Elementary opportunities: life skills

Small steps, fun approaches, steady progress, and an early start create lasting life skills. Here is a look at balancing work and play, saving and spending wisely, and sleeping and eating on a healthful schedule.

Possible? Yes! It’s easier than it sounds, and so important. But, is starting in these early years really that important?

Again, yes. In my workplace, most of our high schoolers are entrenched in bad habits that started in childhood. They miss more classes than they attend, stay up all night and sleep all day, squander their time and money, and then get after-school jobs that last into the night to support their hobbies ~ which makes getting up, eating a nutritious breakfast, and succeeding in school even harder. Few of these students are happy, even fewer will graduate. Learning the value of earned rewards at this stage is just about impossible. Parents wonder why.

Here is a brief look at life in another lane — basic life skills for youngsters.

Time management — school work and home tasks

Knowing what needs to be done and completing it on time is a skill that, when learned early, serves us the rest of our lives. Whether you use a chart on the refrigerator or a simple planner book (with pictures of activities for pre-readers), teach the value of planning ahead to manage a schedule and complete work correctly and on time.

Show through your own choices that everything else is more fun when the work is done, and there is also time to say “yes” to unexpected opportunities. Not knowing what’s due, as well as procrastinating assignments, robs the joy of having truly free time.

*Pro tip for all ages: multi-tasking simply doesn’t work. Turn off the music and TV, put the phone away, and focus on the work. It will go faster and turn out better. Then, put the work away and focus on the fun!

Money management — having what they need for what they want

The “jar method” and the weekly allowance unrelated to chores and high grades is still my favorite money management tool. Provide whatever reasonable allowance you can afford that provides sufficient but not excessive funds for your child.

I like jars for “fun money” that’s instantly available; “big savings” for wish list items; and a “helping fund” for charitable projects that are meaningful to your child. Use pictures for pre-readers.

Decide on what percentage of the weekly allowance will go into each jar, discuss what the savings goals might be (they can change), talk about family values (“even though this money is yours, there are some things we don’t spend money on”), apportion the money together, and then make sure those monies are not borrowed or intermingled. Open a bank account and deposit long-term savings money once per month.

In this system, with young children, the parents buy all food, clothes, and school supplies. The allowance is given without an obligation to perform chores or earn high grades, although there are some daily and weekly responsibilities children can do as “citizens of the house” just as the adults do. Chores beyond such basics as keeping school work organized, toys and clothes picked up, helping clear the table, and caring for pets, might include sorting laundry, helping wash windows, picking up sticks in the fall, etc. These are optional and paid at a negotiated rate, yes, even with children, and the money can go into whatever jar the child chooses.

As for the charitable giving jar, talk about choices with your child. Will s/he sponsor an endangered animal, give money to your church, donate to a food pantry? When there’s enough money, make the donation, and then discuss whether to continue or change it.

This system truly teaches budgeting. Soon, you can build easy math skills into this project. Later on, you can teach the value of compounding interest. By high school, the allowance should have increased substantially and the teen will be in charge of clothes, gifts, gear, school supplies, etc.

Eating and sleeping on a schedule — essential!

This is you, right? Me too. ~It doesn’t have to be! Serve a simple, balanced meal on a regular schedule, with conversation and without phones and TV, and you’ve done well.

Help your child learn the benefits of eating well and going to bed on time. Admittedly, this is hard with more than one child involved in more than one activity. But, scale back if necessary to ensure that everyone ~you too!~ gets the benefits of home cooked meals, unscheduled recreation, and restorative sleep. *Pro tip: Serve protein-rich, not starchy, sugary breakfasts for school success.

Everyone’s moods, energy levels, and overall health will be better.

Looking ahead: communication, kindness and patience, School Ready: advice on getting into the school routine from a retired teacher; and advocating for your child in school.

Photos courtesy Pixabay.


  1. I have heard that there are going to be classes for high school seniors in how to understand the basics of saving money, writing a check … I am not sure that young adults use checks anymore, but basic money concepts is a good thing. The savings jar and divvying up money for future purchases is a great idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They won’t need many checks, but they will need to track their debit card spending, balance their accounts, and stay on the plus side of interest. I have wanted life skills classes for all ages, including special education, for years. I suggested one idea years ago — to set up a mini market of imitation fruits, breads, meats, dairy, etc., as well as junk food, and give young students play money to practice counting money, making change, planning their spending, and creating balanced meals. The principal turned me down flat. (By the way, the “jar” system isn’t original. Dave Ramsey teaches an “envelope” system.) —– I love your “nutty” post. You and Parker have a very special relationship!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll bet you love adding nuts to your meals – you always eat so nutritiously DiAnne. They have a school for autistic children that is not near me, but I’ve heard about how they teach the students how to thrive in the real world. Not only do they have the mini market as you suggest, but the school is situated on a large piece of property with a mini village around where the students can go to stores, a library. I wish I knew the name of the school and I’d send you the link. I thought it was a fabulous idea. Also teaching life skills for older students is very beneficial. The “home ec” classes we had back in the day should just be upgraded to life skills/finance classes. Do they even have home ec anymore?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I would LOVE to work there! I can say that, at our school, a new teacher joined the team a couple of years ago and made it her mission to teach home ec to our crowd of improbable home makers. Basic cooking. Basic sewing. And laundry. I respect her so much for it. And, guess what?! I am the resident Sewing Machine Repair Guru! I untangle something just about every day during that unit, which I thoroughly enjoy! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I used to sew all my own clothes back in high school DiAnne. I was tall (still am at 5′ 9″) and back then it was difficult to find pants that didn’t go above your ankles or sleeves that didn’t reach your wrists. So my parents bought me a sewing machine and console for Christmas and I made my own clothes, but my mom finished the hem, sewed on buttons, set in sleeves … she would say “I’ll be you tell people you make your own clothes don’t you?” I could not remember the name of the place so I looked in the healthwatch area of the radio station and found it. I will send you a link separately to Oxford Recovery Center (which I thought was just a hyperbaric chamber, but it is more and the actual podcast which tells you what I heard … it is enlightening. I will send it in a separate comment now.


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