Teach a man to fish... "The power to choose, to respond, to change" Stephen R. Covey
June 26, 2006 11:28 PM   Subscribe

What contributes to developing an important Life Skill? For instance,

...learning to play the piano (music making) "is linked with better language and math ability, improved school grades, better-adjusted social behavior, and improvements in "spatial-temporal reasoning," which is the foundation of engineering and science." [American Music Conference]

As a parent of 3 piano students I'd say it also contributes to learning the value and rewards of hard work, and builds discipline.

Owning and caring for a pet can teach responsibility and an awareness of how ones actions can affect another living being.

What about specific sports? Learning another language? Stamp collecting? Rollerskating? Healthy cooking? Babysitting? Prayer?

If you had to pick a few 'things' that would most strongly impact and develop important life skills, what would they be? What teaches you to listen well? What has made you more responsible and productive? How did you become a good decision maker? Etc. I'm intersted in what you think, especially the how the 'thing' worked & the why, and any stories behind your thoughts.

"Life skills" as defined by UNICEF -
This term refers to a large group of psycho-social and interpersonal skills which can help people make informed decisions, communicate effectively, and develop coping and self-management skills that may help them lead a healthy and productive life. Life skills may be directed toward personal actions and actions toward others, as well as actions to change the surrounding environment to make it conducive to health.
"Life Skills" as defined by my children's school -
Character education and development (and self-discovery), including respect, awareness, motivation, responsibility, teamwork, organization, self-control, conflict resolution, communication, and hard work.
posted by LadyBonita to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well it's a bit specific as far life skills go, but merely having to perform a skill helps someone learn it. I think you could consider 'responsibility' as an activity. That is, responsibility is the activity of cooking, cleaning and pretty much getting of your lazy arse and doing things that need to be done.

For example, I recall a friend of my sister's forced to cook instant noodles, and doing so in a saucepan without any water. You can tell how much responsibility a person has but how specific life skills sure can faze them.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 12:16 AM on June 27, 2006

teaching teaches important skills.

Tutoring, teaching, lecturing or instructing teaches you a lot about communication. It makes you realize that you can say exactly the right thing slowly and still not get the message through. You need to check that the person or people to whom you are trying to communicate with are actually getting the message.

Learning languages teaches you that people think differently depending on what their language allows them to think. It also makes you aware that other countries are really different in that their own ideas live in a different space. And it can teach discipline as well.

Doing something with equipment teaches you to maintain it. Fishing, biking, climbing or whatever can be good for that.

Arts and craft teach attention to detail and patience.
posted by sien at 12:32 AM on June 27, 2006

I think being handy is very important.

My dad is/was a business executive - but he was also a hands on guy around the house and cars and also knew how to clean fish, build camp fires... do all that essential guy stuff. I watched him re-shingle the roof, install hardwood flooring, build furniture, fix all manner of stuff.

For him I think it came from the practical ideal of "why pay someone to do something you can do yourself..."

At the end of the day what I learned was that YOU can learn to do anything so long as you can read and research whatever it is you're trying to do. What it imparted into me was a love for getting my hands dirty, for fixing things myself, and for being satisfied in my own ability to solve problems.

So... re-tiling the bathroom, landscaping, painting a room or house, changing the oil, doing a brake job, hanging a shelf, running wire... whatever it is - these things I tend to jump into myself - it's all about being "handy" and I think that's a great skill to have.

This is only something that's occurred to me recently... manly because I've met a lot of guys (business types, mostly) recently who only have the vaguest clues about how their cars operate or how to repair stuff around the house. Sadly, some guys just aren't handy now-a-days.
posted by wfrgms at 12:51 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

One obvious answer is of course scouting. I did it from about the age of 7-14 and looking back I did learn a lot. It was one of a small number of out-of-school activities I can remember doing that didn't just feel like more school.

Second answer: getting a job. If there is one thing I wish I had done differently as a kid it would have been to have done some paid work. I'm sure it would have given me a ton more self-respect, as it was I was always a bit ashamed that I didn't.

Regarding the music thing, I think that the value in it is dependent on the motivation of the child. When I was a kid, learning the violin was mandatory, and it just seemed like more bourgeois, feminized time-wasting. It would have done me much more good to have spent the time working on (for example) home projects with my dad. When I was older we used to go to the gym and lift weights together and I have very happy memories of that time - it was really empowering to see the weight increasing week by week and I actually felt good about my body for the first time since I was old enough to be self-conscious.
posted by teleskiving at 12:58 AM on June 27, 2006

I would say martial arts instill some pretty good "Life Skills".

