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:
19 Picture Books That Teach Important Life Lessons
Personal Finance: Summer Learning Fun for Kids
Top 10: Ways to Teach Kids about Money
My Remote Learning Plan for My High School Sophomore
Teach Kids Social-Emotional Skills with Povi
Why Social Emotional Skills Rule the World! My College Roommate Will Fix Obamacare
Google Teaches Search Skills for Kids
Follow PragmaticMom’s board Life Skills for Kids on Pinterest.
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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.
63 thoughts on “Top 10 Life Skills Kids Need Before College”
I completely agree on the self-advocacy skills. I began having my daughter complete her own “check-in” at the receptionist for her medical and dental appointments. Big bonus points for receptionists who do not look over my daughter’s head to verify or validate her information with me!
The easiest place to start was the library – having the kids carry their own library cards and bring their books to the desk for check out. Librarians (as we know) ROCK!
What great ideas for letting kids experience self advocacy!! My kids check into their ortho appointments but they are much older now and I wish I had done that at the pediatrician when they were little!
Librarians are also such a great resource for all things including trying out self advocacy skills!!! I love that idea!! Thank you!
I didn’t go to a dorm college but from what I understand beer drinking is quite big on the campuses…so what about adding alcohol consumption & drinking responsibly!!
That’s a great point. My middle school girls have had a lot of questions about drugs and drinking lately. They are learning about this in Health Class. My husband is the go to for their questions.
I think you are right. We are trying to teach them what the consequences of drug use is … particularly to stay away from drug parties and to let us know when they want to leave parties early.
Great messages! Thank you for that!!
I am so glad I didn’t miss this article! I think I have 7 or 8 years but I am totally scared! Ugh… I think we only have laundry covered…. of all things…. btw, I clicked onto the failure-hyperlink and didn’t find anything. thanks for writing this post! great!
Thanks for the heads up on the hyperlink issue. Let me fix it. And thank you for your kind words!!
Here’s the failure link: http://jadeluckclub.com/embracing-failure-success/
I did a whole series of posts on failure on my Asian American blog, JadeLuckClub.com.
Excellent list. I wish I had started off with better self advocacy and job finding/interview skills!
I think most of learned self advocacy skills and job finding skills through trial and error when we were on our own. I know that I did!
This is a very thoughtful and important list for parents. My daughter naturally began advocating for herself as a child in restaurants. We were shocked when she’d point things out to the waitress or ask for more napkins etc. Problem solving and people skills were at the top of my list. Some skills come easier than others. Great post!
Thanks so much Patricia! That’s so great that your daughter taught herself self advocacy skills at a young age!
What a fantastic list. We love the piggy bank you featured and give it as a gift to families. Thanks so much for including our table topics in the list too!
You are very welcome! I love your table topics series!
This is a really wonderful list, Mia, and has given me a lot to think about! My oldest (7) definitely doesn\’t have self advocacy skills. I remember how loooong it took me to get them, so I am going to work harder with her at that! I\’m featuring this on Monday\’s After School Linky.
Thanks so much Anna for featuring my post! I really appreciate it and am so happy that you find it useful. It stems from anxiety on my part since my oldest has four years until she leaves the nest for college! We are working our way through the list for her!
P.S. Have you thought of making a big image using Picmonkey with just the words “top 10 life skills kids need before college?” I can see that being something people would want to repin and check out – would love to see this post get a lot of mileage!
Great idea! I’ll do that!
Hi Mia, I’m visiting from Countdown in Style and I love your list especially the self-advocacy and problem solving. Somehow I did survive college away from home even when I hated laundry, didn’t know how to cook and I had no sense of direction. Haha. It was a lot tougher though so I’m gonna have to look for these when my son is ready to go to college which is gonna be yearsssss from now. 🙂
Me too! I had to learn most of these skills the hard way in college and post college! LOL!
Great points! 😀 I need to learn how to do laundry…
I bet it will take you 10 minutes to master laundry! 🙂
Love Love Love this!! I try to tell my 15 year old step son these all the time.
Sounds like your step son will be prepared for life when he leaves for college!
These are some great skills. I definitely agree that they are all needed before a child leaves the nest. I would say I would also want them to learn a little about cars (changing a tire, putting oil in, etc) Thanks for being such a lovely co-hos with us again this week!
Yes, I love your addition! I am learning about cars now … a little late, I agree! My husband says that he will teach all our kids how to change tires, add oil etc when they learn to drive. I just figured out how to open my hood and add windshield washer fluid recently. A little late!
