Sunday, July 8, 2012

Kids' Bucket List

A little fluff for the post-Holiday about an Open Thread Question?

What's on your "bucket list" of must-have skills for kids to learn before they grow up and move out?

I'm not talking about bucket lists in the usual sense (things you want to do before you die), but instead, vital skills you think children should have before they move out of the house and start living on their own.

If you are a parent, what things have you made (or intend to make) a priority in your house?  If you aren't a parent, what did you wish your parents had taught you that you really needed to live on your own?  Or conversely, what were the things your parents did teach you that were very helpful or fulfilling skills to have?

My bucket list for my kids includes a lot of life skills and practical stuff, as well as things to keep them well-balanced human beings.  Some we are doing well on, and some are still on the "to-do" list.  Let's chat about a few.

Life Skills

In terms of life skills, I want my kids to have what I consider to be essential skills like first-aid/CPR, knowing how to swim, what to do in a disaster, that sort of thing.  You'd be surprised how many people don't know basic first-aid, for example.  It's just common sense for everyone to have good training in this.

I also think every child should know how to do some basic gardening.  My mom taught me a little bit of gardening, but I was known as the Black Thumb of Doom for many years because I killed plants left and right.  It took a number of tries before I figured it out as an adult and could raise a halfway decent garden.  I'm still a pretty casual gardener by serious gardening standards, but I raise enough that I could help our family in hard times. I'm trying to pass this along to my kids, but they certainly aren't overly enthusiastic about it.  Still, they'll have at least some knowledge in it.

Similarly, I think kids should know how to put up food.  This is a skill that has been lost in many families. Despite growing up on or near farms (in the Depression and WWII, no less!), neither my parents nor my in-laws ever learned canning or putting up food from their own parents, and so we in turn, never learned it either. But we as a society are far too dependent on a food supply system that is easily broken down during disasters or sudden fuel-supply crises.  It's important to not only have some of your own bought food reserves, but also to know how to grow your own and store it safely.  I'm still learning this skill; I'm making my oldest two learn it with me as well this summer.

I think all kids should have some experience with camping, nature, fire-making, and outdoor skills. Sadly, I got little of this in my upbringing.  As a result, I am just not Nature Girl; I get too cold too easily to be comfortable camping for long.  However, I'm working on building up some practical skills like fire-making and outdoor cooking skills anyway, just in case. Luckily, my husband is an Eagle Scout so he has made sure his boys are involved in Boy Scouts and are getting plenty of practical outdoor skills.  We haven't been as good with my daughters, mostly for coincidental (not sexist) reasons, but it's something I want to remedy.  My oldest has some significant medical issues so she's not going to be Nature Girl either, but we still have time to teach my littlest one some good skills, and the older one, like me, can at least learn some stuff. Definitely something we need to work on.

Another thing we've really fallen short on in our house is practical skills like how to take care of mechanical stuff, like cars and other machinery. I don't know anything about it; I've always depended on my husband.  Not a good idea. I want all my kids to have these skills, but frankly, we have just been too busy to pursue this, and so I feel like I've really fallen down on this important skill. It's on our "to-do" list.

What other life/essential skills can you think of that kids should learn before they become adults?

Practical Skills

On the practical side, I think all kids should know how to cook for themselves, do their own laundry, clean house properly, take care of the yard, etc.  It floors me how many kids leave home without knowing how to do these things, or with minimal cooking skills etc.

Start slowly when they are young, then gradually add chores for these things as they age.  This is important not only for life skills, but this is also how kids learn to be responsible, good workers.

We sometimes have playdates with friends, and it always shocks me when children eat a meal but don't take their dishes to the sink, or open a fruit leather and then just drop the wrapper on the floor and walk off.  What am I, your slave?  But apparently that's the way some houses are run.  Gah!

I'm not a fan of what I call Martyr Mothering ─ doing it all for your family so they don't have to. I don't like Martyr Mothering because it doesn't make your children (or husband) independent functioning humans, it makes a slave out of you by taking up most of your time (that could be spent on other activities), it doesn't teach children responsibility for themselves and their own actions, and it teaches a lack of acknowledgement/gratitude for the work of others and for the tasks that make a pleasant family home.

Now, of course, every family negotiates their own balance of chores ─ who does what, etc.  And that balance doesn't have to be the same for your family as for mine. Yet I see that many children don't have to do many chores and aren't learning how to care for themselves. You're really not doing your child any favors if you do everything for them or they have few chores.

Please, teach your children how to help out and how to be reasonably self-sufficient before they leave home.

