Life skills for high schoolers
August 4, 2022 11:31 AM   Subscribe

At our next planning meeting, I'm going to ask my Girl Scouts what life skills they'd like to work on as a troop. I'm going to bring in suggestions to get the discussion going. What should are some ideas?

They're all in high school. I'm looking for concrete, hands-on activities, please, not concepts, and nothing that resembles school (e.g. no "let's sit down and I'll show you how to balance a checkbook," even though that's good to know).

Things we've done in the past include lots of outdoor skills, how to use a sewing machine, and a self-defense workshop.

Thoughts I've had so far: First Aid refresher, lock picking, car maintenance, culinary knife skills.
posted by The corpse in the library to Education (57 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
How to negotiate a salary raise!! Negotiation in general is really useful & fun to practice.
How to book a medical appointment
How to use a drill
How to chop vegetables
How to jump-start a car
How to hang a picture
How to mend a piece of clothing
How to build a fire
How to calm a baby
How to re-caulk a bathtub (great when they rent their first rundown apartment!)
How to spot DARVO
The "Grey Rock" technique for abusive people
How to bargain
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:36 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]

Simple household plumbing repairs (fixing a running toilet or dripping faucet)?

Maybe too short or simple, but learning how to properly hang heavy items on a wall is pretty useful (how to find a stud, how to select and choose anchors when you can't find a stud, maybe also how to fix the hole when you're moving out).

Along the lines of car maintenance, bike maintenance is also good.
posted by primethyme at 11:36 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]

Along with car maintenance, maybe do something on basic troubleshooting of car issues?

Another idea: basic DIY/home-repair stuff: replacing a light-switch/outlet, fixing drywall, replace a door lock, replace toilet filler valve and/or flapper, etc. This would cover basic power tool use/safety too.

How to complete a W-2 and file a 1040EZ (assuming you're in the US).
posted by jquinby at 11:37 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]

Sorry, just remember a couple more: basic electronics kits are fun - learn something about how gadgets work, soldering, etc. Maybe sign up with a local guide who can teach what's good for wild food foraging?
posted by jquinby at 11:40 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Replacing buttons, fixing small holes and quickly taking up hems? On one hand that is sort of boring and old-fashioned, on the other it is slightly harder than it seems and really does come in handy.

For some more fun but quick life skills for the kitchen - quick pickles, fruit syrups (like a quick blueberry syrup for pancakes), cheese sauces. Maybe a little "pasta with different herbs and seasonings" taste test event - make pasta with a little butter or olive oil, add dill, chili pepper flakes, basil, etc. Stovetop pudding (haupia-based coconut milk is a vegan alternative). My thought is that these are "adulting" because they are simple, cheap, quick ways to make meals more enjoyable and they are things that people may not pick up at home even if they do some cooking.
posted by Frowner at 11:44 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Enabling two-factor authentication to their email and/or social media accounts.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:45 AM on August 4 [6 favorites]

Basic bike maintenance, maybe?
Would they like anything related to basic manners? Nothing complex or dictatorial, but how to set a table, basic table manners at a person's home or restaurants, how to shake hands, how to respond to common greetings? (you could even discuss which things are considered very old fashioned and which things are considered pretty important and why.)
How to use chopsticks?
How to do laundry/read clothing labels?
posted by vunder at 11:46 AM on August 4 [10 favorites]

You could do something about general troubleshooting techniques, and then apply that to the aforementioned things (cars, bikes), and add in things like how to troubleshoot an internet connection (check the cables, check that the router is on, etc.),
posted by jonathanhughes at 11:48 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Tips for working in a shared space are simple, but extrapolate well to new situations.

Like, in a kitchen you say "behind you" or "on your right" as you move near someone -- sort of like blinkers on a car! And you don't put a knife in the sink because if you forget it (which happens too easily), someone else will reach in unwittingly and slice their hand.

Or how electricians "tag out" their tools to communicate to others what work is currently being done, and also to remind them to put things away when at the end of the day. Extending this principle, it's always good to confirm with others what you are starting to do, and again when you're done.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:48 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]

I believe every young person should know how to identify the signs of an abusive relationship (the power and control wheel may be a good starting place).
posted by Lycaste at 11:48 AM on August 4 [7 favorites]

How to write an effective letter of complaint. Do it on paper (not email) so you can sneakily add in how to handle addresses and postage. You know: make a specific request, provide evidence, don't rant.

