Why we practice life skills summers

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Written by Kara Anderson.

It was a few years ago now that we had our very first life skills summer. And it all began really simply.

I made each of my kids a morning checklist:

  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Brush hair
  • Make bed

My daughter was a pre-reader at the time, so we made her a picture checklist. And for the three months between our regular co-op meetings, from the end of May until early September, we practiced the items on the list every day.

Until it became automatic.

Until all I had to say was “Ok guys! Do your checklists!” and everyone knew what I meant.

What was remarkable, though, was how much this one little thing helped us when the school year started up again.

It automated something that had been a struggle most mornings. And now, that struggle was gone.

And so the next summer, I spent some time trying to decide what we should work on during the warmest months of the year.

I hit on organizing our chores. I made a list of things I thought my kids could help with – many that they had already been helping with, but not in an organized way — things like:

  • walking the dog
  • feeding the pets
  • emptying the dishwasher
  • starting a load of laundry or putting one away
  • wiping the table
  • sweeping the kitchen
  • tidying the bathroom
  • feeding our chickens and collecting eggs
  • taking out recycling

(I really focused on things that needed to be done in order to start our school day.)

And together, we walked through the processes for a week or so – this is where the dishes go when you empty the dishwasher; this is why you wipe the sink before the toilet. That kind of thing.

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We created some chore sticks. Each morning they picked two, and throughout the course of that summer, they learned how to do all kinds of helpful things around the house.

Eventually, when I felt like things were going well, I added a few tasks for them to do on Fridays when we worked together to clean our home.

After they picked up their rooms, stripped the beds and vacuumed, they each had a few around the house chores to help with, like dusting, doing windows, or tracking down and organizing our library books to be returned.

Again, when the school year started up again, I saw the benefits of a life skills summer play out … the kids were now waking in the morning and doing their checklists on automatic pilot.

They were helping with household stuff without needing help or without me needing to do the chore over.

From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., we were a pretty smooth sailing ship.

(The hours between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. continue to be farm meets school meets disco meets circus camp.)

This year, I’m looking forward to teaching my kids how to do their own laundry.

At 8 and 11, they already know how to sort clothes, start a load, and basic folding techniques, but I think a summer of walking through each of the steps will set us up well to get them handling this chore independently from start to finish come fall.

(I have an ulterior motive: Please stop wearing just socks outside. What is so exciting out there that there’s no time for shoes?)

They’ll keep helping with household chores — the list of what they can help with keeps growing as they mature. But I am trying to build on to what has now become automatic.

And summer just seems like the perfect time for our family.

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Are you interested in having a Life Skills Summer this year too?

Here are a few tips I’ve learned:

  1. Take time in the beginning to set up a system. Think out what you want your kids to learn, and how to keep that front and center for a good period of time.
  2. Don’t have crazy expectations. Keep it simple at first – you can always build on later.
  3. Show your kids how to do chores right. It will take a little longer than handing them a hairbrush or a rag and bottle of cleaner, but it’s worth it to teach them how to do a job well.
  4. Get good, kid-safe products to use, and keep them organized.
  5. Be patient with mistakes. We’ve all almost put dishsoap in the dishwasher, right?
  6. Know your kids and the capabilities. Every kid is different and every family is different. Try not to compare to other families where their kids are milking cows and running MLMs.
  7. Keep it positive.
  8. Reward or not – that’s up to you. Check out how Jamie handles cleaning and rewards in her family for more ideas.
  9. But do give praise and support for work well done.
  10. If there’s a particular chore that your kids absolutely detest, I say it’s OK to not force it. My husband knows how I feel about dragging out garbage cans, and I know how he feels about scrubbing toilets. The best approach is to work as a team, taking care of your home together, and team members support each other. You can teach your kids how to do a task well without making them do it every day.

I’m excited about showing my kids another skill this summer that they’ll take into life with them as they get older. I love how learning new life skills empowers my kids and helps them feel independent.

It’s hard sometimes to see our kids growing up; but I’ve found practicing life skills summers are a great opportunity to get glimpses of the amazing teens and grown-ups they are slowly becoming.

How are you teaching life skills in your family? What tips would you share?

About Kara Anderson

Kara is a freelance writer and homeschooling mom, with a goal of encouraging fellow mamas in real-life homeschooling. She also’s the happy co-host of The Homeschool Sisters podcast.

