that you think kids need before leaving the nest? Do you remember struggling with any life skills while in college? Please share!
Top 10 Life Skills Kids Need Before College
1) Self Advocacy
This is my #1 priority because it’s the mother lode of life skills and the key to fixing life’s issues. My husband and I started teaching this when the kids were little by simply letting them ask the waiter or waitress for things that they needed rather than having us fix it. It’s usually something like needing a fork at a Chinese restaurant because my kids are not that dextrous with chopsticks, or needing more napkins.
Surprisingly, the leap from asking for help at a restaurant to solving class schedules is not a very big leap. This actually worked for my kids!
Doing your own laundry in college might not have been a competitive sport like it was at my school, but there’s more to it than sorting and saving up your quarters. My business school roommate used to jam in 3 loads into one washing machine, and the clothes in the middle would not even get wet. Suffice it to say that his laundry ended up dingy and wrinkled.
There’s also the issue of waiting for your laundry or chancing it that certain items won’t disappear. Laundry in college is a lot more complex than it would appear.
We’re starting with basics: sort into 3 piles (whites, lights, and darks). Change the temperature for each pile. Hot for whites and warm for lights and darks. Don’t overstuff. Don’t dry wool or cashmere. My kids will thank me one day!
3) Personal Finance: Budgeting and Credit Card Management
It’s so easy to get into credit card debt when you get your first credit card in college. They are so easy to obtain and the credit card companies are so generous in raising your credit limits!
Save/Donate/Spend is something that all kids can learn at any age. It’s simply budgeting money into three piles. And the rule for credit cards is simple: pay off balances every month!
I have a guest post on Credit and Debit Card Personal Finance for Middle School Kids.
4) People Skills: The Art of Dinner Conversation to Make New Friends
My college roommate who is now on Obama’s cabinet as Health Secretary is my touchstone on the importance of Social-Emotional skills and the art of conversation. I’ll be blogging on her shortly. In the meantime, I recommend Growing Book by Book’s Table Topics as a great way to get into the habit of pleasant and interesting dinner conversation.
5) Time Management
I think tools can help anyone learn the skill of time management. We’re starting by putting the family calendar on Google Calendar and putting our two kids’ iPhones on as well. They are responsible for updating their events and keeping track of their own schedule. The family calendar is especially useful when my kids ask if I can drive them somewhere. If they look at the calendar, they can see exactly where I am supposed to be!
6) Problem Solving
Like Self Advocacy, this is an important one to foster but how exactly??! I think the secret might lie in not giving the solution but in asking probing questions. I know this is easier said than done!
7) Running a Household: Cleaning, Cooking, Meal Planning
When I shared a house during a college summer, I discovered that one of my roommates had no idea how to clean whatsoever. I wasn’t the best at cleaning myself, but we were forced to help clean at my house when we had guests. My chosen chore was usually the bathroom because I hate vacuuming.
The college experience often includes living in an apartment, whether it’s during the summer or the school year. Without dorm food, you are on your own and I’ve noticed that those kids who can cook become instant Rockstars!
The upside of teaching kids to clean, cook, meal plan, and grocery shop is that they can help out at home. It’s a gift of learning that keeps on giving!
We’ve tried cooking camps but I noticed that it didn’t seem to translate somehow into cooking and cleaning up the kitchen at home. We’re doing a combination of learning by participating and trial and error to get our kids to learn to cook.
8) The Art of the Interview and Other Job Finding Skills
The average worker today stays in a job for 4.4 years. In college, it’s probably a lot shorter because there are part-time jobs, work-study jobs, and summer jobs that all have to be obtained. Since my past life was in the world of work via freelancers, I could go on and on.
But after conducting over 1000 interviews with candidates, I will say this: the art of the job interview is to make it a conversation. And, the key to a job opportunity is the ability to network. If you have these two skills, a job search is a numbers game.
Again these skills come back to Social-Emotional skills and the art of conversation. Keep up those family dinners. It’s where a lot of valuable learning occurs!
9) Risk Taking and Resiliency
Did you know that I love failure? It’s the best teacher in the world. As an entrepreneur with many failures under my belt, I can honestly say that failure is your friend. The key to failure is to fail often, fail small and learn from failure. Resiliency is key but it’s all in your attitude. If you see failure as your teacher, you naturally get up to try again. If you see failure as something shameful, you will never have the courage to try.
How can we teach failure? It’s all in the interpretation whether it’s internal or external via other people. No one can make you feel bad about failure if you don’t see it that way. As parents, try encouraging risk-taking and turn failure into another opportunity to try something slightly different. New and improved. Praise failure and the courage to try even more than success.
10) Navigation/Map Reading
I have no sense of direction whatsoever, so this is high on my list! But I remember how intimidating learning to take the public bus which I have never mastered or the subway was. Inbound versus Outbound was vastly confusing until a friend from Boston pointed out that it’s about whether the train is headed to Park Station (i.e. INBOUND) or heading away from it (i.e. OUTBOUND). I was then able to navigate any subway station in the world after this valuable lesson!
Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Public Buses, Subways … learning to navigate all forms of transportation is a valuable skill and not as easy as it would seem.
p.s. Related posts:
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.