9 Important Skills We Owe it To Our Kids To Teach Them


Our children are the first generation in history to grow up in a world where the internet has always existed. Many of them know how to work an iPhone before they can talk. They may give you a quizzical look when you talk about things like VCRs, typewriters, and pagers.

In many ways, their generation will have incredible potential and the ability to create and excel at things that didn’t even exist when we were children. They will likely create technology that we can’t even fathom. The fully solar cars and houses of the future may come from their ingenuity.

They may never experience the sensation of being truly lost while driving somewhere with no GPS, cell phone, or other means of direction besides a physical map.

All of that is incredible, but the one downside to the “app generation” is that many of them are making it to adulthood without some basic life skills. These skills are ones they can’t outsource to an app or learn via Facebook.

9 Skills We Owe it To Our Kids to Teach Them

I often wonder what my grandfather’s generation would think of our current generation of children. How different they would look if we could compare a 19 year old boy then and a 19 year old boy now. My guess is that the boy from my grandparent’s generation would excel at practical skills and academics. The boy from our current generation would, of course, excel at technology.

I can say, with relative certainty, that young adults from past generations would likely possess more of these practical skills. With all the benefits of technology, we shouldn’t let these basic and important skills be lost to time:

1. Cooking

Statistically, we all cook less than we did a few decades ago, and we eat out more often. This is especially true of high-school and college age groups, who often don’t have the time, space or skills to cook.

My grandparents talked of a time when almost every meal was cooked at home. Meals out were rare, and most didn’t even depend on the school system to provide lunch. Statistically, people were also thinner and healthier at that time. Of course, there are many factors involved, but experts continually warn that eating out is linked to obesity and other health problems.

All of us have to eat, and most of us eat multiple times a day. Cooking is one of the most useful skills we can teach our children, and most of them really enjoy learning it! I spent a few months teaching my kids how to cook and now they are able and willing kitchen helpers who routinely make entire meals on their own!

I highly recommend this online video course for teaching kids of all ages to cook! “Mrs. Kimball” (a licensed teacher) teaches basic to advanced skills for kids of all ages. (If the course isn’t accepting new members, make sure to get on the waiting list- she will send some great cooking tips for kids while you are waiting for access to the course!)

2. Swimming

This skill isn’t as useful as cooking, but it can certainly be life-saving if it is ever needed. Recreational swimming or swim teams can be really fun and a great source of exercise for kids who enjoy the water. Even those who aren’t can benefit from basic swimming skills and the ability to get to safety in water.

Swim lessons are available in many places, and while this isn’t a skill everyone will use often, it is a life-saving one to have if it is ever needed!

3. Budgeting

I was recently flipping through channels and came across a movie about a girl who was a shopaholic. She was many thousands of dollars in debt and still shopping. Part of the reason she had gotten into so much trouble is that she didn’t really understand that credit cards are not just free money, but essentially a high-interest loan.

Many adults don’t even have a clear picture of their monthly finances and expenses. 38% of adults in the US report having credit card debt of some kind, with the average being over $5,000!

Teaching kids the basics of finances and teaching them to track and not outspend their income is one way to help them avoid these pitfalls as adults. Online programs like Mint make this process simple and kids can start learning to manage finances long before they live on their own. As a bonus, maybe some of our children will be the lawmakers of the future who finally balance the federal budget!

4. First Aid

As a parent, I’ve been grateful many times for the classes I took as a teenager in first aid and CPR. Babies really will put anything in their mouth, and while I thankfully have never needed to use CPR on one of my own, I’m glad to know it in case I ever do need to use it until medical help can arrive.

On top of that, kids are walking “boo-boo creators” and I find myself applying bandaids and butterfly bandages more often than I’d like.

Knowing a skill like CPR won’t benefit you directly (if you ever need it, you won’t be doing it on yourself), but it is a great skill to have and it may be life-saving for someone else some day! Many cities have free or low-cost first aid and CPR classes for kids and adults.

5. Self Defense

Thousands of children and young adults are the victim of abuse or assault each year. Those ages 12-34 are at the highest risk, though instances of abuse of young children are on the rise. It is sad to think that we live in a world where it is important to teach our kids how to defend themselves, but we do. Hopefully this is never a skill that your child has to use in a real-life situation, but there are many benefits to taking self-defense or martial arts classes, including:

  • Learning self-control and self-discipline (incredibly important life skills)
  • Gaining confidence
  • Improving reflexes and balance

6. Basic Cleaning

Judging by the dorm rooms when I was in college, I’m guessing that most students never learned (or didn’t care about) basic cleaning skills. By adulthood, we should all have the ability to keep our living areas clean and livable. Teaching kids basic cleaning skills (and helping them learn consistency in cleaning) is also a great way to get them involved in keeping their living space (your house) clean now!