Then follow up be having them explain how to do it electronically.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:50 AM on August 4 [5 favorites]

-How to cook a few different simple meals (something everyone should know, really).

-Changing and patching a bike tube is a pretty easy thing to learn, but something a lot of people think is hard.

-Maybe something like meditation?

-Slow looking/thinking. Have them stare at a picture for 5-10min. This is something many of them will have never done before. Something I've done with college students is give them 10min to write down everything they see happening in a picture- they are often surprised by how much there is to gain from looking closely at something.
posted by coffeecat at 11:51 AM on August 4 [5 favorites]

How to wash a car, as well as the maintenance things to check while you're doing so (lights, new dents/scraped paint, wipte the back-up camera lens, etc.).
posted by wenestvedt at 11:52 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

How to make a phone call?
posted by vunder at 11:54 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Simple rules for negotiation, and the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) principle -- a.k.a., getting (as much as possible of) what you want.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:54 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Classic Scouting skills: tying knots, using knives, first aid

How to fix a toilet and by extension other minor plumbing repairs
posted by metahawk at 11:58 AM on August 4

How to defuse / de-escalate / cope with cat calling and street harrassment.

Because by age 12 to 14, a lot of girls are being street harrassed by full grown men. :(
posted by Carriage pulled by cassowaries at 12:15 PM on August 4 [9 favorites]

Public speaking
Stand up comedy (they tell one joke or story to the group, give them feedback, tell it again)
How to interview someone
(I've taught all of these skills to kids as young as 5 and they LOVE it and excel!)
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:18 PM on August 4 [5 favorites]

How to change a car tire.
Basic sewing, such as how to fix a small tear or sew a button back on.
Basic cooking
posted by Spike Glee at 12:21 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]

Personal finance, budgeting, and compound interest -- there are games that teach these concepts in a non-academic way

How to contact your representatives via phone or letters(!)

The ins and outs of political activism

Media literacy
posted by olopua at 12:27 PM on August 4 [5 favorites]

Sex and consent.
Gender and what it means.
The spectrum of sexuality.
Book clubs and reading for pleasure.
Biking and bike repair.
Cooking on a budget.
Networking for work.
Applying for a job.
Personal finance and planning for retirement and buying a home (or other financial goals).
Car repair.
Volunteering and protesting.
How the government really works.
What non-profits do.
Writing well for life.
Grocery shopping.
Music appreciation.
Backpacking adventures.
Kayaking or canoeing.
Dog training.
Public speaking.
How to ask for help when you need it, i.e. getting out of unsafe situations or asking for therapy.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 12:33 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Advanced Google searching will make their lives SO MUCH EASIER when they get to college.
posted by jabes at 12:40 PM on August 4 [12 favorites]

How to avoid getting pregnant and avoid getting an STD.

Because WAY too many US high schools don't provide adequate sex ed.
posted by Carriage pulled by cassowaries at 12:41 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]

How to moderate a group online or in-person (or even just how to recognize what moderation is and is for and can’t do)

Technical hosting of a Discord/IRC/Slack/Fb/YT/Mastodon group/instance/wev
posted by clew at 12:50 PM on August 4

Fridge-cleaning dinners (maybe played as Iron Chef? Focusing on techniques not recipes?)
posted by clew at 12:51 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

How to do laundry - reading clothing labels, sorting whites and colors, using the washing machine, using the dryer, handwashing, line drying and flat drying, and ironing. This could be framed as college prep.