What a great list. You know, my Mother put us in Inroads throughout high school. Have you heard of Inroads? It’s a program for minorities in the sciences, math and business – and they build skills. They help you get internships, help with interviewing, etc. We have to dress up in suits to attend events.
It was a really great program – it really prepared me for life in general. To this day, I am an extremely good interviewer – which I 100% attribute to the Inroads program.
What a great program! It sounds like every kid would benefit from a program like Inroads! Interview skills are so important; not just for getting a job but for finding a way to connect with new people that you meet. You put those skills to use as a blogger too which is why you are so successful so quickly! Thanks for sharing about the Inroads program!
This is such a wonderful list! I loved that you included self advocacy; we let the kids order at restaurant too. The waiters/waitresses are always surprised when our five year old can do it all on his own 🙂 Even though we’re good at that, I still do quite a bit; I’m trying to lay off my helicopter ways… trying.
Thanks for sharing your post with us via Mommy Monday.
Yes! This is a great list. Definitely pinning it right now!
Thanks so much Aubrey!
What a great list! There are some I would expect and many I didn’t, but totally agree with. Thanks for sharing this with the After School Linky crowd!
Thank you so much Deceptively Educational!
This was so timely for me as my son enters his senior year this coming September. All we talk about is where he’ll be going for college. Beofre he takes off, there are still so many small but important lessons I need to teach him.
I’m so glad you found my list helpful! I hope your son likes it too! Congrats to him leaving the nest! What an exciting time!
Thanks for this great post. Yes, self-advocacy and laundry, i appreciate the order. Very good list for survival skills out in the wild!
Couldn’t agree more with how important these skills are for teens to know! Featured you on Mom’s Library!
Thanks so much for including my link Ashley on Mom’s Library! That really means a lot to me!!
I totally agree with your list. I hope my son masters them all. Thank you so much for linking this wonderful post up to The Sunday Showcase.
Thanks so much JDaniel4’s Mom! It makes me really happy that you agree with my list! Thanks for hosting The Sunday Showcase!
I’m not sure I have any amazing tips on how to do it, but I think another big one is self motivation. You really have to learn how to motivate yourself to do the things you need to do.
Hi Denver Photographer,
That’s a great one! Self motivation and determination go a long way towards success!
Wow this is seriously a good read (will pin this). I love the idea of having kids ask for things they need from the waiter directly! Awesome. I agree about so many of the skills too, many overlooked, like personal finance, how to conduct yourself in an interview (I’d even say guide them towards the kinds of jobs that would be most useful to them) and cooking. I’ve started doing a little bit here and there (my eldest is only five) like giving them coins to save, cooking with them. Such good tips for when they’re older!
Thanks so much for sharing!! Kids can really do quite a lot on their own when they are pretty young, I’ve discovered. We had them asking for help at restaurants themselves as soon as they were able to talk so it became pretty natural for them. And the waiters love it!
Never got anything like this when I started college. Never going back though. I guess I’ll just pass this on to my kin then. Then again, most people didn’t either even after graduating. This will be useful. Thanks.
Thanks so much Matt! There is always the school of life to learn these things too! That works equally well!
I wish i could’ve known these life skills before. This would be great for teens to have these skills as early as now because when the time and occasion calls for it they will definitely thank you for this!
I could have used these life skills myself before college! Thank so much for your kind words Kaye!
Great guidelines indeed. All these life skills kids or teens should have before college. It is because they can easily handle college life and enjoy college life.
