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Teaching Life Skills in Homeschool

by Megan

After a year and a half of traveling the country and homeschooling, we feel like we’ve cracked the code on easy homeschool! And in addition to teaching our kids academic subjects like math, reading, and writing, we do our best to incorporate life skills into their daily learning.

kids walking with stroller

Part of the benefit of learning at home is that you can easily continue the classroom into other areas and start teaching your kids skills that will benefit them for life! No need to wait until they are in their teens to learn about things like budgeting, cooking, and child care. They are capable of so much, and when you show trust and belief in them, their confidence will soar!

Also read: 8 Steps for Fun and Easy Homeschool

How to Incorporate Life Skills while Homeschooling

Our 11-year-old just got his first job, doing some daily record-keeping for his grampa’s software company. It takes him about five minutes per day, and my dad pays him $10 per week. This kid could NOT be happier! For Christmas, we gave him a wallet and the debit card that goes with his bank account. He couldn’t stop saying, “I’m an 11-year-old and I have a job and my own debit card!”

A lot of people go into adulthood ill-prepared. With that in mind, we’ve been very deliberate about life skills we want our kids to know before we send them off into the world. Here are some of the things we’ve been learning about!

Budgeting and Meal Planning

Now that Carter is making and spending his own money, he has a MUCH better concept of how much things cost, both in dollars and in effort! He doesn’t just think about how a Switch game costs $60; he thinks about how a Switch game takes him six weeks of work to earn. This kind of financial awareness is invaluable and really only comes with the actual experience of earning and spending money.

Carter doing work on computer

We’ve been teaching our kids about family budgeting, meal planning, shopping, and food choices. I’ve had some great conversations with my children about how to decide what meals to shop for, asking important questions like:

  • Is this meal healthy?
  • Is it delicious?
  • Do we like it?
  • Is it easy to prepare?
  • How much does it cost per meal? Per family member?

The answers are not necessarily right or wrong, but they learn to look at the whole picture when we buy food for the week. 

Teach kids budgeting and meal planning

Take a load off your shoulders and let the kids plan meals for the week! Guide them along the way, but let them pick the meals, make a grocery list with all of the ingredients, estimate the cost, decide who will be in charge of which meals, and then take them shopping!

Cooking

As soon as a child can put milk on his cereal, he’s a chef! And kids can keep learning new and better recipes as they grow and become more capable.

I always try to have one or more of my kids watching and helping as I’m cooking the family dinner, and I try to talk through the process as I do.

One important thing here is repetition: my kids aren’t going to be able to remember how to make taco salad after watching me do it once, no matter how simple it is. But if every single time I make taco salad, they’re right there next to me, they’re going to catch on eventually! 

Vanessa cooking

Another thing I try to do is teach really basic concepts that can be repurposed and reimagined in many different ways. For example, this is how you boil and drain spaghetti. From here, we can add spaghetti sauce and call it good. Or we can add chicken. Or meatballs. Or maybe we want to do ziti in place of spaghetti. Or use alfredo sauce. And so on and so forth. By teaching the most basic concept, they can get creative and put their own spin on things!

Teach kids how to cook

Start with what they can do and begin to give them more responsibility. Can your child pour cereal, milk, and juice? Then they can prepare and serve breakfast to everyone! Next step, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If you’re comfortable with them using the microwave, they could make Hot Pockets or Cup of Noodles. Our 11-year-old is allowed to use the stove and will prepare mac and cheese from start to finish. It gives him a strong sense of accomplishment and pride, and it gives us a break, too!

Laundry and Cleaning

Your kids probably already have some experience doing chores around the house. Just about any kid can wipe down a table or put away their toys. They can also make beds, sweep, and do dishes (although mine strongly prefer when a dishwasher is involved).

Harry sweeping

Laundry is pretty easy to teach, as well. Sometimes when we travel we have to use a laundromat, and I always bring my big kids along and have them help me sort clothes by color, load and start the washers, and then transfer to the dryers. It became a bit of a tradition- we’d buy treats and watch Shark Tank while we waited for the clothes.

They can do this at home too! Just teach them the controls on your washer and dryer and let them load and start them up! I take care of most of the family’s laundry, but it’s nice to know that my kids could do it if they needed to.

Melody doing laundry

Teach kids how to clean and do laundry

If they can do a chore, let them! Set an expectation in your house that everyone helps out to their ability level. Even the youngest ones can pick up toys, put dirty clothes in the hamper, and put their dishes in the sink.

Car and Home Repairs

We aren’t exactly car people, but being able to understand the basics of what a car is and how it works is important. With that in mind, I’ve always included my kids when I do any kind of basic repair, whether it’s changing a tire or putting coolant in the engine.

