Skill of the month
March 17, 2016 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of introducing a 'skill of the month' for my family of 3 kids and 2 adults. I'd love some more ideas - criteria within...

So I was thinking of picking a different skill every month or so that our 3 kids - two girls aged 10 and one boy aged 8 - and us 2 adults could learn or work on. We're not looking for anything too detailed or time-consuming, more something low-key and fun that's still a useful skill and that can be mastered within a month or so in a playful manner (so no 'learning the piano' or similar things that take a long time to learn or require specialized instructors). Bonus points if it's something we can do in a few afternoons around the house, or that doesn't need a ton of specialized tools.

A few restrictions: my son has dyslexia, so anything that involves a lot of reading is not fun for him so is therefore out. My kids are picky eaters, so adventurous food stuff is probably out for now.

Here are some things I've thought of:
- learn to use chopsticks
- learn to cook a dish of the month
- learn proper table etiquette (don't judge!)
- learn to knit
- learn to ride a bike (we've tried haphazardly in the past but they're not really good at it yet)
- learn to wrap gifts
- learn some easy origami
- learn a new card game

Enough to be getting on with, but would love more ideas from the ever-creative AskMe team! The key thing is that it can't be anything high-pressure, overly competitive or super-difficult - just a fun thing that we can do together and that will hopefully be a good life skill. Thank you!
posted by widdershins to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (46 answers total) 115 users marked this as a favorite
Juggling would be great- start with scarves, and folks who get good at that can try balls.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:48 AM on March 17, 2016

I love this idea!
Folding fitted sheets. (Not very fun, but kind of useful.)
posted by sarajane at 9:51 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

My dad liked to do this with athletic type things, though not in any sort of planned skill learning or timeline sort of way.

But that's why he:
-built us stilts
-bought us a pogo stick
-bought us a unicycle
-sat us in a canoe, gave us a couple oars, then shoved us out into the middle of a creek
-took our boat a few miles offshore then pretended he was lost
-[other things I've thankfully forgotten]
posted by phunniemee at 9:57 AM on March 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Cooking, baking, and food skills: making jam, making chocolates/truffles, making cupcakes, making bread. These can go all the way from basics like cornbread-in-a-box to scratch cake with scratch icing.

Michael's and Jo-Ann have a ton of basic crafting kids for kids -- you could cover (hand) sewing, t-shirt decoration, assembling balsa wood puzzles, and a whole bunch of other things.

Learning a basic magic trick.

Learning to recite a poem from memory. (It can be a short one.)

Frisbee golf.
posted by pie ninja at 10:00 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Great idea!!
Knife skills,
Cooking perfect eggs, making homemade pasta and ice cream,
Cross stitch
Screen printing
Learning basic greetings and thank you in different languages,
Basic navigation stuff like where are the neighborhoods or destinations in your city, how to use a compass and map, etc.
Roman Numerals
Star gazing and identifying constellations
In the summer you could do swimming skills and diving or how to turn at the end of a lap.
posted by areaperson at 10:00 AM on March 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Learn to change oil/tires.
Learn to build/code for a simple robot -- maybe a lego mindstorms thing, or a raspberry pi car?
Learn to make a meal plan/shopping list
Learn how to grow sprouts
Learn to geocache
Learn to forage for (safe!) mushrooms and berries.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:00 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

- A couple of go-to card/magic tricks
- How to start and manage a fire
- How to say a few useful family things in sign language. (My sons and I still use "bathroom" for when we're too far away from each other to be unembarrassing.)
- How to change a tire (car or bike)
- How to listen well to someone
- How to ask interesting follow-on questions about a topic you don't know much about
- How to navigate public transportation in your town without help
- How to pick stocks or mutual funds (and track for a month or so)
- How to cook a whole chicken
- How to read a paper map
- How to test and change the batteries in the smoke detector
- How to make/share a music playlist if you use any sort of music service
- How to predict the next 24-48 hours of weather
posted by cocoagirl at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Learning to hammer a nail straight into a board at different angles and in tighter spaces is a useful skill that will last a lifetime—likewise, knowing how to drill a pilot hole (and why) before using a screw or nail to join parts together is quite a handy skill. Teach them how to use a level (and why).