7. Critical Thinking

There may be many factors to blame, but experts seem to agree that we are seeing a broad decline in critical thinking ability. With the vast and unceasing amount of information we encounter on a daily basis, it seems that in many cases, it is easier to just choose to agree with or believe the information or to disagree or disbelieve it, rather than to think critically about. it. One of the most valuable (and difficult) skills we can teach our children in today’s world is to question information, even from “trusted” sources like textbooks, teachers, and the news. It will serve them well to teach them how to think, rather than just what to think.

8. Coding

We live in a technologically driven world that is changing rapidly and that offers many advantages. One major advantage is the ability to learn almost any skill online with enough time and motivation. Many specialized skills used to require a college education to learn, while many (not all, of course) can now be learned online. Top universities like Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Stanford have opened many of their classes up for students to watch for free online.

The hiring world is shifting too. While a college degree was once almost a guarantee of a job, many of the top companies today are hiring based on skill, not formal education level. This opens many new opportunities for anyone willing to take the initiative to learn.

Students can easily learn coding online, and in an increasingly technological world, these skills may continue to increase in value.

We use Codecademy for online instruction on how to code. It is easy to understand and interactive. Any student who is able to read can start learning many different coding languages on this site.

9. Car Care

Perhaps the least helpful of these practical skills as cars get more computerized and difficult to fix, but still beneficial nonetheless. I’ve saved so much money over the years by being able to fix minor car issues myself (or with the help of my dad). Even the ability to change a tire can save money and hassle when that skill is needed.

There probably many other basic skills I’ve left out that prior generations were proficient at and considered essential to know, but these are good start.

What do you think? What other skills do we owe it to our kids to teach them?

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Reader Comments

  1. Laundry. Those color catching sheets make it less likely you will wind up with pink t-shirts but still…

    Sewing. At least how to reattach a button to a shirt and fix a torn hem.

    I never learned actual swimming, I could dog paddle, but my brother teaching me how to tread water made me much more comfortable going into a pool. And let me use a swim noodle to keep me afloat in the deep end in a water aerobics class once the instructor learned I was not likely to drown if I fell off the noodle.

  2. A basic skill lost on the newest generation is talking to people, face to face, looking in eyes, etc. They would prefer to sit across from each other and text one another. So proper form of communication is truly an assset and very important to keep.

  3. Definitely basic sewing skills, but also basic plant care. Not necessarily gardening (though that would be awesome, too) but at least plant and grow some herbs. I also think it’s important to be responsible for the care of a living thing, like a pet.

    • Yes, yes, yes. This is extremely important. At the top of the list. Grace and courtesy skills need to be taught, and taught by example regarding the use of cell phones and texting when you’re with someone. I think the rudeness began when you were speaking on your Home phone and you could know when another call was coming in and you could put the person you we’re speaking with on “HOLD”/neglect. Nowadays I find I am in the middle of a sentence, a conversation and someone’s phone beeps and that conversation was interrupted and the train of thought is lost. This also happens frequently when you are having a conversation with someone and another person breaks into that conversation with no consideration that an important thought might be being expressed. So learning Basic skills- graces and courtesies around how and when to interrupt, noticing/ being sensitive/thoughtful and not just inconsiderately busting in. Develop the ” patience muscle”. Kids nowadays who are having screen time before the age of six and especially before the age of three are losing out on developing there sensorial skills.

  4. Thank you so much for introducing Codeacademy to our family! I’ve read several articles about the importance of learning coding but our children’s school doesn’t offer any classes. This is great to have the ability to do it together as a family at home! Thank you thank you thank you! Very excited !

  5. I agree with Linda Sand – laundry and basic sewing skills are critical. Additionally, basic gardening is a great skill to teach our children. It is so rewarding to be able to grow your own fruits and veggies and studies show that children are more apt to eat them if they help grow the. There are many ways to learn gardening online, from books or being taught by an experienced gardener.

  6. Great list, plus the sewing one as commented above.. Of course, most of these skills are meant to be /should be taught at home, but I think it’s worthwhile sharing this with schools too – it’s sad, but true, that there are too many parents who are ‘too busy working’ to give their children even the basics of contributing to keeping the house tidy/clean, and learning to cook (and enjoy it / understand healthy cooking/budgeting ).

  7. Very true. I also think emotional intelligence & resilience is so important. Being taught to understand their emotions at a young age & dealing with them will help them throughout life & help everyone else too. Goldie Hawn is part of a program in schools called MindUP which has some very good, simple & practice advice on this.

  8. Basic home maintenance. How to fix a running toilet, a leaky faucet, simple things like that. When you can handle minor fixes on your own, you can save a lot of money!

