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Often kids are so busy with academics, extracurricular activities, and friends, that families forget about some of the more practical life skills that their children are going to need for the future. When kids eventually grow up and move out, will they be prepared for basic things like paying bills, preparing meals, and keeping their living space clean?
Practicing life skills doesn’t have to be a boring chore. It can provide you with unique opportunities to spend time together and watch your child build confidence and independence, plus gain some appreciation for the little things in life. Even younger kids can start on some of these skills on a simpler level — it’ll just require a little more planning and participation on your part.
Here are 31 activities to boost kids’ practical skills, so they’ll be more prepared to take care of themselves and maintain their own stable base from which to learn, grow, and thrive.
While a lot of life’s tasks can be taken care of online, there are still some instances that require sending a snail mail letter or a physical package. So visit the post office together to purchase stamps or packaging materials, and send someone a surprise in the mail! While you’re waiting in line, teach kids about Forever stamps, how the cost of packages and letters vary by weight, and the fact that you can apply for a passport at the post office.
Make sure kids know how to use the washing machine and dryer by having them do a load or two of their own clothes, sheets or towels. Laundry doesn’t have to be a drag! While you’re sorting or folding, tell stories about nice outfits you’ve accidentally shrunken, important papers you’ve left in your pockets, or interesting times at the laundromat.
Kids can learn so much from one trip to the ATM with you! If they already have a debit card, stand with them while they learn the ropes of how to use it. If they’re not old enough for that yet, you can still explain what you’re doing and have them help press some of the buttons — if there’s no line behind you, that is! Be sure to talk about the importance of keeping your PIN confidential.
Sew a button
Find those spare buttons in your closet and actually put them to use. If you don’t have an item of clothing with a missing button, practice on an old scrap of cloth. Show kids the steps for sewing on a button with thread, and have them practice. You may have to start with basics like threading a needle.
Follow a recipe
Have your child choose a recipe that they want to prepare. Then help them preview the recipe before buying ingredients, plan what time they need to start cooking, and make sure they have the kitchen tools they’ll need. Skills like how to level off a measuring spoon or how to melt butter may seem obvious to you if you’ve been cooking for decades, but kids have to learn it from somewhere!
Iron a shirt
One day your child might need a nice outfit for an interview or formal event, and it might be wrinkly. If they’re mature enough to handle a task like boiling water for tea or pasta, then you can show them how to use an iron safely. If they’re not quite old enough, get them started on some of these ironing-related tasks instead.
Credit card offer
Next time you get a credit card offer in the mail, don’t throw it out just yet. First show your kid what each part of the ad or letter means. Explain how interest works, what a credit line or credit card limit is, and what happens if you pay in full vs. paying the minimum amount vs. not paying on time at all. See if they can spot any marketing tricks in the offer.
Go on a bus or train adventure — or at the very least, study the maps and schedules together. At some point in their lives, kids will need to know how to navigate transit routes, read a schedule, buy tickets, and board and ride with proper etiquette. Plus, you can gain a new perspective and build some memories together just by taking a different route or mode of transportation than you’re used to.
Your child may or not become an enthusiastic cook one day, but hopefully they’ll be able to feed themselves something healthy and affordable. Practice making easy pasta or rice, and preparing at least one protein and at least one vegetable, so they’ll be equipped with some go-to meals when they’re on their own.
Scrub a toilet
Cleaning the bathroom is one of those tasks that almost no one loves, but almost everyone has to learn how to do. Get some latex gloves for your kid and get them started. If your child is resistant to the idea, check out this video or this video to make the task more fun and age-appropriate. If they’re not yet mature enough to handle the cleaning products and tools for the dirtier aspects of the job (like disinfecting a toilet), here are some other bathroom chores you can start with.
Kids will gain a lot from learning how you keep the lights and appliances on and how you keep the heat or AC running. So show them the details of an energy bill next time you’re paying for it. If possible, show them graphs or charts of how your usage changes over the course of the year and/or the week. See if you can figure out together which activities are using the most electricity/gas/oil at various times.
Although you might be used to being the family chauffeur, kids will have to know how to get around on their own at some point! Have them plan a walk, drive, or bike ride 100 percent by themselves by using a map and/or GPS. Then take their lead!
Although checks are used less and less, kids still may need to know how to fill out a check and how to void a check. To make it fun, have them design and print their own sample checks to practice! Or you can cross out the bank account and routing numbers on some of your old blank checks for them to practice with. While you’re at it, be sure to explain how and when the money gets transferred to the recipient when you write a real check.
Whether your child has a bank account yet or not, show them how to complete a deposit or withdrawal in person at the teller window so that they’ll know how to do so if they ever need to. Or bring home an extra deposit and withdrawal slip to show your child how you would fill it out and what happens at the teller counter.