Maybe build a useful box together to store things in (or whatever) for fun. This is stuff I learned at a young age, and it never left me. Repairing stuff and hanging your own shelves because you know how is awesome.
posted by heyho at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Picking a lock (or at least, how to bypass basic locks). Which can also lead into some sort of ethical training.
posted by Etrigan at 10:03 AM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Bird Identification
Plant Identification
posted by HuronBob at 10:06 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

How to mend basic clothing items, like replacing a button or fixing a hole in a sweater, by hand.
How to sew using a sewing machine.
posted by cooker girl at 10:07 AM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Learn to tell a joke
Fold fitted sheets
Poached eggs
posted by like_neon at 10:11 AM on March 17, 2016

Cook one fancy dish (e.g. Chicken Diane, scratch-made cake, a french omelet)
Change a tire/oil
Fix up your bikes (spring is here!), adjust brakes.
Building a cook fire for camping
Knot tying
Knitting or crochet
posted by bonehead at 10:14 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Or make a month a $COUNTRY month:
Learn the language
Learn a song (or two)
Read a book about it/tell stories (could one kid read to the other?)
Cook meals from that cuisine
posted by bonehead at 10:16 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Print and cut out pictures of a bunch of foods.

Mix and match the pictures on plates for lots of combinations that demonstrate a good balance of veggies, fruits, proteins, grains, etc.
posted by whoiam at 10:22 AM on March 17, 2016

- How to open a bank account and make deposits each week/save money
- How to contact/write letters to your local, state and federal representatives on issues that are important to you/problems and/or causes you would like them to address
- How to work to raise money for something you want (via bake sale, lemonade stand, car wash, etc.)
- Geocaching!
- How to safely use super glue to fix broken items
- Take apart an electrical outlet to see what it's made of, or rewire a dining room light to be on a dimmer switch, etc. Basics and safety of home electric wiring.
- How to dance. YouTube has a treasure trove of different dances broken down by choreographers for easy learning. Each week the next kid gets to pick the dance they want to learn.
- How to grocery shop
- How do adults pay bills? What do these things we take for granted really cost? Show them some bills - the water bill, the power bill, the mortgage. Take them through how each month you have to budget for them, pay them, file them, etc.
- How to make and edit a short film
posted by three easy payments and one complicated payment at 10:24 AM on March 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

- sew on a button

- teach a pet something (basic command, basic clicker training)

- learn the basic layout of the night sky

- learn to navigate with a compass and a map

- learn to properly plant a plant

One idea: maybe each child could work on a different thing, so that they don't feel in competition with each other? For instance, in June, Girl A could work on cooking something, Girl B could work on basic robotics, and your son could work on sewing a button; then in July, your son could work on cooking something, Girl A could sew something, and Girl B could learn to locate Polaris in the sky.

Also, how awesome would it be if they came up with the list themselves?
posted by amtho at 10:25 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Learn to change a car tire
Learn to make bread (or pie)
Learn to make minor clothing repairs
Learn to make a budget
Learn to poach an egg
posted by jeather at 10:34 AM on March 17, 2016

Knowing how to darn a hole in a sock is useful. It's smarter than tossing them out and buying new ones, assuming they're decent socks you still want to wear.
posted by heyho at 10:35 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Learn how to identify common trees & other plants in your area.
posted by kariebookish at 10:37 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Learn to read a map. A real, actual, paper map.
Learn to start a fire using a flint.
Learn how to paddle a canoe.
Learn a few constellations.
Learn how to properly hang a hammock.
I know you see where I'm going with this.... A year long learning project culminates in an awesome camping trip during which s'mores are devoured nightly. The next year could focus on a trip to a foreign country; greetings, etiquette, customs and so forth.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:57 AM on March 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: So many great answers! Thank you! I absolutely plan to let the kids choose - I'll probably make a list from this thread and let them vote. Can't wait to get started : )
posted by widdershins at 11:07 AM on March 17, 2016

Do a headstand (or handstand)
Whistle (especially the kind where you use your fingers to flatten your tongue)
Swim the Butterfly stroke
posted by saladin at 11:14 AM on March 17, 2016

Old-fashioned games month: marbles, hopscotch, stilts, hoop-rolling, jacks, shuffleboard, dice games, and many more. I really enjoyed learning to play marbles at this age.
posted by Liesl at 11:28 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I always thought learning about a place a month would be fun, too.
I'm not sure if you could work it in with a skill?

(I would also make a flag banner for each and every place you learn about)

Skill: Chopsticks. Learn about China: Watch "Wild China" (maybe a movie night each week about topic), go to the nearest Chinatown, walk the Great wall on Google street view. Make your own fortune cookies (with the disclaimer that they aren't really from China?)

