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Parenting

Life Skills for Kids: 6+ Things Kids Should Know by Now

The pandemic led to more than just academic learning loss. Kids are now struggling with basic skills like tying their shoes and cooperation at school.

Life Skills for Kids: 6+ Things Kids Should Know by Now

When my son was seven, we did our annual summer sneaker shopping, and he chose a pair with laces. Suddenly it occurred to my husband and I that my son didn’t know how to tie his shoes. Without realizing it, we’d only bought Velcro-closure shoes since he could walk. I wondered, what else we hadn't taught him. And it dawned on me: telling time. I showed him a standard clock and he had no idea what time it was. That’s when I panicked: what other important life lessons had we inadvertently skipped?

Luckily, seven-year-olds learn quickly, and since then, he’s been tying shoes and telling time like a champ. But in today’s fast-paced, technologically charged world, there are a lot of shortcuts—and there may be lessons we're forgetting to teach our kids.

According to several American studies, kids not only had academic setbacks during the pandemic, they also lost some life skills (like sitting quietly, writing their letters properly and cutting with scissors). In fact, according to a survey by Education Week, 94 percent of teachers of young children said their students found listening and following instructions more challenging than in previous years, and 85 percent said their students struggled more with sharing and cooperating with their peers. Seventy-seven percent of educators found young students had greater difficulties handling pencils, pens and scissors, while 69 percent saw their charges struggling to tie their shoes at higher rates than five years ago.

Which of the following skills important for life as a toddler or school-age kid, has your child mastered?

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Toddler skills

Tying shoes

Tying shoes isn’t just about keeping our shoes on our feet. It’s also about practicing hand-eye coordination from a young age. And teachers, coaches and other parents will appreciate not having to do this task for your little one.

Show them bunny ears, the more traditional method and this super-quick way and let them choose their favourite. Then, practice on grown-ups' larger lace-up shoes first. Or buy a learning toy that has laces interwoven in it. Don't panic if your four-year-old can't do this right away. Many kids don't tie their shoes until they're five or six.

Waiting in line

Eight kids wait in line behind a teacher. They all stand in front of a school bus.

Last summer my son and I were waiting in line for tickets at the Montreal Biodome and a mom behind me had two small children who just couldn’t stand still. We got to talking and she told me that because of the pandemic and being isolated at home, her children had never learned the fine art of standing in line.

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Waiting patiently is something we all have to endure at some point, and we can’t always have a device to keep us entertained. That means practicing self-restraint, something toddlers often need help and guidance with. The best way to teach this is with practice but waiting in line doesn't need to be boring. Ask your kids "would you rather" questions, tell jokes or play I Spy.

Memorizing your phone number

I was at an outdoor festival last weekend and I found a lost five-year-old girl. She didn’t know her mom’s phone number, so we had to have her paged over the loudspeaker. Everything, thankfully, was resolved, but it made me realize how important it is for kids to know how to get in touch with their parents. When my son was three, I would sing my cell phone number over and over in the car and when we were doing bathtime. By osmosis, I think it sunk in.

Tidying up and organization

It’s never too early to teach your little ones how to clean up after themselves. Even though they’re young, they can still help put toys away after playing or bring dishes to the sink after a meal. Get them into the habit of cleaning up now and it won't be such a battle when they're older.

Brushing teeth

Life Skills for Kids: 6+ Things Kids Should Know by Now

Sure, we brush their teeth for them when they’re really little, but at a certain point, we have to hand over the toothbrush. Supervise to make sure they’re getting all those nooks and crannies, but let them practice brushing, flossing, and rinsing.

Decision making

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Sometimes a headstrong toddler will force you into letting them make their own decisions, but this isn’t always a bad thing. If they want independence, we should give them some. Making decisions is an important problem solving activity. Start by letting them choose between two outfits, for example, or two snack options. Just be careful. Give them too many options and your kid may be dressed like a superhero mermaid who's snacking on carrots dipped in Nutella.

School-Aged Kids

Telling time

Yes, most clocks today are digital, but knowing how to properly read a standard clock is a skill that could be handy in real life. There are lots of fun books and interactive toys that can help you teach your child how to tell time.

Basic cleaning

Life Skills for Kids: 6+ Things Kids Should Know by Now

I am all about everyone pitching in around the house, so by five, my son knew how to do all kinds of cleaning including dusting, sweeping, vacuuming and even cleaning the bathroom. He didn’t do this regularly, but he could. But now there are times when I ask him to wipe down the bathroom sink or clean the tub while he showers to help out. In the summer he pitches in even more. His future partner can thank me later.

Put laundry away

Since kindergarten, my son has been putting his laundry away. Here’s the thing about this chore: you have to be flexible. They are not necessarily going to put everything away in the neat little stacks. Their drawers will get messy when they’re in charge. But the point is, they are putting their clean clothes away. Pick your battles.

Do their own hair

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I don’t have a girl, but I imagine the daily hair struggle is real. My mom was adamant that I learned to brush and do my own hair when I was in grade school. She taught me how to start from the bottom so the knots were easier to manage, and how to do ponytails and French braids. Even boys can style their hair with a bit of water, a brush or comb, and a tiny bit of product.

Intro to cooking

Kids love being in the kitchen and they’re eager to learn food prep skills like chopping, measuring and cutting. It may take some extra patience (and paper towels), but having your kids help with making meals is a great way to impart some culinary wisdom. And it’s something they’ll carry with them throughout their lives.

Ride a bike

Life Skills for Kids: 6+ Things Kids Should Know by Now

In an age of electric bicycles and scooters, kids are slowly losing the fine art of pedalling a traditional bike. But riding a bike is like a rite of passage. It’s fun and a great way to be active.

My son was a late learner. He had no interest in learning to ride a bike until he was around eight years old. He woke up one morning and asked if someone would teach him to ride his new bike. After brushing off the two inches of dust that had accumulated on his “new” bike, he was ready.

Bathing solo

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There comes a time when kids need to learn how to actually clean themselves. A bubble bath can only do so much. Around the age of five or six kids should know how to wash their bodies and hair. After a few weeks of supervision and random check-ins, they should be good to go solo.

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Jenn Cox is a freelance journalist in Montreal and the mother of an 11-year-old. She loves crafts, gardening, and spending time with her family, including their doodle, Toby. 

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