Posted tagged ‘skills for kids’

How are you & kids feeling?

January 7, 2019

Apologies for a long absence away from this blog. Here’s a look at the habits that help kids (us all!) navigate adulthood…

Piñata party: where you smash something up in order to get treats. (c) homemade kids

I’ve been re-reading the posts on Homemade Kids recently and am so glad that I have some kind of a diary on this blog about everyday adventures with young children.

Now that I’m out of that daily whirr of time management and meal-making it seems that I have a lot more than 24 hours in a day. For starters I have time to follow the news, which is why I’ve been following with some concern the info that depression in girls is linked to higher use of social media. You can read a summary of the report in the Guardian here.

More time also means that I can even make resolutions to change up habits… This January I’m planning to follow the five ways to wellbeing defined by the New Economics Foundation (admittedly back in 2008 when phones really weren’t such a big thing as they are now, but it did also shake up the long-held view that feeling bad was reminded by volunteering and country dancing). NEF’s suggestion is that you should do some of these things – all of them perhaps – every day in order to feel that your life has purpose and all’s well with the world. They are quite vague/large topics and habits aren’t that easy to change. But it’s certainly a more interesting to do list than tidy up, grab coffee, pay bills…

The five ways to wellbeing might also be useful for the young women who over-use their phones and find themselves stuck in a self-affirmation cycle that seems to lead to low mood and worse.

  1. Connect
  2. Be active
  3. Take notice
  4. Keep learning
  5. Give

The video has a little bit more info.


Meanwhile I observe that my teenagers are insanely busy on their phones. To be honest, that’s also my main way of communicating with them… although we still have regular family dinners.

Over to you
Do you have any tips on how to show your child/teenager to use their phone so it’s a bonus to their life not a burden?


How learning x teaches y – or does it?

April 28, 2017

Things you learn, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect from doing a dance or football class, often come with quite a price for parents. Here are a few non-school activities which may be “sold” to you as having sweeping life benefits. But do they? Words by Nicola Baird

Here’s a throwback pic to some of the families in our babysitting circle back at a 2009 get-together. The youngest in the circle are now 8 years old and the oldest 18+ so what extra-curricular skills were most useful for them?

I was recently sent a Press Release from a dance wear provider, Dancewear Central (to be honest I don’t know much about dance so I’m quoting them) which: “has uncovered that there’s so much more to dance classes than meets the eye! They’ve spoken to dance experts across the country to discover the biggest benefits of dancing, which include:

  1. Patience
  2. Confidence
  3. The way the body works
  4. Improved social skills
  5. Friendship
  6. A healthy body

There’s so much that children learn when attending classes which make writing endless cheques, taxiing to and from lessons several times a week, buying shoes and leotards, and sewing costumes so much more worthwhile!”

This isn’t spring flower power in Wales, this was a maths lesson about daffodil debts!

It’s intriguing the skills that advocates pick out for their sport or craft. I’m a huge fan of teaching children to ride horses (Yes it’s expensive, that aside). I think the skills picked up by learning to ride include:

  1. Resilience
  2. Empathy
  3. Hard work.

But if I force myself to be honest I also think that those three traits – resilience, empathy and hard work – are life skills that I wanted to pass to my own children. I also like kindness but even horse-crazy me has to admit that riding a horse doesn’t necessarily teach you how to be kind.

I’ve recently interviewed an acting coach, who mostly teachers children, who reckoned acting classes are always popular with parents because they give kids:

  1. Confidence – even the kids who aren’t into the jazz hands spotlight.
  2. Friendship – doing the shows together
  3. Good communication – the ability to say what you want and for people to understand what you are saying.

Being able to control a horse and enjoy riding tends to push away all other problems. Riders photographed in 2015.

What do we want from our children?
Thinking again of those dancers I understand that patience has a place, but I don’t rate it as highly on the grid of useful life skills (relying instead on distraction, perhaps also learnt from horses?). Parents know that confidence is highly likely to be given a boost by dance or acting classes, which will surely be handy in the long run, but I have no idea why anyone would care much about knowing “the way the body works”. But clearly plenty of parents do – the dance classes I tried to send my toddlers to were over-subscribed. Once we moved up the waiting list and secured a place I was shocked to find that every tot was in a frothy tutu and ballet shoes. It was a big lesson for me – everyone takes their profession very seriously, and expects the kids doing it to do so as well.

First loves
So it was not much of a surprise that when I did a web search about what life lessons can be learnt from extra-curricular classes I discovered everyone makes big claims for what might well be called their first love – ballet, ponies, balls etc. On Lifehack, see the top three lessons for an American Footballer are:

  1. You need talent and heart to win anything
  2. It can all end in an instant
  3. If at first you don’t succeed, try again

Dancing, equestrianism and American football (although it could just as easily be football) have some similarities – you need to be fit and are at risk of injury. But in terms of what you are learning as a life skill they are very different skills. And once you’ve learnt those skills who makes the most interesting dinner guest or most effective entrepreneur or parent?