How to wash and chop up different fruits and vegetables - tools needed, techniques, maybe even how to do it with some artistry so they can be served as party snacks
posted by cadge at 12:55 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

How to spot a scam

How to vote, including how to figure out what's on the ballot and research issues/candidates
posted by arrmatie at 1:00 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]

Along the lines of what Carriage pulled by cassowaries recommended: Bystander training from Right To Be which teaches techniques to defuse harassment.
posted by oxisos at 2:15 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]

How to fold a fitted sheet. For real. Takes three minutes to learn but people will marvel at you for a lifetime, and you get to walk around like some sort of linen closet Illuminati.
posted by mochapickle at 2:20 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]

1) Elements of renting an apartment change (newspaper classifieds are no more), but there are basics. You may need to find someone actually apartment hunting, open to the troop tagging along during walk-throughs. (Related: do you know anyone car-shopping?):

- identifying flags (check switches, taps, toilets, outlets, phone reception; see the street and neighborhood at different times of day)
- reading lease contracts (fees, deposits, penalties; utility responsibilities; renter's insurance; breaking vs. subletting; fine print)
- checking available public records (for building, management company, landlord, neighborhood)
- knowing their rights as tenants

2) Arrange a meeting with a local rep, so contacting that office won't be daunting in the future.

3) Bedrock most-debt-is-negotiable, know-your-legal-rights, what-is-your-time-worth stuff (batch/bulk cooking on a weekend afternoon as weekday timesaver and budgeting hack, for example) to cut down on hassle and unnecessary expenses? I'm thinking of the near-endless ways young adults get ripped off, and about the tools I wish everyone had at their disposal; if your Scouts were open to a bit of boring "how to adult" training, how wonderful that would be.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:07 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]

Our troop learned how to change a tire when I was in elementary school. All throughout my life people have been 1. surprised that I know how to change a tire and 2. that I learned how to do so in girl scouts.
posted by JennyJupiter at 3:30 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]

In line with grocery shopping, how about how to shop for major purchases? Cars, appliances, electronics, etc. Whether you're doing it online or in person, major appliance shopping especially is one of those things where you might only realize in the moment something like "oh wait, what do I even need to consider in a refrigerator or washing machine or TV purchase??" Could be done just by going to a Best Buy or something and wandering around. How to shop for a car would be more involved, but it would definitely be valuable to know things like new vs used, buy vs lease, dealership vs private transaction, etc.
posted by yasaman at 4:07 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

Self defense! It’s empowering!
posted by donut_princess at 7:03 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

On preview it looks like you’ve done that but a refresher is always good!
posted by donut_princess at 7:04 PM on August 4

Another version of how to evaluate unfamiliar ideas: Everyone has some Thing they nerd out about. Have each person bring in a great version of their Thing and a shitty version, and explain to each other exactly what makes them great or shitty. (How do you organize and explain some Thing you know well?) Have them discuss a third version and decide whether it's a good one or a bad one. (Every different Thing will have its own nuances to consider!) Maybe after a few rounds, skip the exposition and see if they can come up with relevant questions to make an educated guess as to what to look for. (How do you decide what's relevant for a Thing anyhow?)
posted by yeahlikethat at 7:28 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Avoiding violating copyright
Career exploration
Consumer and credit laws
Cooking basic recipes
Digital security (such as avoiding phishing)
Employment law (including rights, unions, and discrimination, and harassment)
Finding and screening roommates
Food storage and food safety
Interior decorating on a budget
Job searching (including cover letter, resume and interviewing)
Landlord-tenant law
Mental health first aid
Navigation with a road map
Nutrition and meal planning
Office norms
Online dating safety
Shopping for and furnishing an apartment
Shopping wisely, from groceries to cars, etc. etc.
Wardrobe basics (planning a wardrobe, such as for office, funeral, different events)
Writing letters to the editor
posted by NotLost at 7:31 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

how to fix a toilet, hang wall art and things like towel bars.

shopping for and cooking a handful of fast, healthy, tasty meals. It's a goddamn crime that this isn't taught assiduously in the schools. You can make a list (chickpea curry, scrambled eggs with vegetables, chicken and rice, bean chili, etc and have them vote on their top three for them all to learn.)

budgeting, basics of investing.

researching and planning a trip.

what kind of doctor to call for what kind of issue.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:42 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

I was surprised to learn that my friend’s highschool aged child didn’t know how to address a letter.
posted by vunder at 8:57 PM on August 4 [5 favorites]

Also using MS Outlook.
posted by NotLost at 9:05 PM on August 4

How to prepare for the most common natural disasters in your area, and how to react when they happen.

