The Best Life Skills to Teach Your Kids This School Year

kid making pancakes

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Key Takeaways

  • As vaccines pave the way for re-opening and a return to normal, school may still be a source of uncertainty.
  • Teaching your child essential life skills, such as self-care and money management, will help kids during the back-to-school transition and prepare them for life after the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought many upheavals—not the least of which, for families, included distance learning and lots of unexpected togetherness. As time went on and many school buildings remained closed, you likely found yourself adjusting to schooling at home and online.

Now, as vaccines become available and things begin to open up, school may still be a source of uncertainty. Will your kids be in school full-time, part-time, or not at all?

While most schools plan to return to normal this coming year, some families found that distance learning or homeschooling worked well for their children. And others aren't ready to send their younger kids back until a vaccine is available for them.

Regardless of which back-to-school model your child's school will follow, it's important to be prepared—especially if your kids will be distance learning again this school year. There's no doubt that COVID-19 has created a difficult situation, but you can turn this time into something useful if you think outside the box. 

If your kids are returning to school, it's going to be a big transition, and your kids will likely experience a lot of emotions and exhaustion at first. If your kids are staying home, they may also have a hard time. After all, it's been a long time since they've been with their friends, and it may seem like they'll never get their old life back.

Either way, practicing new life skills can help kids learn how to manage transitions and emotions. Life skills training has been found to help kids with their social, emotional, and cognitive development. And it helps them learn how to deal with psychosocial problems.

No matter how old your school-aged kids are, there are plenty of life skills that you can teach them. And this school year might be a perfect time.

Where to Begin

If your kids are returning to school, time management is probably going to take center stage. During the pandemic, lots of kids kept odd hours—especially if their distance learning was asynchronous and they could choose their school hours. Teaching kids the importance of a consistent routine and sleep hygiene will be valuable lessons, especially for those returning to school.

For those who are still learning from home: In the words of Queen Elsa, Let. It. Go. School at home doesn’t need to look like a typical classroom, with everyone circled around the kitchen table raising their hands. Traditional schooling is designed to accommodate the needs of 25 kids at a time; your at-home “classroom” probably only has one, two, or three kids in it and can be much more flexible. 

The experts are clear: Kids learn best through play, exploration, and hands-on activities. That means they’ll benefit more from a third-grade math lesson that takes place in the kitchen over a boxed mix of brownies, than one that happens in a textbook.

As you’re adjusting your own ideas about what learning means for your kids, it’s time to start thinking about the gaps in your kid's life skills education. For example, do they know how to sort laundry? Chop an onion? Recycle cardboard boxes?

Sure, they’ll need to know these things eventually—but learning them now means that you can dovetail some of these street smarts with all the book smarts they're learning, too. And with all the time crunches parents face, whether or not kids are in school in person, wouldn't it be nice to delegate some chores to your kids?

Here’s a breakdown of some of the best life skills you can teach your kids this school year by age group, along with suggestions for how you can tie many of them to academic life.

Preschoolers (Ages 2–4)

Some of this age group's life skills can be independent, but some will still require your assistance or supervision. It’s important to teach them anyway, though, so your kids can keep improving as they get older.

Cleaning Up

Put your child’s sorting and identifying knowledge to work. Ask them to put their toys in the appropriate bins after they’re done playing, sort their books by color on the shelf, or line up their stuffed animals on their bed by size. You can even invite them to help you sort the laundry.

Knowing Emergency Numbers

Does your little one know their numbers? Teach them your home and/or cell phone numbers, as well as how to dial 911. Also, see if they can memorize their street address, town, and state. You want to be sure they know how to contact close family members or friends should an emergency arise. Keep a list of numbers in a prominent place and have them practice with your supervision.

Picking Out Clothes

Only in the mind of a 3-year-old do polka dots coordinate with plaids, but you need to choose your battles here. Learning how to get dressed appropriately involves checking the weather and talking about what the day’s activities will include, which is a great way to do a little morning circle time.

If your kids are back in school, have them set out their clothes the night before. This builds a predictable routine, saves precious morning time, and teaches them how to be prepared.

Setting the Table

Looking for an easy way to introduce numbers, counting, and symmetry? Look no further than a table setting, which offers a chance to lay out matching sets of silverware, plates, and cups along with spatial and procedural memorization. Also, allow them the freedom to add a few custom touches to the table, like handmade place cards or little pictures for each family member. They will feel proud of their work and look forward to dinner time.

Little Kids (Ages 5–7)

This is the sweet spot for helpers at home because kids this age love to feel like they’re doing grown-up jobs. Plus, they can actually do stuff. The trickiest part is figuring out when to step in and help and when to step back and let kids problem-solve independently.

Unless they could create a potentially unsafe situation, err on the side of stepping back. You’ll be surprised at what your child can handle.

Empowering kids at this age is particularly important in the wake of the pandemic. So much of their lives have felt uncertain and out of control. Providing structure and basic chores will help them feel more in control of their life and situation and hopefully minimize some of the fear they may feel.

Performing Basic Cleaning Tasks

On top of wiping down sinks and light vacuuming, ask your child to help sort the trash and recycling. Learning which materials are recyclable leads to good conversations about climate change, taking care of the environment, and producing less waste. What's more, your kids might get really excited about finding things that are recyclable and making sustainable decisions.