Over to you?
So what sport or skill (eg, art, craft, needlework, orienterring) do you love which you think passes on vital life skills? If you have teenage children what do you think has been the most essential thing they’ve learnt to do, and you don’t regret spending a penny on? There are no right or wrong answers for this by the way – it’s clear we all have such very different hopes and dreams. Looking forward to finding out your answers.

Have a good May Day.

What skills do your kids have?

October 28, 2015

Here’s a challenge – besides reading, writing and asking for a better phone what skills do your teenagers have? And what do they need?  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

We sing when we set up camp... "We didn't start the fire," (King Charles) went down well. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Learning to light a fire, in the rain.  (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

It’s time to take stock about the practical skills my teenagers now have. When my daughters were little, learning was fun and they were willing to try all sorts of things from street dance and trampolining to modelling with sticks. Now they are teenagers life looks more restrictive – there’s a lot of peer pressure and instinct to shop and chat. Both are absolutely fine.

However both my girls now babysit quite often and the oldest is thinking about what she could do during a gap year between school and university. So what practical skills do they have? And what do they need?

DIY experience: how about re-covering a chair seat using an upholstery stapler? This is a goodbye pic to my chair which I recently passed on to a Freecycler.

DIY experience: how about re-covering a chair seat using an upholstery stapler? This is a goodbye pic to my chair which I recently passed on to a Freecycler. (c) homemadekids/nicola baird

Life saving
One brilliant tick goes to Lola’s school that organised a first aid session, at a very cheap rate, after AS and A level exams last summer – definitely something worth asking your child’s school to do. Everyone needs to know the basics of first aid because it saves lives. Not long after this training Lola had to step in when a friend collapsed with a diabetes emergency. She said it was very scary to be the only one in the room not screaming, but at least she’d had a little bit of training to know how to use the recovery position, how not to panic and the sort of info you need to tell 999. She also accompanied her friend to hospital which was clearly the right instinct. Going back to the party afterwards was definitely not though!

At 18 in the UK some kids have already been at work for two years, but most have just been at school. Entrepeneurship skills are hard to acquire (I have enough trouble myself making ends meet and spreadsheets balance) but table top sales and babysitting start the process off well for school and college-aged kids. The only problem is that most of these “babies” are in bed, or just about to go to bed, so the teenager doesn’t have much responsibility. What they’ve got to be able to do is step in if things go wrong – and that often needs practice, especially keeping a cool head.

Life hack: trying out a clever way to rethread worn out shoe laces.

Life hack: trying out a clever way to rethread worn out shoe laces.

Life hacks
My daughters see my repairing all sorts of stuff – clothes, sofas, chairs,cushion covers etc. I don’t do it well. There’s no such thing as in invisible repair in my home, but I like the story of a repair showing. I hope seeing me mend things (with my sewing kit and sugru) will inspire them to mend stuff. But I don’t think it does. So today when Lola was queuing to buy some tickets on the net I challenged her to rethread some worn out laces into a shoe. At first she said she couldn’t, then she half did it saying that made the shoes look cool. I want to pass these shoes on to a charity shop so I passed her a pencil to see if that helped poke the worn shoe lace through the eyes… and it did.

You can’t teach practical skills – or common sense – but hopefully you can encourage all children, of any age, to think creatively in order to get what they want. Mine are brilliant at using words to browbeat me: now they also need to learn to use the other side of their brains to mend and repair things – not just to save money when they don’t have much, but to avoid having to throw stuff away unnecessarily.

Over to you
What skills do your kids have – or you’d like them to have – which you reckon are essential? Is it washing up, or thoughtfulness or something else?

What skills do humans need?

February 10, 2014

How do you know you’re doing the best for your kids? First make a list… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is from

Truisms through the shop window.

Truisms through the shop window.

If only we knew what skills our children need. It’s easy to give them what we wanted to learn as children, but to get it right for each future generation is crazily hard. And my generation – the ones who had left university before computers were mainstream – have seen how needs change firsthand.

My daughters’ school is in the process of rethinking its ethos – like most schools we want to support young people in their learning. But goodness it’s hard to crack what future skills they need, especially with Michael Gove’s more old-fashioned focus on examined courses.

In the Evening Standard on 7 February 2014 Nick Curtis produced a fascinating list  of the 10 skills that will help children for the future. They included basic knowledge of economics (ie, banking and debt); understanding cost-benefit ratios (I don’t get this one at all but i think it might be opting for well made over tat); map reading skills; how to change a car’s electric battery and maintain a bike; understanding of the way bodies get stiff and worse; how to speak Mandarin; how to speak in other languages without being able to speak that language; sex education that isn’t too fluffy; how to play a portable musical instrument and how to say no.  It’s a great list.  A lot better than the do-gooder lists you can buy in gift shops (see pic.).