Depending on your area, this might be
Forest fires
posted by Carriage pulled by cassowaries at 9:45 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

How to read dog body language and reduce the chance of getting bitten by a dog
posted by Carriage pulled by cassowaries at 9:45 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]

Emergency preparedness, including the not-catastrophic things like keeping safe in your dwelling in a winter power outage or heatwave. How to make -meals- from pantry staples (without a heat source). What to carry in your car or bike for emergencies. What to take with in a wildfire evacuation situation. What to include in a first aid/emergency kit for their dorm/car/bag - splinters and blisters and broken heels and missing buttons and hangry and worse things. Do they have the poison control number in their phones?

Oh! How to get a stuck vehicle out of mud/snow. Or at least not make things worse.

Navigating by paper or offline map that doesn’t show their position/reorient for them.

How to use -all- the hand tools, and power drills and a couple flavors of power saw. And perhaps a pull-start lawnmower if that’s accessible to you. Snowblower, seasonally.
Renter preparation: Repairing drywall holes - small from decor, larger holes or dents from That Time with the Thing. Effective interior painting afterwards (corner cutting, rollers, how to use tape correctly or freehand it)

Toilet things:
- don’t flush most non-excreta
-how to plunge and practice
-diagnose ‘keeps running’
-replace a flapper a/o chain, after turning off the water!!!! And not being a squicked by the clean water on the tank side.
-how to thoroughly clean the bowl and seat

Related: plunging a -sink-

Other household chores stuff that people don’t necessarily learn at home (thinking of Every Roommate Ever and/or things I had to learn):
- take a good look at a garbage disposal and how it works/how to take it off/how to rescue a fork safely
- how to vacuum and mop! effectively and efficiently. Cleaning the roller/brushes on vacuums with a seam ripper (or better ways). Check/change the bag or empty the tank. How to take care of the mop.
-how to wash dishes by hand (effectively, water efficiently) and how to load/operate some dishwashers to use less water when available
- how to clean blinds
- how to clean fridge (inside and the heat exchangers on the outside/underneath)

-how to make coffee a couple of ways (at home or camping)
- how to make tea
- learn to shop for and cook some things, then make a teeny pamphlet of the recipes that they like and can make in expensively without special equipment. Not just sweets! At least some of it should be vegetarian and some vegan.

Mending. Thank you notes/paper mail. Fermenting foods/drinks. Raising vegetables from seeds.
posted by janell at 9:56 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]

How to vote.
How to use google most efficiently.
posted by bendy at 11:01 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]

How the government works = maybe a mock trial or Model UN.
I love the idea of lockpicking!.
posted by bendy at 11:08 PM on August 4

In high school we used to do “Future Problem Solving” where we’d try to, well, solve problems coming in the future.
posted by bendy at 11:10 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]

Bearing in mind the Sam Vimes' Socioeconomic Theory of Boots, teach them ways to avoid the whole "being poor is expensive" trap.

Ask them what they own that they paid a lot for, and then teach them how to keep it working. After all, they're teens so they probably don't have as much money as they wish!
  • How to mend things so you don't have to replace them (usually with another cheap, doomed-to-failure item)
  • How to critically read online product reviews, ignoring the five-star ratings to look for patterns of problems.
  • How to maintain your stuff. (Like, Windows might need an upgrade, but don't throw out your laptop just for that!)
  • How to tell good stuff from cheap stuff.
U.K. writer & cook Jack Monroe is starting up a new economic index to reflect this reality, with the blessing of Terry Prachett's estate.
“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of okay for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”
posted by wenestvedt at 6:29 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]

You already mentioned first aid, but even basic first aid taught by someone familiar with wilderness first aid may be a good addition - learning how to carry someone out, discussing managing a group when there's an injury, how to deal with things pragmatically in a situation without the possiblity of immediate assistance. I did that around this age. We also did more involved simulations such as triaging a group of people in a place crash with people told in advance to act out the symptoms of particular conditions. Doing this made the first aid knowledge stick more.
posted by lookoutbelow at 7:56 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]

Someone mentioned fermenting foods, but maybe also basic canning/pickles/preserves? It's a nice home practice, you can give it as gifts. You could introduce foods from different ethnic traditions too.
posted by vunder at 1:10 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

