This was something I really struggled with, especially in the preschool/ kindergarten years with Chelsea. I still had the subconscious thought that she would naturally pick up life skills, so I should focus my energy on academic work.
But as Chelsea is getting older, I can see that while reading and math are important, and we will continue working on those, there are more important things that she needs to know in order to have a happy life.
I need to look at her future in 10, 20, or 40 years, and think about what I want her to be able to do then. Do I want her to have a job? What skills does that require?
How about living arrangements? What does she need to be able to do in order to take care of herself?
Think about social skills. We all want our kids to have friends. And that means she will need some hygiene and social skills.
So considering all of that- what do I need to teach her NOW and practice for years so that she will be in a good position in 20 years?
What Do We Work On?
1. Potty Training
Learning to use the bathroom independently is a HUGE life skill! It would be much easier for Chelsea to socialize with friends, she will need less help from others, and it opens doors for day programs and living arrangements that otherwise wouldn't be available.
I wrote about how we potty trained Chelsea HERE.
2. Dressing Self
Chelsea needs to be able to get herself ready for school or work in the morning. That will mean taking pajamas off, finding clean, matching, weather-appropriate clothes and putting them on, taking care of snaps, buttons, ties, zippers, etc.
There is a lot that goes into dressing one's self! To help Chelsea learn how to get ready in the morning, we developed a morning routine that we do diligently every morning. I blogged about it HERE.
I know it is WAY easier and faster to do things for Chelsea myself- to brush her teeth, get her dressed, make her bed, and she would happily let me! BUT, I don't want to be brushing her teeth for her when she is 15. I don't want to be getting her dressed when she is 30.
It is much easier to make her do these things herself now when she is a manageable, teachable size, rather than an adult who has had a life time of not needing to do these things for themselves, so they now refuse and are strong enough that you can't make them.
3. Personal Hygiene
This one goes along with the morning routine above, as in we need Chelsea to wash her hands and face, brush her teeth and hair, things like that. But we will also be teaching how to take a bath/ shower. That she needs to use deodorant. When she is older, how to handle her period hygienically (oh be still, my soul!)
4. Health Care
We have been very fortunate that Chelsea is such a good eater! (Sometimes too good of an eater- she just ate cherry pits and stems today) She never complains about eating a variety of healthy foods. That is a big one here- your child needs to eat a well-balanced diet and take a multi-vitamin.
Chelsea will need to know how to clean a minor cut and put on a Band-Aid, and KEEP IT ON.
Exercise is important! Sitting in front of the TV all day isn't good for her body, so she needs to know that she needs to have some physical activity each day.
Later on, she will need to know how to take her medication herself. Since she has osteopenia and a seizure disorder, that will mean a Calcium supplement and seizure medication.
Get enough sleep! It is important to get enough rest, and Chelsea will need to be able to put down whatever activity she is doing at bedtime and go to bed, and stay there until it is time to wake up.
Who wants to live with a filthy roommate? It is important to clean up after ourselves. Starting when they are little, we teach kids to pick up their toys, put dirty clothes in the hamper, and clear dishes after eating.
As they get older, we teach them to make their beds, tidy their room, vacuum, and wipe up any spills they make.
Eventually, we want our children to be able to care for themselves, do the dishes and laundry independently, scrub the kitchen and bathroom, and things that make a house livable and neat.
6. Food Preparation
This is a big one! People eat several times a day, and there are a LOT of steps that go into eating most of us never think about!
How do we get the food in the first place? We need to think about what we need, make a list, go to the store, find each food on the right aisle, handle the transaction, go home, and put the food away in the right spot so it is available. During the summers, I have Chelsea do her own list with cut-outs from ads.
Then we need to make sure our hands and cooking surfaces are clean, get the right ingredients (even for a turkey/ cheese sandwich!), make the food, and put everything back away so it doesn't go bad.
So I want Chelsea to know how to make some basic things herself, starting with a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and how to heat up food for dinner.
Eventually, we will progress to other things, like salads and pudding, meals from boxes, and things like that. But one step at a time!
WOW! That is a LOT that we as parents need to teach consistently! And when we already have a child that struggles with basic things and has behavior problems... It is a daunting task for sure!
What Do We NOT Work On?
Knowing we have to work on so many skills with our child and teach something for years on end will mean that some things get dropped. We can't do it all.
Only you know your child well enough to know what they need to know. For us, a lot of academic trivia will never be learned. Chelsea probably won't learn the types of cloud formations, or the habitats of different animals, or about photosynthesis.
She will most likely not ever learn algebra or who discovered America, because those things won't matter to her long term. But you know what? She WILL know how to do some basic grocery shopping, make a sandwich, socialize with friends, do a job she enjoys, and shower.