    • I think this is a must! At some point our kids are going to move out and knowing that they can fix a toilet or how to fix a squeaky door would be fantastic.

  9. Add manners like How To eat in public and not spitting, to the list.

  10. Two things I can think of to be included in what we should teach our children are: respect/reverence for all life and common courtesy. Please and Thank you are not passe.

  11. Simple sewing skills (hems, patches and sewing buttons) have saved us a small fortune in tailor fees…I’m also a big proponent of teaching basic survival and crisis skills…while we don’t live in a time where survival skills are used often, the knowledge is still important.

  12. Great list! I agree with sewing and manners, including how to address an adult. I would add writing a hand written “Thank You” note.

  13. Posture, the English language, spelling (til is NOT a word!), memorizing phone numbers and addresses (I remember a few that now no longer are relevant, but I don’t remember any of my friends’ numbers and addresses). I definitely agree with critical thinking and emotions, adding to them physical and mental evaluation of body, “Am I physically hungry or on an emotional binge? Why do I want chocolate chips (or cookies, cake, etc.) right now? When was the last time I ate? Where am I hurting? Is it physical pain, emotional trigger, or spiritual attack?”

  14. How about teaching our kids that they need to work for a living! I’m 26 and people my age and younger expect to earn money by doing the bare minimum and are constantly calling off work. Some jobs like mine require a lot of training, so unfortunately my boss isn’t quick to fire anybody. Sad that it’s needed, but good post btw.

  15. I agree, Katie! My kids do swimming and karate. I started to teach them how to cook over the summer and enrolled them in “Petits Chefs Academy” near my house, here in Canada where they learn basic cooking skills. Guess what, spinach on a pizza is so much better when “Petits Chefs” does, not mommy, LOL! I also agree with some others about the gardening and basic sewing. The cleaning part isn’t going so well, at my house, but I’m working on it! I’ve been thinking about the coding, but now you’ve gotten me curious to try that too!

  16. Oh my Gosh! All of the above! Moreover… teach the kids they don’t have to have that phone or game or TV on All The Time. It’s great to unplug!!!!! Great list and added ideas.

  17. …. and Grit. Grit is how to stick it out when it’s not fun or just plain hard. Learning inner tools that get you through the muddy stuff, being able to keep a goal in mind and keep on truckin’

    • I really like this idea of Grit! Would love to hear about how you teach kids Grit. I am a health psychologist and father of 4 children. I have studied grit and helped clients with this important concept. That said, would love to hear more of what you consider you important in teaching this!

      • I think that Grit is a quality that comes through the process of learning skills, observing the world and how to navigate through it and developing character. Many of the skills you mention, on your list, teach self reliance and self confidence. Without knowing how to choose wisely, stick with something that is difficult, respect others (manners, courtesy, listening, and others time, property, feelings, etc.) one cannot develop Grit. We have come to a place where kids are not taught accountability. They’re hovered over, excused for everything, treated like royalty, have high expectations that their wants and needs are more important than anyone else’s …
        the hard things in life, which many seem to be unable and unwilling to expose their little precious ones to, are the only ways for them to build a meaning life and learn how to thrive and excel.

  18. All wonderful suggestions. I would add that health care as in respect for our bodies, and what is involved in taking care of our body. Gratitude and appreciation for this wonderful vessel that we all too often take for granted.

  19. I couldn’t agree more with teaching kids basic skills. When my son was born, his dad and I were both on active duty in the Air Force. He had to become more self-sufficient at an earlier age than most kids due to the fact that we could have been shipped anywhere in the world at any time without him. We would never leave him with a sitter but took him everywhere we would go. Behaving in public was one of the earliest things he learned. I started teaching him to cook at age 4. By age 10, he could cook a full meal, nothing fancy but decent. Today, he’s a better cook than I ever thought about being. He does laundry without turning it pink or shrinking everything. He can fix just about anything around the house and has been since he was a teenager. I can attest to just about everything on the above list except coding since my son was born about a decade before computers became available to the public. Teaching kids skills early definitely has its benefits and stays with them their whole life.

  20. Wonderful post. We will be looking into CodeAcademy! I want to mention another resource we discovered for car care: it is a course called AUTO UPKEEP: Basic Car Care, Maintenance and Repair by Michael E. Gray and Linda E. Gray. My son is really enjoying it and learning a lot. The day he read the chapter on car care, he went out and cleaned my van inside and out and told me he never really knew how to do it properly. I’d say the course paid for itself already! LOL!

  21. I love your list and think those are very important skills, I would add gardening, how to grow food. I think it will become more important as our food supply continues to be contaminated and more and more expensive. It may be a life saving skill to future generations.