Skil: Origami Learn about Japan: Watch Seven Samurai and Totoro, make bento boxes and have a picnic at a Japanese garden, go to an Japanese art exhibit, look at Japanese street fashion on Tumblr. Look up the weather on line.

Well, you get the picture.

For each country there are great movies, documentaries, web cams on line. You can check the weather everyday, review their money (you can go exchange for some at the bank), look at their wildlife, shop a section in good grocery stores, make recipes, and google street view their major attractions. You can research each kid's interests... love fashion? check out their street fashion, love video games? this is what is big in their country, sports? Here is what is popular in their country.
I bet a lot of the snacks and drinks are available online.

Make Stonehenge model out of brownies, Build the Eiffel tower with spaghetti and mini-marshallows!
posted by ReluctantViking at 11:36 AM on March 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Italy: Roman numerals, learn to clean the bathroom (They had sanitation first), make fresh pasta (or should that be China?), walk the Colluseum, learn about Pompeii (Vesuvius) and walk the ruins in Google, make a cardboard gladiator costume.

OK, I'll stop!
posted by ReluctantViking at 11:42 AM on March 17, 2016

Soldering is a skill that has been very helpful in my life get a midrange Weller iron and all the cleaning supplies and put some LED lights in fun/useful places.
posted by Uncle at 12:02 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

This question reminds me of some of the hacks that the dad would teach his kids in the book Cheaper by the Dozen. Might try checking out that book to get some other ideas.

Emergency preparation month - learn what things you should be prepared for in your particular community (e.g. earthquake country or tornado country?), learn what specific things you should do in that sort of natural disaster, come up with a family plan for various contingencies (what do we do if a disaster hits while mom & dad are at work and kids are at school?), practice drill events, make an emergency kit together which everyone knows how to use & store, and set-up reminder system to replace items in the kit. Here's the CDC's page on the topic, which is a good basic overview.

Basic first aid - what to do with small cuts, burns, light sprains, headaches, etc., and how to determine if you need a medical professional's help. I was 10 or so when my dad taught me how to get splinters out.

Plan the family summer vacation - basics of transportation planning (booking a flight, mapping out a highway route), budgeting for food/places to stay/things that are fun to do but cost money, finding coupons and deals, figuring out what things you need to pack or buy in advance, figuring out how to look up information about a new place.

Gardening - maybe this would be a good year to plant a family garden? My family went all in one year - lots of squash, rows of corn, etc. etc. It was pretty fun. Having each kid pick vegetables of their own to plant & care for might encourage the eating of said vegetables, if that's a battle you regularly fight.
posted by Jaclyn at 12:23 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Patching jeans, sewing buttons, hemming pants, darning a sock, repairing sweaters with a crochet hook and a few stitches.

You could start a blog to document your learning. Everyone could learn interviewing, simple video production, simple news-story writing, and coding!
posted by jgirl at 12:43 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Emergency preparedness could be a frame for a lot of skills, from obvious:
first aid
firemaking/fire safety/firewood
maps and evacuation routes and meeting places (... orienteering, geocaching)
swimming/water safety (...boating)
improvised shelter/principles of structures

to more long-term isolation/zombie apocalypse:
gardening/harvest/preservation/back to cooking
foraging (clams, mushrooms, fruit, berries...)
hunting (if that's your thing - archery, gun stuff)
motors/electronics (repairs)
household repair/contstruction/more tools/power tools

Similarly, you could use a yard-to-table theme to link more than just gardening and cooking what you grow (build raised beds or a chicken coop, soil testing/soil amendments, make stepping stones with casting or mosaic techniques, electronics to make a "scarecrow")

Or for random skills:
Make improvised musical instruments
Play instruments together
Basic puppetry and put on a show together
Pick a songbook and learn n songs to sing together
Make soap
Make simple books or boxes
Learn the world's classic games
posted by janell at 12:49 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Use a map & compass.

Count to ten in a new language every month. (Next year, learn to say please & thank you in a new language every month.)

Throw "like an athlete" (and not "like a girl"), which a lot of adults and boys don't actually do right -- and the proper motions of which translate into other physical skills.

