Who Needs Home Ec?

Your kids do, and summer is a great time to teach them!

When I was in middle school many years ago, I took home ec and industrial arts where I learned the basics of cooking, sewing, woodworking, and metal working. We also had lessons in personal finance where I learned how to address an envelope, write a check, and balance a checkbook. We learned about credit cards and how to use them responsibly.

My college roommate, who went to an elite New York prep school, was well-versed in medieval French poetry, but didn’t know she had to empty her dust buster periodically, didn’t know how to sign a check (she endorsed the check on the back instead of signing the front), and didn’t understand a letter she got from her bank that said she had ‘insufficient funds’ in her account and needed me to explain it to her.

The trend in schools across the country now is to follow the lead of those prep schools and double down on college level AP and STEM classes, assuming that kids will learn home ec skills at home. I have a child in college now, and I can attest to the importance of making sure your kids have learned all of these things before they move out!

The list of things they need to learn is actually kind of long, and it’s never too early to start. Even 2-year-olds can begin learning some of these skills (seriously!). In addition to teaching your kids how to take care of themselves when they move out, you’ll also be teaching them that everyone in a household who eats, uses a bathroom, or wears clothes has a responsibility to participate (in an age appropriate way) in providing that food or cleaning the things they use. This is teaching them to be good roommates and future spouses!

Summer is a great time to work on these skills when your kids aren’t overwhelmed with homework and extra curricular activities. We tried every summer to give our kids a few more responsibilities so that they would learn and practice these skills. This summer my 16-year-old hopes to get a job, so it will be a great time to teach him more about writing a resume, managing money, and keeping track of paperwork. He already does his own laundry and is a good cook, so our other main focus this summer will be to have him help with home care tasks. That leaky faucet has his name written all over it.

Here are life skills organized by the age a child can start to practice it. Your goal as the parent is to introduce a new skill in an age-appropriate way. For some of these it may be many years before they can do the task end-to-end on their own, so figure out how much they can do now and get them practicing!

Kids this age actually find this fun, so go ahead and treat it like play time!

Playing the laundry game

Playing the cleaning game

Playing the grocery shopping game

Chores are a great way to teach important skills and responsibility. You can print this list as is, or easily edit it to be just right for your family.

Kids this age still really want to help, and they’ll enjoy trying their hand at all of these jobs. Try introducing them all as a fun game of pretend play as opposed to chores. Leave lots of time to be patient, show them how to do it, and give them lots of chances to practice and improve.

Kids aged 6-9 start to be a little more competent, and can begin to learn the joy of a job well done and of contributing positively to the household. The trick in this age range is to show them that you are trusting them with more responsibility and letting them try new, harder things to keep them interested. Even if they resist some of it and complain, trust me that it will be much easier to teach them these skills now than it will be when they’re 15.

Family Contributions Ages 6-9

These are useful general guidelines, but you can easily edit these to make them right for your family. Chores are a great way to teach important skills and responsibility.

This age range is the hardest one in my mind. Kids are too smart and too experienced at this point to think that any of these chores are fun, with the possible exceptions of getting to try out the lawn mower or cook a whole meal all by themselves if you can manage to stay out of the kitchen. At this point you’ll switch from making it a game to asking them to do these things because they’re necessary, and because they can. It’s very important to teach your kids that every human should do their part to keep a household running smoothly, and it’s never ok to expect one person in the household to do more than their fair share.

I don’t recommend asking them to do all of these things! The most effective thing I found was to treat these shared family tasks as just that – tasks that the whole family worked together to complete. Mom and Dad were assigned tasks on the list just like the kids, and we rotated and shared to keep the kids learning and to just shake it up a bit.

I have a popular blog post about 10 different kinds of chore charts you can make with The Trip Clip that gives lots of suggestions for how to do this, and another blog post about this age group specifically: Raising Capable Adults.

By the time kids are 16, parents usually don’t need to be reminded to teach their kids life skills because the realization is already sinking in that there isn’t a lot of time left to make sure your kids know everything they need to know like how much laundry detergent to put in and how to scramble an egg. Getting a driver’s license requires a whole bunch of new skills – keeping an eye on the gas tank, having money to pay for gas, car insurance, jumping a car, changing a headlight bulb, etc.

Some of these skills were harder to remember to teach my kids, like how to find a doctor and make an appointment – and how to keep track of scheduling those appointments regularly.

The earlier you start the easier it will be to make sure your kids are as ready as possible to move out on their own.

As I moved into adulthood myself, and eventually became a home owner and a parent, I wished that I had had a lot more classes in practical skills in addition to all the advanced math I took. I was glad for my middle school home ec and personal finance classes. I wish I’d also had an introduction to car maintenance, a class about basic home repairs and plumbing, and one that taught meal planning and food management skills in addition to cooking. I even wish I’d had some education in cleaning! I’d never had wood floors before, and didn’t know how to care for them. I also had plants growing in my gutters and a bird’s nest in my dryer vent before learning about keeping up with regular cleaning of gutters and vents.

Which reminds me I need to go teach my kids these things too so they don’t have to repeat my mistakes.

How many of you had home ec growing up? Will your kids take home ec in school?

One thought on “Who Needs Home Ec?

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