It inspired me to do an audit on my girls – here are some skills I think they need, and are slowly developing.

How to look good with a moustache is essential - but what else does a teenager need to know?

How to look good with a moustache is essential – but what else does a teenager need to know?

11 things teenagers need to know

  1. Planning tools (eg, SWOT grids) to help make decisions
  2. Ability to delegate
  3. Understanding probability (re, if it will rain, will the tube flood, health risks)
  4. Ability to research
  5. Social skills so you can get on with people rather than get their backs up
  6. Ability to market yourself (for interviews etc)
  7. New media skills (and how to use it safely and why not to be a troll)
  8. Grit and determination
  9. Know when to celebrate (big treats and mini pats on the back)
  10. Willingness to work hard – and evidence that you can
  11. Awareness of the need to learn
Battling for the seat at the winning table. Or just a game of chess.

Battling for the seat at the winning table. Or just a game of chess.

Younger children might benefit from these 15 skills

  1. How to use basic tools in the tool box, kitchen drawer etc
  2. The names of things (ie, in the tool box)
  3. How to cook
  4. How to sew
  5. How to grow food
  6. Confidence reading and being able to choose your own books
  7. How to ask questions (and listen)
  8. How to play an instrument (or whistle or sing)
  9. How to read maps
  10. How to unwind and relax
  11. How to be kind
  12. First aid knowledge
  13. How to look after an animal
  14. How to file, and keep papers in an organised way
  15. How to save money and use it.

Of course I can’t do all the things on the list… the challenge is to find ways to hand them to the next generation as a gift rather than a chore.

Over to you
Any ideas how I can build global awareness and a sense of life as fun into the skills I wish to share with my daughters – and help teenage school students learn?

Half-term: for relaxing or revising?

February 11, 2012

Trampoline party over, next excitement is half-term...

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is about what to do at half-term. Tune out or brain up? For more info about parenting see my book Homemade Kids, or for my website click here.

Half-term may mean less morning panic this week, but I’m still shocked by the amount of work my primary school aged daughter Nell, just 11, has come back home with. Teachers say she must revise for SATS (a test I’d wrongly assumed was a snapshot of progress). I reckon she will need to do an hour of study each day to get through her task list. But there are also 20 plus thank you letters to write from her birthday, and a bit of music practice (that’s another half an hour if she is willing to work on piano and cello). And time made for reading.

Imagine what the pressure must be for those students running into GCSEs, AS or A levels? Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many of the university Year 1 and Year 2 students I teach need stress counselling (and not because of me!). They’ve been in a pressure-cooker environment for too long to take.

Work harder?
Given Nell’s age this has to be about the last chance she’ll get to play with toys, but there’s no sympathy. It seems that school demons are pushing for her to be educationally hot housed. Worse for mums like me, it gives Nell little time to get competent at the sort of life-useful skills that also need to be learnt – opening things, sewing, dealing with animals, cooking well seasonal items (eg, brussel sprout tops, beetroot chocolate cake, acorn pate?), balancing or even running around outside in the frost and snow.

Over to you
What do you think: if you are in charge of a child should half term be for relaxing or revising? And it’s no good saying a bit of both because I’m not sure that the two function well together.

Can you mend a puncture?

November 11, 2011

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This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post challenges you to share simple how-to skills with children. For more info about my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here.

Can you change a puncture? Brilliant if you can – now, can you show someone else how to do it? That’s what Vince (see pic), who loved BMXs and riding about on bikes as a kid, and I did with some of the kids at our kids’ after school club. To our surprise we were mobbed, and asked to come back and show another group of children in a fortnight’s time. There’s a real appetite to learn from small children, even from the ones who are five and a half years and hope to be getting a Blackberry for Christmas… (let’s hope their families don’t oblige).

I’m forever blowing bubbles
Vince showed the kids how to pump up the tyre, hold it in water and look for bubbles. There’s lots of tricky bits here – what sort of valve do you have? How to use the pump etc. But not so tricky that our group of 10 children couldn’t soon pump up a tyre, or identify exactly where the hole was. We used two different puncture repair kits and found that the children preferred using glue on to stick on patches.

One girl, in Year 6, admitted that her bike had been thrown away after it had got a puncture: well she won’t have to now. Or even if a puncture does happen again then she will know that it can be mended, if not by her, than at a repair shop. The good news was that every child knew how to ride a bike, and this is an inner London school – apparently the cycles used in the playground by the afterschool club have helped the children learn how to get their balance.

See here, the London Cycling Campaign, for lots of cycle related info.

Over to you
Here’s a challenge: can you teach someone’s child (or your own) a simple skill, like how to mend a puncture, that will improve their future?  Or swap what you know for another skill (eg, mend a puncture/sew on a button in order to get your friend to teach you how to knit yoghurt/bake bread or paint a window)? If children can be involved so much the better, but it’s still good if they see you doing something that slightly bucks the super-consumer role so many of us have accidentally ended up playing. Good luck.

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