Make balloon animals. (The pump is a one-time expense, and sacks of balloons are cheap.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:04 PM on March 17, 2016

Make Japanese carp kites out of Tyvek mailers for Boys Day.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:11 PM on March 17, 2016


Lettuce from seed (tomatoes too if they're easy in your climate)((earth-box or 5-gallon bucket garden))

Box waltz and foxtrot

Bicycle skills (riding, maintenance)

Knife sharpening
posted by clew at 1:54 PM on March 17, 2016

Making zines and/or simple books.
posted by celestine at 1:55 PM on March 17, 2016

Cake/cookie/cake pop decorating
posted by freezer cake at 2:55 PM on March 17, 2016

Making a wattle edging for a planted bed in your garden or even raised planters made entirely of wattle might be fun. The material can be gathered in the wild, trimmed from your own yard, or purchased at a home/garden centre.
posted by mal de coucou at 3:06 PM on March 17, 2016

-Learn to navigate city transit (if you don't use it routinely)
-Research and then plan and budget for a trip (even if it's just a night in a nearby hotel)
-Grow plants/vegetables
-Build a survival/snow shelter
-Make paper (in a mixer, pressing it, etc)
-Use the paper to make books (makes really cook gifts as a bonus)
-Learn about another religions customs and visit their house of worship (a skill that serves well when as an adult you end up attending funerals/weddings/etc of other flavours than your own)
-Learn to do basic service on home appliances/tools
-Learn basic military drill
-Visit local emergency services
-Learn to use a fire extinguisher (your local fire dept may have a flash pan you can really practice on)
-Get a pen pal

I'm going to flag this whole list for neat ideas for my kiddo, there are a lot of great ideas on here!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 5:27 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

To complete the counselor in training program at my childhood summer camp, we had to:
- make a one a one match fire (must burn 1 min, only natural materials, 3 matches total with points deducted for using the second and third match)
- hang a hammock, test it out, take it back down and fold it correctly
- pitch a tent and deconstruct it

I believe there were some first aid scenarios in there, too, like wrap a sprained ankle or bandage a large wound until help arrives.

Sign language is a GREAT skill! I know just a little bit and I have been in many situations in public where I at least knew the alphabet to translate.
posted by rubster at 2:05 AM on March 18, 2016

pick a lock
tie a variety of knots
basic woodworking (birdhouse, storage box, etc...)
bake bread
posted by krieghund at 9:01 AM on March 18, 2016

If you're going to cook, then sew aprons first!

And there's always board games, especially cooperative ones.
posted by eloeth-starr at 1:45 PM on March 18, 2016

Not sure if it's still running, but Dabbler is the same concept, learn a thing a month, with materials
posted by paradeofblimps at 2:21 PM on March 18, 2016

My parents taught proper table etiquette over the course of one summer and fall, wherein the after dinner chores (clearing table, putting away leftovers, loading/unloading the dishwasher) were "awarded" to the child eater who amassed the highest number of "points" during the dinner. There were three of us -- 12, 11, and 9. Points were for things like holding fork wrong, chewing with mouth open, not putting napkin on lap, not putting silver appropriately on plate when done eating, not saying please and thank-you, not asking if anyone else would care for some more of (whatever) before taking the last of it, etc.

I was 11 at the time and am now 46 and I still, still remember the points system of teaching table manners. Some judgement, I expect, was used in awarding points because the youngest didn't wind up having to put away dinner every night, but perhaps this gamifying of manners would work in your house as well as it did in the house of my youth? (Bonus: Kids learn to clear table, load and run dishwasher, put things away, etc.)
posted by which_chick at 6:21 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lots of good stuff here, but I don't see how to tie a tie (Windsor knot) mentioned, which is useful to know for both boys and girls.
posted by gudrun at 6:53 PM on March 23, 2016

Learn how much stuff costs, like rent, utilities, food. Learn to make a (rudimentary) budget.

Learn how to be persuasive. Want mom and dad to buy you a new toy? Sell me on why, and not just "because I want it".
posted by vignettist at 9:32 AM on March 24, 2016

I have not made my way through all previous suggestions, but I vote: learn to use basic tools. Not just the screwdriver and hammer, but levels, compasses, drills, sander, hand saw, and axe (if your children are old enough).

I am in my late 30's and took a community wood working class recently...surprised to find that I was the only one who had never used a drill before. How did that happen?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:29 PM on March 27, 2016

Spin yarn on a drop spindle! I learned this recently, and went from purely theoretical understanding to a small skein of yarn in about a month. And then you can knit/crochet/darn with it!

When I was just a bit older than your kids, my mother and I got our Ham Radio licenses. It was a several-month class, but you could take certain segments of the curriculum:
- Soldering
- Morse code
- What radio is and how it works

- Basic computer construction (assemble a desktop from parts)
- Composting (worm bin?)
- Non-violent communication, conflict resolution, and mediation
- Meditation
- Basic yoga poses
posted by sibilatorix at 3:39 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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