  22. “Doing” arts and crafts. Singing, playing musical instruments, painting and sculpture, knitting and crochet or other tactile arts, storytelling. Wonderful empowering stress-busters, all. The arts are not a frill.

  23. Basic gardening. In containers even. They need to know something about where food comes from and how they can grow it in the event of serious economic crisis!

  24. they need to know:
    How to sew on a button, repair a seam and fix a hem.
    Laundry/ironing/fabric types and care
    Handle a screwdriver and hammer. (i.e. put together a bookshelf)
    Basics on insurance and banking – kinds if insurance/accounts, etc. – personal finance (more than just budgeting
    How to read a contract/lease agreement. What to watch for, etc.
    Nutrition – cooking is great – but what should they cook? what is a good diet?

  25. Charity. Giving to the poor. Caring and respect for the elderly. Random acts of kindness.

    • These are some of the most important “skills” of all. Many of the ones listed are about taking care of yourself. Equally important is actively caring about others..

  26. Great post! I’d also recommend basic food awareness like other commenters–where different food comes from, how animals should be treated, and how to forage for food in your area.

    Another area would be budgeting time as well as finances. Too many kids don’t have the opportunity to budget their own time, since they’re hustled from one activity to the next. Then as adults, they struggle trying to figure out how to get it all done.

  27. Thanks Katie! Another great post 🙂

  28. Manners! You could spend $100K+ in education and degrees but if you have no manners, who will hire you?

  29. Negotiation skills and ability to learn a language from another culture.

  30. I agree that kids need basic skills that so many are never taught. I wouldn’t have thought about coding, although we foster it in our kiddos. It is important. I am amazed at how many adults don’t know how to balance a check book. Kids need to know this.

  31. Thanks Katie, the list is so wonderful. I believe we should teach our kids Prayer, Good behaviours and attitude in Life. We need to teach them to reverence the LORD as well because He is the Creator of all the Universe.

  32. I think character traits and survival skills are at the top of our list.
    Teaching a child to walk in the Fruits of the Spirit and also, very practically, simple things like building a fire, using the sun and stars for direction
    An incomplete thought, but didn’t want these to be left out =]

  33. Teach then The Word of God (Bible)

  34. We should be teaching our kids meditation too! Such a valuable tool for learning resiliency, patience and respect.

  35. Thanks Katie, the list is amazing!

  36. I always get so surprised when I find out that some people can’t swim. My parents taught me to swim at such a young age, and it’s definitely been helpful. Not to mention, it’s healthy too.

  37. As a mom of three I read some very unsettling information from FoodBabe this evening that is like to share with as many moms as possible. The link is below. Our children are being feed Roundup in their food, sadly this is not limited to just ordinary foods it’s food that are geared toward our children. Even more shuttering. I was shocked to read that it’s even in baby food. I’m a huge fan of wellness Moma and I know that many of you all have subscriptions for emails from here because we all have a common interest of our children’s wellbeing. I am applaud that our government has been aware of this and allowed it to continue. Please feel free to share this with everyone you can and on media. The only way we have a chance of protecting ourselves and our children is by being aware that there is poison in our everyday foods. Including “organic” however, organic contains a very small amount of it, leaving us only with a choice to try and stop this from continuing any further.


    Roundup weedkiller is in our children’s food even babyfood, and no one is trying to warn us…..

  38. Code.org is a fun coding site for kids too.

  39. I am really a very lucky individual when it comes to almost all of these. My mother had me in the kitchen helping with food as soon as I was big enough to hold a spoon. My uncle Jim taught me and my brothers to swim, mostly by throwing us in the water so we could figure it out. My mother also let us handle all of our own money, and she let us waste it if we wanted, but we soon learned that it was better to save for something we want a lot then to get candy/little things on impulse. My school made us all take both self-defense, CPR and first aid classes, and even though I hated it at the time, I now know how to deal with little injuries. My mother also treated me and my brothers as intellectual equals through our teen years, and we had many spirited debates about anything and everything. She also made us clean our rooms, do dishes, vacuum, etc. My high school English teacher skipped the section about Romeo and Juliet, and instead taught us how to tie a tie and change a car tire, oil, etc. The only thing on this list I have never had any exposure to is coding, and I need to work on that. I am extremely grateful for all the people in my life that made me so well-rounded, especially my mother (single mom extraordinaire!), and my school teachers, for teaching me to be self sufficient.

  40. Sometimes it really is the little things! Simple but powerful tips. As a former elementary school teacher I give this 2 thumbs up, 5 stars, and a Huge happy face sticker!

  41. Great article!, instead of car care, I would say the skill to fix things in general… and also add gardening and farming skills. It will be very important in the future.

    Thanks a lot! Love your blog.

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