Even something as simple as having them hop out of the car and watch as you put gas in the car, talking through the process as you do it, can be educational and useful. You can demystify dealing with a car, and that’s something that will serve them for a very long time.

It’s just as helpful to have kids help with small repair jobs around the house. Who hasn’t had to plunge a toilet at some point in their life? Or put together a bookshelf? Kids will likely be interested to watch you patch a wall or hang a picture frame.

Teach kids handiness

Kids love to be involved with anything related to building, so include them the next time you’re putting together a new piece of furniture. They could help organize the nuts and bolts, hand you tools, and maybe even help you screw it all together! Then any time you use that desk, shelf, or table, you’ll both remember it as something you created together.

Communication and Interacting with People

Arguably the most important skill a person can have is the ability to communicate well with others. Kids need to learn to speak clearly and audibly and know what to say in different situations. This takes practice!

A note on safety: We remind our kids not to engage with strangers, unless Mom or Dad is around and we are okay with it. We always tell them if they were to get lost, they should ask for help from an employee of the location or a mom with kids.

Some of our kids LOVE to talk, and we often encounter other adults on our travels who are willing to listen! It’s great to encourage these interactions while helping kids learn to gauge how much or little they should talk, based on verbal and physical cues coming from their listener.

Over the years we’ve gently pushed our eldest to move outside of his comfort zone, such as having him go up to a fast-food counter on his own to ask for a dipping sauce. He’s now super comfortable running mini errands like that and does a great job interacting with others.

The best way you can teach good communication is by modeling it yourself. Let them hear you saying please and thank you, making clear requests, engaging in conversation, and even occasionally making an assertive complaint if the situation calls for it.

Teach kids communication

Start by having your kids order their food at restaurants. Help them pay attention to when it’s their turn, and encourage them to order their food using a clear, loud voice, and saying please and thank you.

Navigation and Riding Public Transportation

Traveling full-time means we’ve been in a brand-new location almost every month, and as awesome as that is, sometimes we wake up and struggle to remember where we are! But it’s given us a good reason to teach our kids to be aware of their surroundings and learn how to get around.

Every time we leave a new house, I’ll point out landmarks and directions. I’ll even sometimes quiz my children on where we are and where we’re staying. “Where is our house from here? What’s the name of our new street? What is our house close to?”

Depending on the neighborhood, the older kids have been allowed to walk to nearby playgrounds and once we even sent them to the store to buy a cake!

We got to spend a month in New York City, staying in Brooklyn and riding the subway into Manhattan several times a week. I made sure my kids understood the process, including how to buy a Metro card, which train to get on, how to transfer to another train, and everything in between.

kids on subway

One game I’d play with my oldest while we were in New York was to ask, “If you had to get home by yourself from this exact spot, what would you do?” At first, he was entirely clueless! But over time, he started to see the simple pattern: find a subway stop, look at a map, get to the right line, make sure you’re going the right direction, get off at the right station, and walk the two blocks to our house.

While we don’t plan to abandon any of our kids in downtown NYC, the life skills of being aware of surroundings and how to navigate back home are ones that he’ll keep forever!

Teach kids navigation

Walk or drive somewhere with your kids, letting them know they are going to be in charge of getting everyone back home. Make note of things as you head out: where is your house? What is nearby? What are the street names? Are we turning right or left? Will we need to turn right or left to come back? When it’s time to go home, see if the kids can navigate the group back without help from you (except driving, of course)!

Doing Research Online

A running joke in the programming/IT community is “I get paid to Google things for people.” Whereas this isn’t exactly true, there is something to be said for being able to find things out online. We live in an era where access to information is unlimited, but the ability to ask the right questions and get the answers we seek is essential. By teaching kids how to search for information online, we’re giving them a leg up in any field they might pursue in the future.

I find the best way to encourage this is when my kids ask me a question that I don’t have the answer to. I say, “I don’t know, but let’s find out together!” I will sometimes even turn their question into the next day’s school assignment. I find that when they’re researching something that interests them, they’re much more motivated!

Chess and Playing Games

I added chess to our daily homeschool routine about a year ago, and I am so glad that I did! Not only does it teach spatial reasoning and critical thinking, but it also emphasizes sportsmanship and maturity. If they play every day, they are guaranteed to win some and lose some, and I want that lesson internalized as deeply as possible!

kids playing giant chess

Chess also connects them with a wonderful part of Western culture and gives them a skill that can come into use later in life, acting as a way to connect with others over a game. 

Being together all day long has its challenges, but it’s also a huge blessing. We are able to incorporate learning into every area of our lives and fully prepare our kids for when they leave and take on the world!

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