Free Life Skills Lessons for Every Child

girl in red dress with tablet - free life skills lessons for every child

As parents, it is our number one job to raise and launch happy, self-sufficient people out into the world; people who are capable of looking after themselves and others. No small feat. Thankfully, the foundation for creating such ideal beings is free, requiring only manageable portions of your time and some investment from the bank of knowledge. 

We sometimes get hung up on trying to give our children music lessons, art lessons or other lessons that we think will make them well-rounded. The most important lessons, however, don’t cost a thing. So teach your kids life skills. Children who understand the invisible infrastructures of life are more confident and functional than those left to wonder and to find out for themselves with no insight from a caring source. 

The essential lessons below have a reach far beyond that of learning guitar basics or mastering ballet choreography. Plus, each “class” happens at a time perfectly suited to your family, making them much easier to schedule in everybody's busy daily lives

Critical Thinking

The most important life skill is critical thinking and reasoning. Pair this with strong research skills and you’ve got a kid who won’t fall prey to campaigns of any sort: political, professional or personal. 

Advise your kids to ask questions. (Toddlers have mastered “why?,” so no worries there. Just massive amounts of patience required.) Life is like a giant research paper—you can teach your kids to check their sources before trusting them. 

Once your child learns to figure out who benefits from a requested course of action, the true bottom line will become crystal clear for them. Bright Horizons offers guidance on how parents can begin to instill critical thinking skills into their children.

Financial Literacy

Until schools understand the importance of financial literacy and put it in the curriculum, this one’s up to you. Budgeting, banking and debit card use are good starters. 

Take your child into the bank and walk them through opening an account and using a debit card. Encourage them to ask questions should anything be unclear to them. They trust you, but the teller may not be so approachable in their eyes. ATMs are flat out indifferent if not downright hostile.  

The sooner they start managing their allowance and/or birthday money, the better they will understand how the household budget and their personal budget must be met. Oh, you might hear them make the occasional, very public, declaration of “we’re poor – we can’t afford that!” to complete strangers, but the trick here is to not care. Simply explain to these strangers that “they’re learning how to budget” if you feel the need to say anything. 

Housekeeping

Housekeeping is another crucial skill that many adults young and old struggle to grasp adequately. From changing a lightbulb to painting a door properly to routine cleaning, when each of these tasks is learned, they shift some of the responsibility from your plate to the shared family plate and offer an opportunity for more connection during the teaching time. 

Start lessons and chore assignments when children can comprehend what you want them to do and why doing it is a good thing (e.g. putting toys away removes trip hazards for everyone and prevents favourite playtime buddies from being lost).  Lisa Marie Fletcher of The Canadian Homeschooler lays out the benefits of having children contribute to the upkeep of the family living space.

Doing laundry is a complex undertaking fraught with peril for even the most experienced launderer among us, so take your time, be clear and strongly encourage that they err on the side of caution, i.e. wait for your guidance when in doubt.

As your children grow older, of course, different life skills should be taught. 

Applying for Jobs

young woman with coffee cup and pink binder - free life skills lessons for every child


How to apply for a job is something everyone will need to know at some point in their life except for teenage lottery winners with mad financial planning skills. 

Resume and cover letter writing websites abound, offering free tips and templates. Use this as a chance to ask what may be most concerning your teen about applying for and holding down a job, as well as to discuss your own trials and tribulations while employment seeking. Related anecdotes almost always contain elements of humour and wisdom. 

Food Prep

Nutritious food preparation and understanding the food cycle is something absolutely everyone on Earth should know. 

Food guide daily servings recommendations have changed dramatically over the past decade. Meat and dairy are no longer the reigning monarchs. Plant based proteins and whole grains are preferred along with regular water consumption. As always, processed and sugary foods are the villains and deservedly so—poor diet contributes to a plethora of avoidable health issues such as tooth decay and heart disease.

Teach your children to buy the best food they can afford—a bag of protein-rich quinoa will stretch further than cheap ramen noodles that have you paying for empty calories—and to avoid waste through spoilage. Think crisper drawer horrors here. 

Going organic is costing less and less with each production cycle as demand grows for chemical-free food. While the produce is not as pretty, it does not contribute to the poisoning of planet and person.

Walk children through a farmers’ market and have them speak with the vendors. Locally grown food is better for the community in terms of sustainability and promotes a fiscally sound economy for its members. Kids can and do grasp these concepts.

Have them grow their own food.  Time puttering in the vegetable garden or windowsill herb patch is time very well spent. Show them the critters living in the soil (microscopic or otherwise) who play valuable roles in the production of the food they eat.

Learn New Skills as You Teach

Rob Kenney of the video series “Dad, How Do I?” teaches people everything from the proper way to tie a necktie or change a flat tire to how to iron a dress shirt or unclog a stopped up sink. Kenney began the YouTube channel when he realized that many adults were not taught these important life skills growing up and now find themselves foundering in adulthood. 

Kenney understands on a personal level the full loss when a father leaves a family: his did when Rob was 14 years old, opting to walk out on a family of eight children. His own adult children encouraged him to make the series and now his channel has over 3.31 million subscribers. Kenney gets his how-to tips from a wide variety of trusted sources. He then makes step-by-step videos and compiles them for easy referencing by others in need of some expert guidance.

When to Call in the Experts

How to drive a car, administer first aid and swim are arguably included in the crucial life skills library, but these lessons should be left to qualified professional instructors. This is no time for chatty bonding. 

If you’re not confident about your knowledge base in any subject area that arises, call in an expert. And do so nonchalantly in front of your child. Pride does more harm than merely waste time. If the stakes are low, learn the skill together. That gives you an opportunity to model how to go about learning something new and how to find someone to teach you.

Your child’s essential classroom is at your elbow—no special equipment required.

Written by Jane Thornton

Feature image: Helena Lopes; Image 1: RODNAE Productions