Skills for Children

Over Christmas my sister-in-law confessed to my 16 year old daughter that she’d never learned how to knit or crochet. My daughter reported this to me later with some surprise. I laughed and reassured her that this particular aunt, having gotten through law school, could certainly learn any skill she put her mind to. But my daughter was honestly puzzled that folks could reach adulthood without such skills. And her surprise got me thinking about the types of learning we offer our kids.  I wonder if childhood experience might make adults bolder, more willing to try new things.

I didn’t cook well until adulthood. But thanks to a momma who sometimes needed my help in the kitchen, I have plenty of childhood cooking memories and had no fear of plunging in when I got married. I didn’t learn to knit until I was an adult, but my mom taught me to sew in elementary school. I have a vivid memory of picking out a pattern for a collared blazer at the fabric store when I was 12 or so, and seeing the cashier’s surprise when I told her, yes, I was going to make it myself. And I did. It was hard and it didn’t turn out perfect, but I felt proud every time I wore it.

My guess is that the more often we give our kids the chance to try skills that could be of value in the future– things like sewing, or changing the oil on a car, or fixing a flat bike tire– the more likely they are to try similar things as adults. As a person who values the careful use of money, that thought make my heart go pitter-pat.  An adult who is willing to try a new thing will often discover he can do that thing, which has the potential to save a household thousands of dollars over a lifetime.  And, probably just as important,  the end result is an adult who lives life with confidence.

My husband is famous for saying, “It wouldn’t take much to….” [insert a plausible solution to a current problem].  He learned those exact words — and that can-do attitude–  from his dad.  What a gift.   What do you think?  What childhood experiences enhanced your confidence as an adult?  What kinds of skills do you think are most powerful when experienced at an early age?


  1. It’s true, Mary. Although I realize we had very different childhoods, I can’t tell you how glad I am that we learned how to do things as kids. Along the same lines (I was talking to Ron about this over Christmas), it’s a gift to children when they learn to live without so many of the niceties and fancy (insert anything here–gadgets, experiences, etc) that, without which, so many people feel that they cannot live. It makes it easier to either 1) live without it or 2) work hard to get it. We are so blessed to have the mama we have!

  2. My father taught me to knit as a small child though my mother was a very skilled knitter. As I am left handed she had problems teaching me. I did very little knitting until my first child was on the way. Often it is much easier to learn any subject or task when you want to learn it for your self. One of my greatest hopes is that I have passed on to my children, the confedance to at least try to do things for them selves. There is nothing worse than someone who keeps saying I can’t do that but has never tried

  3. Katherine says:

    I had a really great 2nd grade teacher who encouraged my reading. She recommended classics that were way beyond the usual 2nd grade reading and I loved them. My mother was dying of breast cancer at the time, I was a shy awkward girl and my dad was so grief stricken and busy trying to keep his job as well as be at the hospital as much as possible that reading those books and having that teacher be proud of me helped me get through so much as well as gave me confidence in alot of different areas. I went out for a spelling bee a few years later and came in 3rd place which was a big deal for me being so shy and getting up in front of the school. I read the instructions for a Barbie dream house I got for Christmas the Dec my mom passed away and was able to put it together myself, stickers and all. Reading was a great escape when I was sitting at the hospital while my mom got treatments or was hospitalized or when I was at one of the many sitters homes we had to go be at during that time. The skill to be able to read and understand was a skill that helped me in all areas of life and is my main education focus for my kiddos, we read, read, and read some more and now I get to share all my favorites with them, I still have alot of my books from childhood.

  4. tia bennett says:

    What a great reminder to me. I think I will have some summer goals of sewing etc. My 4 attend public schools, and I work full time as a school nurse. I teach them menu planning and cooking. Grandma taught them to knit and crochet, grandpa taught the boys woodworking. Dad has them help fix things. There are still some things I need to teach them before they fly the coop!

  5. That’s one of the other things about homeschooling, is that we have more time to teach skills that can later turn into a money making hobby. Our daughter loves to cook with me. She is only six and knows just what to buy at the store to make homemade spaghetti and cooks it with supervision at home. It’s a start right?!

  6. I cross-stitched like a fiend when I was in middle and high school, but I don’t know how to knit or crochet or sew. I did get a cursory course about how to crochet at one point but never actually made anything and promptly forgot whatever I learned. My mother was a professional seamstress and she tried her darndest to teach me to sew. “zero ability” was putting it nicely. I didn’t care about it then, which I’m sure affected my results. I really wish now that I could sew, so I’ve been thinking perhaps it is time to try again.

    On the other hand, she also decorated cakes as a side job. She learned early on that while she could create the beautiful outsides, the cake itself came out better if I made it. 🙂 I wonder if she ever told clients that their beautiful wedding cakes were baked by a 12 year old!

