Suzanne Tobias

January 19, 2012

Basic life skills: Don’t leave home without them

Recently I had lunch with a friend and her daughter, who attends Kansas State University.

Recently I had lunch with a friend and her daughter, who attends Kansas State University.

The young woman told me she probably could have gotten rich her first semester at college if she had charged a fee for cooking and laundry advice.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” Martha said, shaking her head.

Students overload the washing machines, cramming them with every article of clothing they own, in every imaginable color and fabric.

They use way too much detergent — or none at all.

She recalled one couple who moved their son into his dorm room, kissed him goodbye and then knocked on the resident advisor’s door down the hall, saying, “You’ll be doing his laundry, right?”

Um, that would be no. Your precious boy will — surprise, surprise! — be expected to take care of himself.

That got me thinking about all the basic, modern-day skills children need to know before they leave home. Today’s educators talk a lot about “21st-century skills,” which loosely translated means teaching students to think critically, analyze information, apply knowledge to new situations, communicate, collaborate, solve problems and make decisions.

I agree that those things are crucial. But so is laundry. And dinner. And a clean toilet.

So my husband and I recently renewed our commitment to making sure our son and daughter don’t embarrass themselves at the campus laundromat. Some things we vow to teach them before they leave home:

•  How to sort, wash and fold laundry.
•  How to cook at least a half-dozen simple meals, including roast chicken, the perfect steak and a tasty vegetarian entree.
•  How to sharpen a knife.
•  How to balance a checkbook.
•  How to read a map.
•  How to check the oil.
•  How to change a tire.
•  How to figure a tip.
•  How to sew on a button.
•  How to iron.
•  How to wash dishes by hand.
•  How to clean a toilet.
•  How to build a fire (campsite or fireplace).
•  How to use a fire extinguisher.
•  How to tie a necktie.
•  How to make popcorn the old-fashioned way.
•  How to care for yourself when you have a cold or flu.
•  How to shuffle cards.
•  How to write a resume.
•  The difference between “your” and “you’re.” (And “it’s” and “its.” And “there,” “their” and “they’re.” You get the idea.)
•  How to fold a fitted sheet.
•  How to set up and program electronics.
•  How to change a baby’s diaper.
•  How to drive a stick shift.

The list is long but not exhaustive. So let’s keep the discussion going. What basic life skills do you think every high school graduate should have?

E-mail me or visit our Facebook page at to share your ideas.

In the meantime, I’ll be in the laundry room.

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