He takes a shower without too much fuss, but the steps required to actually bathe are something we are still working on.
He is still struggling with basic introductions and goodbyes.
Any process involving more than two steps or simultaneous actions is not easy for him.
Last week, he stood outside the car with the door open until I caught up because there was something on his seat and he couldn’t/wouldn’t sit down.
I spend a lot of time discussing what seem like basic life skills with my boys’ doctors and therapists.
I know that life skills are important for my children (and honestly, for any child). I know that life skills are essential for my boys to have some independence in the world, get a job, go on a date, and be their own men.
I know that life skills are more difficult for my children than any other subject we tackle, by far.
So why am I treating them like extracurricular activities?
When I was in sixth grade, we had a math test on adding and subtracting negative numbers.
This concept was tough for me. I thought zero was just that, zero. Nothing left. Less than zero still seemed like zero.
Normally a straight-A student, I struggled and barely passed. I remember bursting into tears, leaving the classroom in the rain, and running to the drinking fountain to try and get myself together.
Seven years later, I showed up for what I thought was the easiest math class possible at the university. I just wanted to complete the math requirement for my degree and move on.
Math 36 – Math For Life, was all about how we use math in everyday, real life. It included percentages off at the grocery store, a basic understanding of compound interest, and balancing a checkbook.
It was the overdrawn checkbook unit that finally taught me how to add and subtract negative numbers.
Because it was a life skill and something that now had a foundation in reality, I was easily able to learn and apply the concept.
I aced the class and, for the first time, actually enjoyed math. Moreover, I learned more in that class than all four years of my high school math classes combined.
The life skill is what made the biggest impact.
Life Skills Matter
These are the basic life skills widely considered to be essential for young adulthood.
- Money or Budgeting Skills
- Cooking or Food Skills
- Dressing Sense or Clothing Skills
- Personal Grooming
- Cleanliness and Hygiene
- Personal Healthcare and Basic First Aid
- Social skills and manners
- Organization skills
For some families, this list may seem basic or even obvious.
I read it and feel a sinking sense of dread. We have a long way to go here.
As much as I love that my son’s history teacher raves about his uncanny knowledge of WWI, the older my children get, the more I feel like my priorities need to shift in their learning.
Traditional academics, while important to be sure, are not going to make the biggest impact in their adult lives.
Being able to read a map or treat a small cut will.
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Making Life Skills A Priority
I have started to shift our learning to not only include, but to prioritize life skills as essential. Rather than worrying so much about academic achievement, I am becoming much more intentional about what my children need to be able to accomplish as adults and how to help them get there.
Here is what I’ve learned so far –
Executive Function Support Is Critical
No matter what the life skill (hygiene, cooking, budgeting, etc.) deficits in executive function can create a ton of stress without a ton of success. I am learning that with every single skill, my children need me to help them think through the steps, carefully organize their actions, and provide accommodation as needed until they achieve a level of mastery.
Although I was doing this already, in informal ways, I am now much more intentional in how I communicate the steps required to bathe, follow a recipe or use a list in the grocery store.
My children are well aware of their differences. They are well aware that “everyone else just seems to know how to do this stuff and I can’t!” (actual quote from my eleven year old). Because of this, they lack confidence in their own abilities. This lack of confidence creates anxiety, avoidance, and even meltdowns sometimes.
I have found that the more support I provide, the more confident my boys are becoming in handling basic life skills.
I Can’t Do It All By Myself
I would never try to teach my children history or science without some sort of plan and curriculum guide. It would be overwhelming and less effective.
But the truth is, I have been winging it for far too long when it comes to helping my boys learn life skills.
As we move into the summer months, I have decided to focus on two of the life skills my boys naturally have an interest in – money math and cooking.
For money math, I am using the same general book and curriculum that I used in my college math for life class with some accommodations for more hands-on activities (like reading graphs, making a budget and shopping). I have also added an online program that encourages strategic thinking, reasoning skills and recognizing patterns.
For cooking and kitchen skills, I am using Kids Cook Real Food.
A program for all levels of learning, Kids Cook Real Food covers everything from knife skills to browning ground beef. The videos are interesting and show a wide range of ages of kids cooking. My boys have enjoyed feeling like they are learning from someone who “knows what they’re doing” (as opposed to their momma, who is actually learning as much as they are about cooking basics…the kitchen has never really been my friend).
I am encouraged by how well my boys are doing with this new approach to learning.
It feels better for all us – focusing on the things that make the biggest impact and bring them the greatest confidence has been a much-needed step towards adulthood.
That, and they can make dinner for me.
Perhaps I should’ve tried this a long time ago…