Thanks so much! I wish I had these before I went to college! Learning it the hard way is painful! 🙂
We are just a month away from the May 1st deposit deadline for five colleges, and I have no idea what will be decided. I enjoyed your list and it actually made me feel good that my child has learned and practices MOST of these skills, which she picked up through home, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and high school. No one talks about life skills needed for college. Parents and kids are counseled on high GPAs and SAT study skills and college essays and well-rounded activities. However, the reason I did a google search is because she is not making progress on a few skills and now that we are 1 month away from a big decision, I have formed the opinion that it may be too early for her to live away from home. Here’s why: Time Management – You mention the calendar, but it is so much more than the calendar! It was a painful year or so, but we have trained our children to finally keep track of their activities. We have a shared family calendar and my children are responsible for checking their emails, sports and theatre schedules, work hours, etc and posting them to the calendar. It was difficult, but we succeeded in getting them to confront the conflicts without us. For example, talking to the coach or the church choir director themselves about why they can’t attend something. BUT, we are so far from success on being ready and on time. We are far from even being just 5 minutes late – it is a constant 15 min to half hour lateness. This is a cause of huge fights and conflicts – skills like getting up on time, setting an alarm, and being ready. I shouldn’t have to pack an 17 year-old’s lunch or wake her up. She even prefers to not drive and instead be driven so she can put on makeup in the car when she has her own bathroom/sink to do that at home. I dread special occasions. They are not happy occasions because there is always an argument about leaving – very stressful and ends in tears for one of us. I have tried to not nag and throw in the towel. I try so hard, even to not say “don’t you think you should go upstairs and get dressed? or are you planning on washing/drying your hair before you go?” The next skill that is related to this is NAVIGATING DIRECTIONS/MAPs. My daughter should be driving everywhere, making decisions on where to park, planning enough time to find a location, having parking money, knowing alternate routes if you make a wrong turn or there is traffic. First of all she doesn’t leave enough time for this and we’ve “punished” her by not letting her drive if she is leaving late. This has failed to solve anything, as it puts less responsibility and stress on her as far as getting herself somewhere. I don’t know if these issues can be overlooked. Some friends tell me it will fix itself once she is away at college, but I see it as not quite being mature enough. I enjoyed your list!
We have the same issues with time management and with fixing logistical conflicts. For example, I asked my daughter to reschedule her dentist appointment since she had a minor personal conflict and just preferred to have the appointment moved. But making that call to her dentist office was apparently a high barrier for her. Her orthodondist thought she had a small cavity under a band that was recently removed and my daughter was worried her dentist 1) would not know who she was, 2) would have no idea about her orthodontist’s diagnosis about the cavity, 3) beconfused about which tooth was involved. I explained that her dentist would have her orthodontist’s paperwork including the recommendation that they look at a particular tooth and she just needed to reschedule an appointment for a filling which takes a half hour. My normally independent daughter refused and wanted me to deal with it. We are also have trouble getting our 15-year-old to wake up on time and she also naps frequently requiring multiple wake up calls both for school and for her activities. And then the pressure is on me to get her on time for her sports practice which are punitive via laps for being late. I know that teens require as much sleep as toddlers but it’s frustrating to watch her nap which makes her late and then makes her stay up late, making a vicious cycle of not waking early enough in the morning. We are also on a family calendar and still my two kids with iPhone access to it fail to put in their important stuff like a sports tournament and also fail to check it when they make plans.
I guess the only thing that works is small baby steps for improvement with forward and backward movement. It’s not perfect but what can you do?!
It’s not easy parenting teens, that’s for sure!
OMG, we have exactly the same issues with our 15-year-old. Especially the time management/waking up/tardiness that stresses out the driver. I think it’s because teens need as much sleep as toddlers but get just 6 hours because of their workload. It’s crazy! Mine is always falling asleep as weird times which messes up her sleep schedule. I’m not sure if it will fix itself in college. It will probably get worse before it gets better as least that is what happened to me!
This is new for me and I want to follow this for my kids. I totally agree all those write up and hope will come this site to read new thing from here.
Thanks so much for your kind words!
Perfect Points, Some things are there which i am not following.But I am completely in the favour of you. The self-dependent kids can really do well in their future. Keep sharing such blog articles.
Thanks so much Abhilasha!
What a great list. I learned most of these “skills” at home. I think they also need to learn basic manners, and social etiquette, how to say thank you, and send sympathy cards, etc,!
Great point! YES! Basic etiquette is so important and not so commonly taught any more. My husband is our etiquette expert; he learned really old fashioned manners from old timer military men growing up near a military golf course. I love that he has these old fashioned manners like opening the door, sir and ma’am, and written thank you notes.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I did have some of these skills but for the most part, I’ve had to learn the hard way. And, as I write, some of these skills I’m still trying to master. As a result, I want my kids to be better equipped for life and will be introducing them, going forward. I particularly liked the tip about self-advocacy. It helps develop independence in children. It makes them speak up, when they have to. Thanks for sharing!
I have to say that even small things in the self advocacy department like making their own appointments with the orthodonist or dealing with a little issue that they can handle like switching a class seems to really empower them and set them up for the future when they are on their own in college.
great . Thanks for sharing this. very important facts
I’m glad you liked it Lora!