I still remember the 5 tenents of Tae Kwon Do - Courtesy, integrity, self control, perseverance and indomitable spirit.
posted by scodger at 1:13 AM on June 27, 2006

I would say dealing drugs - one of the few activities available to an adolescent that combines self-discipline and discretion along with all the usual attributes of running your own business - math, sales skills, supply/demand forecasting, following through on commitments to others and networking.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:46 AM on June 27, 2006

I like the approach of Richard Feynman's father, as described in this 40 minute Google video. Critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, imagination, skepticism, reading skills, and a sense of wonder. "He had taught me to notice things."

The first ten minutes gives you the idea--but if you have time, it's rewarding.
posted by Phred182 at 1:48 AM on June 27, 2006

Backpacking/wilderness camping teaches careful planning, patience, adaptability, self-reliance, an appreciation of nature, minimalism, contemplation, etc., etc., etc.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:19 AM on June 27, 2006

Swimming teaches you good coping skills (ie, that you can hurt so much more than you think you can and still come out okay), discipline, and the difference between wanting air and needing it. Basically, it teaches you ways to manage your own brain.
posted by dame at 6:20 AM on June 27, 2006

My advice is to give your kids an allowance instead of deciding how they spend every penny. This, along with some explanation of basic economic concepts like opportunity cost, the value of time, and investment, will make them better money managers and more emotionally intelligent.

You shouldn't force them to spend their allowance in any particular way, but do point out good options based on the above concepts and see what they think.
posted by lunchbox at 7:21 AM on June 27, 2006

There's something about your question that bothers me intensely, but I can't put my finger on exactly what it is. Here's a rambling, half-baked attempt at something I can't quite articulate. I may be overstating things, so take it with a grain of salt.

Almost all the virtues you list are other-directed. Collectively, they are the equivalent of "plays well with others and follows what he is taught."

Those are useful skills, but the hard part in life is knowing what to apply them to. There's a whole other category of very important life skills that are directed towards being able to choose your own path. They include the ability to:
set your own goals,
work hard on things that give you personal satisfaction even when there is no visible reward or external approval,
drop activities that don't fulfill you and find new ones that do,
enjoy doing things even if you're not very good at them,
motivate yourself when no one is keeping score,
reject other people's attempts to define you by their expectations,
say what you think in a way other people can hear,
and make use of introspection and solitude.

What do you do to foster those life skills? Let them be kids. Give them lots of unstructured time to waste and they'll have to learn how to fill it. Let them bang on a drum and make their own racket, instead of forever striving to match their music to a teacher's standards. Let them play in the dirt, and they'll learn how to invent their own games. Let them be stupid and irresponsible, and they'll learn the true value of the life skills you want to teach them.
posted by fuzz at 8:14 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

I second the "being handy". I remember as a child, being in the basement of my parent's house, helping my brother rebuild and paint cars. Also, just learning how to do simple things (like changing a car tire), which actually are just useful things that (I think) just about everyone should know how to do.

Money managing skills (like the allowance suggestion) seem awesome and my personal favorites: reading and writing. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think that many people read books just for the fun of it anymore. (Which upsets me on a number of levels, but I digress...) That and writing, I think, can take someone very far in life. Being able to communicate, and communicate well, seems like one of those big life skill things.
posted by sperose at 8:42 AM on June 27, 2006

Oh, and let them play video games, too.

I spent some time yesterday with a 16-year-old who gets good grades in school, is popular and good at sports, and can handle his father's boat responsibly. His parents think he's wasting too much time on videogames. He showed me the soccer game he's currently obsessed with, and at first it just looked like a lot of high-twitch button-pressing, but then he started showing me the part of the game that really interested him, which was a complete simulation of managing a team as a business. "I started off winning the league, but then my players started to get older and slower, and I had to try to sell some and get some younger players. But no one on the market is buying and I'm starting to have problems with my budget." Those are some pretty useful life skills he's learning. And eventually he's going to have to learn how to handle addiction, which is another essential life skill.

I would say dealing drugs

That's it, you could buy them a copy of Grand Theft Auto.
posted by fuzz at 8:43 AM on June 27, 2006

Chess, IMO, teaches you to plan ahead, to try to forsee the consequences of your actions, to try to anticipate the reactions of others to your actions, and to remain flexible and accept that your plans may have to change based on things that are outside of your control.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:06 AM on June 27, 2006

Being openly encouraged, emotionally supported, and compassionately responded to in pursuing whatever activity appeals to them.
posted by occhiblu at 11:10 AM on June 27, 2006

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