Preparing and Sorting Laundry

Teach kids how to separate light and dark colors. Ask them to empty pockets before putting something in the washing machine, and talk about why that one red sock will turn an entire load of whites pink. Aside from helping you with a never-ending chore, you're teaching Properties of Matter 101!

Making the Bed

This skill is often overlooked during the school-year rush to get out the door in the morning, but if your kids are learning from home, you may have more time to teach them how to make their beds. You could even develop a morning routine that includes making the bed as part of getting ready for the day. Incorporating this chore regularly instills a lifelong habit that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Developing Cooking Skills

Stirring, mixing, shaking, whisking—all these activities are hugely popular with kids. Also popular? Cracking eggs, using the blender (with supervision), and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Look for ways for your kids to help with making meals. And, consider allowing them to assist in the meal planning for the week.

Big Kids (Ages 8–10)

Kids in this age group can manage most kid-friendly tasks. But it’s time to think beyond “Can my kid pour the right amount of kibble into the dog’s bowl?” and ask yourself if they can do it at the same time every day without being reminded.

They can also begin to take on some of the tasks you didn’t quite trust them with at six or seven—like cooking over a hot stove—as long as you feel they have good judgment and safety knowledge.

Long days at home doing online learning without much interaction with their peers can be challenging for this age group. So, be creative in how you get them involved around the house. Even if your kids are back in school this fall, these are important skills for them to learn at this age.

Mastering Intermediate Cooking

You can probably teach your kids to scramble eggs, boil water for pasta, and make pancakes at this age. But you can also teach them fractions by setting out measuring cups and asking them to double, triple, or even quadruple an easy recipe. And, if your kids are particularly skilled or interested at this age, allow them to make a family meal (with your supervision, of course).

Learning to Garden

Gardening is one of the single best ways to blend life skills with science. For instance, talk about how much sunlight tomato plants need to grow. You could even work in a discussion about photosynthesis. Also, talk about the different types of soil and what is best for plants to grow. And make sure you talk about those creepy crawlies invading your garden and eating all the zucchini.

Using Common Tools

Hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches—most of these tools require physical coordination. But they also require some math or physical science element in the form of angles, force, momentum, and speed. Look for opportunities for your kids to help out around the house using tools. For instance, have them tighten the screws on the towel rack in the bathroom or help hang a framed photo in their room.

Loading the Dishwasher

Believe it or not, you need some spatial intelligence to load a dishwasher, so everything fits and actually gets cleaned. Tell your kids it’s just like playing Tetris. Plus, making the task of loading (and unloading) the dishwasher a regular chore shows kids the importance of contributing to the efficient operation of the household.

Tweens and Teens (Ages 11+)

Okay, time to break out the big guns. Tweens need to learn how to be responsible for their time, money, and personal hygiene; teens should be focusing on the life skills they will need to live independently one day, like balancing a bank account and performing basic household maintenance. 

So, while it's normal for teens to want to binge on Netflix (especially if their routines and activities are still disrupted), help them refocus their attention and stay positive. Learning new skills can help them feel empowered and confident and help them avoid developing a sedentary lifestyle.

Managing Money

This is math, obviously—and while it’s important to teach your kids how not to overspend on their income (from allowance, gifts, or a part-time job), they also need to know several other related skills. This might be calculating interest payments on credit cards and loans, comparing prices on purchases, establishing a budget, and filing a tax return.

You could even give them a set amount of money they can spend each month and encourage them to establish a budget on how to spend it. They will quickly realize that money does not go very far.

Learning Household Maintenance

Can your teen change a light bulb? Pump gas? Unclog a drain? Mow the lawn? If not, it’s time for them to learn. One day your kids will be living in a dorm or an apartment while in college or working, and they will need these basic skills. So there is no better time to learn them than now. Also, be sure they are participating in family chores like cleaning.

Mastering Personal Responsibility

There’s a lot to unpack here, but older kids need to get comfortable making phone calls, setting up appointments, ordering food, planning meals, and budgeting their own time. In other words, stop hounding them to clean their room so they can go FaceTime their friends; encourage them to set a weekend schedule that leaves time for both. 

Likewise, if they have some routine doctor's visits coming up, like going to the dentist or getting their yearly flu shot, have them make the calls. Learning these skills now will establish the importance of caring for their bodies and engaging in preventative health care in the future.

Managing Hygiene

If you’re still hounding your teens to shower regularly, use deodorant, and properly care for their skin, it’s time for them to take charge of their hygiene. Let them choose their own products, decide what time of day they want to shower (a.m. or p.m.), and maintain a haircut or style of choice. Giving them some autonomy here will go a long way toward motivating them.

What This Means For You

If it feels too overwhelming right now to start teaching your kids life skills, don't feel bad. You don't have to add more tasks to your daily schedule if you've got too much going on.

However, keep in mind that teaching your kids some of these skills now may free up your time later. So it might help to look at it as an investment. Putting the time and effort into teaching them today will help your kids become independent, saving you time and energy in the long run.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sarah Bradley
Sarah Bradley has been writing parenting content since 2017, after her third son was born. Since then, she has expanded her expertise to write about pregnancy and postpartum, childhood ages and stages, and general health conditions, including commerce articles for health products. Because she has been homeschooling her sons for seven years, she is also frequently asked to share homeschooling tips, tricks, and advice for parenting sites.