Change a tire
If you (or your kids) have a car, walk through the steps to changing a flat tire. Actually take out each piece of equipment and show them how to use it. Watch this quick video for an introduction to the process, and check your car’s manual or how-to videos for more specific instructions.
Have kids study a weekly sale circular from the grocery store or drug store, or a clothing or household goods catalog. Have them circle everything they think they would need, then add up the prices! Give them a maximum budget and see if they can figure out what items to take off or replace. Alternatively, you can do this with a real trip to the store.
Show kids how to look for available apartments in your area or the area where they want to live someday. They’ll gain an understanding of the rental costs, the types of apartments available, and how the process works. Show them a sample rental contract and highlight some of the most important keywords to look for like the security deposit, lease start and end dates, rent due date, whether pets are allowed, etc.
Next time someone in the family gets a paycheck, think of it as a learning opportunity. Use the pay stub as a visual guide to explain why you don’t take home all of the money you earn. Here’s one guide to understanding some of the jargon.
Watch a quick video on how to use a fire extinguisher. Then check your house for fire extinguishers and see if you need to update your fire safety equipment! If so, have kids help you complete the task.
Look at your or your child’s health insurance card together, and actually read what’s on the front and back of the card. Explain how copays work, and situations when they may need to use the card. Kids will remember a story more than a set of instructions, so here’s an opportunity to tell them a story about when you’ve needed to use health insurance beyond your typical scheduled doctor’s appointments.
Job interviews can be nerve wracking at any age, so it’s never too early to talk about what teens and young adults can expect when they’re looking for a job. Have them choose one or two jobs they may be interested in in the near future. Then, look up sample interview questions for that position. For some industries, these questions may even be available as mock interview videos for practice. Also give examples of what you would wear, how early you would arrive, and ways to demonstrate politeness during a professional encounter.
As soon as they’re old enough, have kids participate in basic auto maintenance tasks like cleaning the windshield, filling the gas tank, refilling the windshield wiper fluid, changing the oil, replacing windshield wipers, updating a registration sticker, and washing the car. It can be a fun way to spend time together and get some hands-on practice. You can do the equivalent for bikes if your family’s into riding on two wheels.
As a parent, you may have gotten into the habit of packing your kids’ lunches for school, field trips, or family outings. But kids at almost any age can start to learn how to do it. The youngest kids can try to put together a sandwich with your help — while older kids can plan, shop for, prep, and package the whole meal. With older kids, it’s also a great idea to do a price comparison between bringing their own lunch and buying lunch out. Then multiply each cost by five days to show the weekly financial impact.
Go out for a meal together so your kids can practice the etiquette of ordering and paying for a meal. Point out how payment and ordering varies based on the type of restaurant (fast food vs. upscale restaurants vs. diners). When it’s time to leave a tip, make sure they know how to calculate a decent one! Learn the easiest way to do it in your head with this graphic or this video.
First aid kits
Enlist kids’ help in making emergency first aid kits to store around the house, in the car, in backpacks for outings, and to bring with them to college or camp. You can include things like various sizes of bandages, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, vomit bags, ice packs, tweezers, crackers, cough drops, and a whistle. Kids as young as toddler age can be involved in the packaging the basics, while tweens and teens could do additional research to see what supplies are recommended for the climate/season, types of activities, or health risks involved.
Next time you need a taxi or rideshare, show kids how exactly you order the service, and how (and how much) you need to pay. Point out that other methods of transportation are usually cheaper, but there are situations when they might need a taxi or rideshare. Be sure to share some safety tips they’ll need to keep in mind when using a taxi or rideshare service.
Explaining credit cards, loans, and credit scores can be tricky, so use some of these credit games and interactives to help! They’ll give you fodder for conversations with teens about credit card debt, making smart loan decisions, and how your choices can affect your future ability to get a decent deal on a home or car.
Have kids help you take stock of what supplies you need around the house, from dish soap to toilet paper to batteries. They can carry around a clipboard or smartphone to make a running list of what’s needed. Then have them join you at the store(s) to look for the items you need, compare prices and deals, estimate how much you’re going to spend at each store, and checkout and pay.
Make a bed
Show kids an easy way to make their bedroom look more presentable — and to have the sheets stay on for longer — by practicing making the bed. Make it fun by having a family bed-making race, or watching a few of the many, many YouTube videos out there on bedding-related topics like making hospital corners, hotel bed-making procedures, and folding a fitted sheet.
As soon as kids are old enough to learn to drive (or to travel unsupervised with friends), do a walkthrough of what they should do if they ever get into a car accident. Show kids where the car insurance and registration info is, what information they should get from other people involved, and who to call in an emergency. Make the info more memorable by telling them about different types of issues you’ve encountered with car safety or damage, and how you handled them.
As they become more independent, teens should learn how to handle basic OTC medications as well as any necessary prescriptions. Read the bottle with them to understand appropriate use, correct dosage, storage, and expiration dates. If you have any expired or unused medications to dispose of, learn together about the safest method.