While March Break might mean sweet, sweet freedom for our kids, the pressure on parents to provide non-stop entertainment can be anything but liberating. But the week-long break from school doesn’t necessarily have to be a barrage of elaborate activities, day camps and scheduled outings. Why not use five extra days with the little ones to go back to the basics? We’ve rounded up a list of essential life skills that children of various ages can learn to master with a bit of parental guidance (and wisdom, obviously). Achieving basic skills can be both a satisfying and empowering step toward independence for kids – and we’re willing to bet that the challenge of accomplishing each one will provide hours of valuable entertainment for the whole family.
1. How to tie their shoes, once and for all
We’ve all got a method of choice (We’ve got a haunting distant memory of a rhyme about bunny ears) but what’s the easiest way to teach kids how to tie their shoes? With a song, we think. This catchy shoe-tying jingle will have your little ones getting the hang of it in no time (with a bit of direction from mom or dad, of course).
2. How to deposit money in the bank
Many things can be done online these days – but there’s something special about the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with depositing money in person. Let your kids experience the whole shebang and they’ll surely appreciate those dollars a little more.
3. How to peel vegetables
There’s no better time than now to get your kids more involved in the kitchen – and the prepping stage is a great place to start. Have your mini sous chefs wash vegetables (like carrots, everyone loves carrots) and peel them using a handheld peeler. Be sure to teach them to peel in the direction away from the hand holding the vegetable, and then sit back and smile as your kids complete the dirty work.
4. How to scramble an egg
With minimal prep and cooking time, scrambled eggs are the perfect mini meal for your little ones to experiment with (bonus: if the first attempt doesn’t turn out, you’ve still got the rest of the carton). Kid chefs everywhere are proving that cooking isn’t just for mom and dad anymore, so why not join the party?
5. How to make someone smile
Take the opportunity to remind your kids that “stranger danger” is a real thing, but it doesn’t mean we can’t try and spread some old fashioned good vibes when we’re out in public. During one whole outing, have your kids smile at strangers – in the elevator, at the mall, while the cashier is bagging your groceries. We’re willing to bet there’ll be a ton of smiles in return, and an overall warm and fuzzy feeling about the whole experiment.
6. How to put the groceries away
It might seem like a mindless task for adults, but it can be a fun challenge for kids when they help with the groceries. Give them a few basic rules to follow (like putting the cold/frozen items away first, fruit in the fruit basket, bread on the counter) and then let them enjoy themselves while being extra helpful.
7. How to sew a button
While it’s a practical skill to have, learning how to sew a button can also be a fun addition to your craft time. Visit a local craft store or dollar store to get some felt and colourful buttons (and a needle and thread, if you don’t already have some) and create some fun designs using the new materials. The kids will have fun practicing while they nail down another useful life skill.
8. How to write a thank-you note
It’s easy to mumble “thanks” or send a quick thank-you text but real gratitude comes in the form of handwritten notes. Show your little ones that thank-you notes can be short and sweet but can make someone’s day. Follow a few simple steps and feel free to add personal touches with stickers or a little drawing. (Then see #9.)
9. How to mail a letter
Have your kids pick a relative or friend of the family who they think would be most surprised to receive mail from them. Walk them through the steps of preparing a note (see #8), addressing the envelope, adding a stamp and walking to the nearest mailbox. (Then discourage them from texting the recipient daily about whether said mail was received.)
10. How to wrap a present
If your family is anything like ours, you probably have one person who is the designated “wrapper” when the holidays come around. But with basic instructions and a bit of practice, you might just end up with a few little gift-wrapping elves. Make a game out of it by wrapping random objects from around the house and taking turns guessing what might be inside!
11. How to use chopsticks
Okay, so it might not be an essential life skill. But it feels pretty cool to sit down at a restaurant and have perfect chopstick technique. Maybe using chopsticks isn’t something you’re familiar with, either – use the opportunity to learn something new together. Nail down your technique and then head out for a meal to test your skills (or simply stay home and use chopsticks to eat mac and cheese)!
12. How to do a cartwheel
Knowing how to do a cartwheel might not be a skill that benefits your kids on a daily basis, but the confidence and exhilaration that comes from being able to “flip” will do wonders for their self-esteem. If you’re brave enough, give it a try yourself! The experience might not result in a family of professional gymnasts, but it’s an awesome excuse to get active together.
13. How to follow a recipe
Have a few recipes chosen in advance – include basic dishes that have ingredients your kids like – then let them decide which dish to make. Have multiple kids? Let each one have a designated night to feature his/her recipe of choice! Walk your kids through the stages of prepping ingredients and equipment in advance and following the steps in order. Even if dishes don’t turn out as well as they might with an adult running the show, kids tend to foster an appreciation for cooking (and eating!) when they get involved.
14. How to have proper table manners
Instead of just offering the usual “please” and “thank you” reminders, make an activity out of focusing on proper table manners during a meal. Have the whole family dress up and participate, and focus on things like putting your napkin in your lap, having elbows off the table, engaging in polite conversation with everyone at the table and asking to be excused when finished. (With any luck, the behaviour will last.)
15. How to pack an overnight bag
Even if you aren’t planning an overnight getaway over the break, it’s a great time to fine-tune the art of packing a bag. Talk about the essential items needed for any trip away, followed by the items that might be necessary for specific locations. Practice packing an overnight bag for a night at Grandma’s house and then an overnight bag for a weekend at the cottage. (Lucky you if you get them to pack a bag and then actually have a surprise trip planned!)
16. How to follow a traditional map
We’re not talking about pulling the map feature up on a smartphone and watching as the GPS works its magic. Get a printed map of the city you live in and have your kids point out a “destination”. With you driving, allow your kids to direct you to that spot with only the help of the map. (Keeping the game within city limits is helpful – trust us.)
17. How to let loose
It’s not a traditional life skill, but we’ll argue that it’s one of the most essential. There will always be rules, chores and deadlines but knowing how to truly let loose will stick with children through their hardest moments. So blast the music, dance for hours and encourage them to be their silliest selves! (And when everyone is pooped out and ready for lunch, refer to #4 and send them to the kitchen.)