Well-Balanced Human Being Skills

I think kids need experience in a variety of interest and pursuits in order to make them well-balanced human beings.  Enable your children to explore many activities.

I dislike the "specializing" approach that many parents take with their kids today ─ the kid has sports sports SPORTS all the time but never has a music class (or vice-versa).  Or the child never has the opportunity to take an art class, or to learn how to sew. Some become obsessed with one or two things and never explore anything else.

Children need to explore a variety of things before they can understand where their own interests and skills lie; it's good for kids to try new things and to experience gentle failure as well as success.  It's part of building their character.  Even highly specialized people like the Olympic-level athlete or the professional musician need to have other interests; being a well-rounded person will only help them in their chosen specialty.

Another important thing is to give children the opportunity to help in causes larger than themselves, to volunteer their time/energy for a good cause or to help others.  It's too easy to become centered only on yourself in our society; seeing the needs of others helps make children deeper, more empathetic people.

But while kids should have the opportunity to explore many different activities and to work in charitable causes, I'm also not a fan of over-scheduling children.  Children need "down" time to just play.  Imagination is a vital part of a child's life, and not just for little children. Teens need it too.

Turn off the computer and TV regularly, provide kids with a few basic games, toys, dress-up clothes, balls, swings, or whatever, and then just stand back and let them figure out how to play by themselves.  They struggle a bit at first, but in time they figure it out, and they are so much healthier for exercising those imagination muscles.  And "down time" really helps de-stress kids in a very stressed society.

Final Thoughts

Of course, all this is easy to say, harder to do.  We all fall down in some areas, and no parent ever "perfectly" prepares their children 100%.  You do the best you can to make them well-rounded and give them essential life skills, but you always have to remember that you are only the facilitator.

In the end, children are their own people and they make decisions about priorities for themselves as they grow.  We try to help them be well-rounded and diverse, but sometimes you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink, as the saying goes.  Some things children have to learn on their own.

For me, the goal is to offer the opportunity for building important skills and pursue lots of different interests, but it's always subject to the realities of life.  Sometimes the budget doesn't have room for all the classes you'd like to give your children.  Sometimes you just don't have the opportunity to help them pursue a certain activity. Sometimes you just don't have the skill set, budget, or extra time to help them with certain things.  You can seek out other mentors to help, but there are always limits that have to be acknowledged.  That's normal.

A kids' bucket list is not about making parents feel guilty for all the things they can't do, but rather just a road map to help parents be thoughtful about what they are doing to prepare their children for adulthood. Realizing that there will be gaps in these skills and forgiving yourself for that is part and parcel of the journey of parenting.  You just do the best you can, realize that you can't do it all, and let the rest go.  Remember that teaching children to be self-actualized learners goes a long long way towards filling any gaps.

So, in an ideal world, what are the things on your "bucket list" for your child?  If you don't have kids, what skills did your parents give you that were helpful, and what do you wish you had gotten? What do you wish people would give their kids more of?

This is an open thread; I welcome lots of comments and discussion.


Kat said...

Financial literacy is something I entered adulthood without understandIng. Things like how do credit cards work (by ripping you off), or loans, mortgages, how does insurance work and why is it a good idea, having a savings plan for emergency car repair for example, etc. my husband and I both ruined our credit in our early 29s just by being gullible and lazy.
I do agree about the swimming lessons though. It was mandatory in Australia when I was a kid, for good reason.

nopinkhere said...

Swimming, first aid (I wish I were better at that), how not to be dumb with money (though experience when it doesn't matter as much), laundry/cooking/mending.

Part of what I want to impart is a willingness to try to fix something rather than just throw it out and buy a new one. But I do have to admit that it sometimes makes sense financially to do just that.

It's hard to balance giving the opportunity to try lots of things and to also keep from overscheduling my kids. I have to keep reminding myself that it doesn't have to be all at once.

Breanna said...

I go by the famous Heinlein quote:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

Although, not all before a kid leaves home, of course!

Kit said...

Manners and etiquette! I want my daughters to become ladies and my sons to become gentleman. That sounds horribly old-fashioned, but it is a dying skill set. And our society is worse off without it.

Well-Rounded Mama said...

Financial literacy, yes! I completely agree. That's on my list too, but I forgot it when I was writing the post.

Manners is another one I forgot. I'm big on that too. Basic good manners is an important skill for getting along in life as you get older.

I'm familiar with the Heinlein quote. My daughter has it on her bedroom door! It's kind of what got me thinking about this post, although I think we fall down on a few of his list of skills!