Comments

  1. brilliant! We have a “morning list” for each kid. Simple stuff like make bed, brush teeth, get backpack ready. I never thought to do the popsicle stick thing for bigger chores. That’s a good idea!
    Maggie’s latest post: Homemade Travel Journals

  2. Fantastic timing – we just started using a simple checklist I found at Montessori Print Shop – just things like “get dressed,” “make bed,” etc. One of the things on the checklist is “helping hand” and we decided that we would start with four chores (feed the pets, help with laundry, help with dishes, and set the table – things they are already doing, but, like you say, not in an organized way) and put them on sticks. Ours looks very much like your photo there. 🙂
    meg’s latest post: his first week

    • Kara Anderson says:

      I love that phrase “helping hand.” My kids have always loved being a “helper,” shadowing me as I did chores and learning through imitation. I’m noticing a shift now — I am becoming the helper to them. “Helping Hand” denotes such teamwork. I just love it.

  3. “The best approach is to work as a team, taking care of your home together, and team members support each other.”

    Yes! Yes, they do! This shift in my thinking has been huge. Not “inspect what you expect.” But coming alongside, working together, supporting each other’s work.
    Kortney Garrison’s latest post: Plans at the End of May

  4. This is wonderful. We work on life skills and chore ‘check-lists’, too, in our home. The thing I forget to do sometimes (and then sorely regret it later) is to take the time to teach my children how to perform the tasks I’ve assigned properly, instead of assuming they’ll do them right on their own. This has led to a lot of frustration in the past. Word to the wise: don’t skimp on the teaching/training part!
    Hannah’s latest post: Avoiding (and recovering from) the Dreaded Goal Drift

  5. I’m never sure how much time it’s appropriate to get my littles (5.5 and 9.5) to spend on chores. What do others do? Mine spend half an hour minding my 9 month old every day, so it would be on top of that.

    The chore I most wish they would do it just tidy their own toys/books/papers as they go along, but that’s the chore they hate the most, and because they hate it they take ages so there isn’t time for anything else. Any tips?

    • Kara Anderson says:

      Hi Brigid,
      We all take part in a morning family clean up time that goes between 20 and 30 minutes, basically until a point when I feel like we can start school without the house being really overwhelming or distracting. We try to do a 10-minute quick pick-up at night too, but many nights I end up letting that go in favor of more reading time 😉

  6. Laughing at the socks comment as I just spent 10 minutes picking weed seeds out of my three year old daughter’s socks – which I discovered do not come out in the wash!

  7. I adore this, Kara! We, too, have a checklist that changed our life. I have a morning one and a before bed one. It’s so ingrained now and it stops all that nagging that I loathed. Well, not *all* the nagging- but the nagging at those crazy-making times of the day 🙂
    Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: 5 Must Have Memory Keeping Tools

  8. Love it! I am definitely taking your advice this summer! I have a 13 and 11 year old who do their own laundry and vacuum, but need serious training in what it takes to get a bathroom clean. Apparently boys and thorough do not go together. I also have an almost five year old who needs to work on dressing himself, etc.

  9. Kathryn in Vancouver says:

    My son is a strong willed, independent introvert. The thing that has SAVED us regarding chores is for him to know exactly what & when he is expected to do “Chores”. For example, knowing that he is expected to do 3 small helping chores and 3 Self-Care items before 8:00 (carpool pickup), then every day (no negotiations) 30 solid “Chore” minutes during dinner prep and cleanup, he’s OK. He’s definitely horrible if I spring any surprise chores on him. It disrupts his mental plan for how he wants his day to run, and the result is anger and storming off (he’s young – and I want to nip that in the bud before he’s big!). But…once we found out that he felt respected and knew to plan for X, Y and Z at a particular time, he was all right! Maybe this will help another parent of a similarly-minded kid (age 10, Child Whisperer Type 4). Also, my favorite Chore book is “The Parenting Breakthrough” by Merilee Boyack (the one with the boy scrubbing a toilet on the cover) – I photocopy the page of Age-Appropriate chores and training ALL the time for friends and family.

  10. Um, Kara… I totally just made a laminated “How to Shower” sign for the kids’ bath. Yup. It just happened. #keepingitreal
    Cait @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: The Books that Fill Our Shelves {weekend wrap up}

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