In the general category of sustainability and climate change impacts.
- Composting (I'm partial to worms). Especially if where you are meeting has access to a yard or even an outdoor space.
- Mending/darning (as a follow up to your sewing machine class!). I loved the book Mending Life: A Handbook for Repairing Clothes and Hearts.
- Reducing electricity costs at home, e.g. using curtains to reduce solar gain or heat loss.
- Basic home repairs / small appliance repair. If there is a "repair cafe" near you, perhaps that could be a field trip.
- Running for local office or getting appointed to a city commission. Example is Boards & Commissions Leadership Institute. Lots of cities and counties have youth advisory boards/commissions.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:28 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]

Years ago when we did a month of electives at a school I worked at one of the most popular courses was cursive handwriting. For those not in the know, it is no longer taught in most schools and kids are fascinated in learning it. You could also build out this idea with how to make handwritten signs that look good or even calligraphy.

I also had really great responses to basic cooking skills- so many kids do not know how to cook basic meals, and that comes in real handy in college. You might want to use Budget Bytes for low cost ideas.

I think the how to vote is a good idea, but also how to advocate to your elected officials. My mom always told me to call my electeds when I had issues, and I was shocked at how right she was. Maybe come up with an issue that needs to be solved and figure out who needs to be contacted?
posted by momochan at 1:29 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

How to negotiate (a salary).
posted by oceano at 8:50 PM on August 5

One other idea – building on the outdoor skills, planning an overnight or multi day trip can string together lots of good stuff. If there's an area with lots of trails, grab a topographic map, and have them work together to plan a route that is realistic for the whole group and goes to interesting places. You can divide up by time or responsibilities, but give everyone a chance to be the leader of something. Bring a compass and show them how to orient themselves. You can incorporate meal planning and shopping into it. Try to step back to let them take the lead and work together. I did this kind of thing also and it was very formative. The planning and leadership is very transferable, and giving us ownership over the trip got us more engaged.
posted by lookoutbelow at 10:31 PM on August 5

Writing complimentary letters as well as complaints. Learning to write a thoughtful thank you note in formal situations - interviews, events - and also to be prompted to write personal notes to special people, that's a surprisingly useful skill and could lead to a conversation about expressing gratitude to people who matter to us.

Tie in making handmade cards because man, $6-$8 for a printed card! Versus making something that looks reasonably well made and thoughtful with basic paper scraps is super useful. And wrapping a gift! Learning how to make those all-purpose gift bags out of wrapping paper or kraft paper is super useful.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:07 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]

If I were the parent of a girl scout and lock picking was taught as a "life skill," I'd wonder exactly what kind of life you were thinking my child would have. (I do think it would be interesting to learn, but in a different context.)
posted by SandiBeech at 6:01 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: > If I were the parent of a girl scout and lock picking was taught as a "life skill," I'd wonder exactly what kind of life you were thinking my child would have

One that includes fine motor skills, puzzle solving, and concentrating, with an option of being an international jewel thief.

Thank you for all these suggestions! There's some great discussion starters here.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:34 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]

How to care for house plants—watering schedule, fertilizing and repotting. How to start growing plants from seeds. How to take cuttings and start new plants.
posted by conrad53 at 7:26 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]

A quick Re: lockpicking and such...

I've broken into three of my neighbors apartments over "I locked myself out".

Have them go home and inventory the "Kitchen Junk Drawer" and/or similar to learn those random things floating around the house that adults have accumulated in the "I think we have one laying around somewhere" that a high school kid might just not know its there.

Lol, stealing office supplies from work. Because they're trivially cheap and you only really need a couple or so and they're only sold in boxes of dozens of hundreds. Work and extra fifteen minutes or bring in a box of doughnuts to cover your sin.

Some things tend disaster like but are wise. Like keeping a few things in the pantry that are long term shelf stable and take little to no prep that you slowly rotate through just so you do have something easy to eat when you just can't be bothered. Some protein bars, cans of soup, spam, ramen, crackers, peanut butter, etc.

Yeah, I was thinking ikebana , not full on gardening, but at least like florist keeping cut flowers alive for as long as possibe or windowsill easy herb garden.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:26 PM on August 7

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