I recently clicked on yet another internet list, compelled as I was by the title: “40 Old-Fashioned Skills That Kids Need to Know Today.” What a perfect topic for Boomers to consider, discuss, – and, yes, about which to pontificate!
For those of us who shake our heads at the crucial abilities modern kids do not possess, a list of forty skills probably seems too short. For example, one of my sisters taught her technologically-adept granddaughter an outdoor skill: how to climb a tree.
And it may not be so terrible if children eat a little dirt along the way. I seem to remember that my sisters and I tasted a mud pie or two, while Mother quoted some statistic about a yearly soil consumption of a bushel per kid. Knowing how many allergies kids suffer these days, an occasional spoonful of dirt might toughen up those dainty immune systems.
While tree climbing and dirt eating did not make the top 40, some items regularly appearing on such lists – balancing checkbooks and reading maps – were once again included. With online banking and GPS systems making these skills all but obsolete, I agree that learning to budget, a related item on the original list, would certainly help everyone to live within their means. And in this modern world with international boundaries constantly under scrutiny, a good understanding of global geography might be an essential skill to consider.
My father, often exasperated by the common sense things I never seemed able to do, would have agreed with the practical skills listed: checking tire pressure and changing a tire, for two. My brothers-in-law would certainly join my dad in agreeing that how to hammer a nail deserves a place on the list. And any one of these males in my life would have been overjoyed if I ever used a screwdriver instead of a table knife to remedy some simple household problem.
I am marginally more proficient at several homemaker-related skills on the checklist: reading a recipe, scrambling an egg, sewing on a button, setting the table, ironing a shirt, and washing dishes. One of my sisters was adamant that her sons and daughter learn to do their own laundry and cook for themselves before they headed off for college. They proceeded to carry these skills of independent living right on into marriage.
In my own areas of expertise, I acknowledge the benefits of knowing how to find a book in the library, along with being able to make a phone call and take a message. And I would combine letter writing, thank-you note writing, and good manners. With Facebook, e-mails, and text messages as prolific as they have become, few people of any generation communicate by letter any more. In my opinion, the almost entire lack of expressing appreciation for gifts and good deeds is deplorable. For goodness sake, how difficult is it to use one of these methods of instant communication for mannerly purposes?
The internet list also included items related to personal development and interpersonal relationships. It goes without saying that young people need to know how to see a job through to completion and how to admit mistakes. While getting to know an older person, giving the other guy the benefit of the doubt, and doing something well even if no one is watching are certainly commendable, I would make several additions to this list of old-fashioned skills that may be slipping away.
It is more than obvious that folks of all generations should demonstrate good work habits. My brother-in-law, a small business owner, many years ago agreed to speak to high school students about job skills. The organizers suggested he concentrate on the habits of arriving on time, staying the whole day, and doing what the employer expected. Duh! However, these very skills – or lack thereof – continue to plague today’s workplace.
Much energy as been expended of late to ensure that kids develop adequate self-esteem. One resulting trend has been to honor kids not only for achievement but for participation.
I would contend the same lessons and more could be accomplished if kids learned how to lose and how to fail. It is of course natural that parents protect their children from the pain of life. But when parents do everything in their power to prevent their offspring from exposure to negative life experiences, they send a strong message that losing and failing are so horrible as to be avoided at all costs.
While loss and failure are certainly unpleasant and uncomfortable, the more important lesson for parents to teach is what to do about them. During my teaching years, parents often asked how their children could erase a failing grade. I always believed in second chances, but I also believed in their helping their kids learn how not to fail. And some of the reports I hear about poor parent behavior at youth sporting events or in a coach’s office certainly speak to the need of keeping loss in perspective. After all, most of us have learned much more from an occasional mistake than from an unending string of successes.
The final item on the internet checklist was to be kind, which I would broaden to include the Golden Rule. If children learn to treat others the way they wish to be treated, many other life skills would simply fall into place.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.