What Kids Need To Know


Not so very long ago kids learned how to take care of themselves and others at a realitively young age. It was expected and necessary as there was always the need for an extra pair of hands around the house. Children helped take care of younger brothers and sisters by age 4 or 5, made their own bed, put away some or most of their clothes, picked up after themselves, and generally made a visible contribution to the family. In rural cultures the chores kids did were much more than this and in most of the rest of the world children are depended on to be competent in certain age appropriate ways.

Now this might sound like I am advocating some form of child labor. Not so. What concerns me about many (most) urban American children is the lack of common ordinary skills, not being able to take care of themselves and others younger then themselves to a moderate degree, and not being comfortable with age appropriate responsibility. The more you know, the more confident you are. “I can do that!” is a wonderful thing to be able to say to yourself!

So what skills are important for children? Which skills will increase confidence in themselves? How do we give them a ‘leg-up’ so that each one feels able to handle sudden unexpected events with confidence instead of fear and panic? I guess each one of us has to define this for their family, however the end goal is the same: have all kids feel good about being able to cope with life.

What can kids do at what age? Much, much more than you think! At age 5 my oldest son was changing diapers and feeding his younger sister and brother breakfast every morning. I didn’t ask him, he just did it. At this age getting cereal and milk, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, making your bed, putting away clothes, folding clothes, and dressing yourself are all well within the abilities of a 5 year old. I also know at other times-gone-by children at this age fed the smaller animals, hung out clothes on the line, weeded the garden, took care of the chickens, did simple mending and sewed doll clothes, and walked to school – even if it was a mile or two away.

Within the next year or so most of us, when I was growing up, could use a small pocket knife, tie knots, whistle, cook simple meals, take care of the baby for a short time, vacuum, wash dishes, and even iron. Again, I am not suggesting that all kids do all these things, I AM suggesting that the sooner each child can do the simple things of everyday life, the safer and more competent each one is.

We were big hikers in our family and loved to walk in the mountains or on a deserted country road for the day. It was important for the kids to be able to walk comfortably for long periods of time so we weren’t always carrying them. Our goal was to have each one walk two milesĀ  by age two without being picked up. It took a long time to walk that far for sure, and everyone of the five was able to do this by age two! Here in Colorado kids are on skis by the time they are two, in California they swim well by then, so why not do other things as well?

The object is to give our children and grandchildren as much education about life as possible so that when something unexpected comes up each one knows what to do without panic. I want kids to be able to feed themselves, go to the neighbors, dial 911, know what to do about a fire, be able to leave the house by several different methods, and hide if necessary. I want them to know how to use scizzors, duct tape, rope, string, and their brain. We need to make sure our kids can think outside the box, be creative and original, and use deductive reasoning since it seems we are coming into a very changable and unknown future. Let’s give the kids the gift of being home smart, life smart, and street smart!

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