    I think exposure to a lot of different things and being forced to try unfamiliar activities – whether you think you can do them or not – builds confidence. Even if you give it your best shot and fail miserably, you have the pride of having tried. That then builds confidence to try new things, and eventually you learn where your strengths lie.

  7. My own Mother was a creative person, most of that was expended on her elementary classroom. But she passed that idea generating on to me and it is one of her best gifts, to be able to think in that way. Confidence in those areas that I had early exposure to was easy but I did not find that it expanded to other areas. My husband has picked up where my Mother left off and expanded and encouraged my skill, believed in me and I have been able to learn much as an adult that I would never have tried with out him. I just wanted to give that perspective that while childhood matters greatly and our children are well served to have a broad experience base I know that growth and the ability to change doesn’t have to stop when adulthood is reached. I think I see so much of that around me. People stop growing and being willing to change, they become inflexible just because they aren’t being forced. An example of being a lifetime learner for my children will serve them well so that whatever skill they want to learn that I left out is still open to them even when they leave my home. I can’t wait to see all the ways they will exceed me.

    • “An example of being a lifetime learner for my children will serve them well so that whatever skill they want to learn that I left out is still open to them even when they leave my home.” I LOVE THAT!!!

  8. I’m grateful that my parents and grandparents instilled in me an attitude of “I can make that work!” — whether it was something broken and needing repair, or something to repurpose and make suitable for our needs. We are now trying to instill that in our own children.

    Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without! 🙂

  9. My dad fixed just about everything growing up. So when my husband couldn’t fix much of anything I was shocked. But he learned lots from my dad and brother and is now teaching our oldest son. It has saved us thousands of dollars over the years. And made us some money helping others too.

  10. What a great post & as usual, a great line of comments!

    My mother was an amazing seamstress & knitter — I have vivid memories of her making clothes for my Barbies (even little hand-knit Scandinavian style ski sweaters!) and all the dresses for both my older half sisters’ weddings — sadly, she was killed in a car accident when I was 8 & I never had the pleasure of learning either skill from her. I did learn to cook at an early age from my older sisters, but most of the skills I’ve picked up along the way have been developed quite a bit later in my adult life. I think when we have any kind of model in childhood who shows us amazing things are possible, it can rub off on us — not that it absolutely will, but it is possible.

    Our goal with our kids is to give them a general overall love of learning, so no matter what their ages they’ll hopefully have a desire to keep learning. They are all learning to cook & manage a home, and I’m in the process of teaching my oldest daughter to do cross stitch & do embroidery with hopes of both of us learning to sew together. Homeschooling definitely has the propensity to encourage learning even in those of us who are just supposed to be the teachers! What a marvelous thing!

  11. Work in general and earning things are best learned young.

  12. I agree, Mary. I realized at some point that I have more courage than skill!

  13. It’s great that we pass our talents on to our kids. (and now I feel slightly ashamed that i don’t know how to crochet!) But even if it’s not a crafty skill – I think anytime we as parents tackle a project ourselves instead of calling the repairman/plumber/painter/etc, it’s good for them. Making such a call is not even considered in our house, we just do that ourselves.
    It’s good to continue learning through life – keeps your brain from just rotting up there!

  14. AAHHHHH!!!!!!, this post encouraged my heart! I have been feeling extremely ho-hum with the homeschool journey (for many reasons). It made me STOP and THINK this evening. Since our move 3 years ago, my husband started up a handyman business. Our sons rotate working with him, while keeping up with college-bound courses. I needed a REMINDER about what they ARE learning! Plumbing, drywalling, construction, fix-everything!!! I think I need to focus more this new year on what IS happening instead of the areas I feel we aren’t doing perfectly. Sigh. I need to remember how those skills will BLESS their families one day!

    By the way, I would love to learn both croquet and knitting! 😉 I tried as a kid and failed miserably. Perhaps one day, I just might try again! 🙂

  15. I dunno Mary. My mother taught me to knit at least three times and it just never took. I have also been taught to crochet and sew, but can do neither. I am not unintelligent–school was always easy for me, for example. (Although law school would be something else!) But I do think nature, not just nurture, plays a role here. I would just always rather read!

  16. I read this this morning and was very encouraged…we homeschooled for 8 years and this last year due to financial reasons I had to start working…and homeschooling while still in my heart had to be put on hold. (which I dearly miss) When I read this post it made me even more grateful for all the free time we have had after school work is over and we could do the crafts and fix it things…the cooking and preparing things…We spent alot of time on lifeskills and there are many more the kids need to be exposed to. Thank you for the kind reminder. I agree all children need to be exposed. I will say as a child my mom taught me to crotchet, but I re-taught myself as and adult. It all came back quickly because I had been exposed to it once. I learned to sew as and adult, but I had been exposed to moms machine as a child and it helped me to learn faster and understand things. The same with painting. I grew up in a home with a practical engineer type A father and a not so practical artistic mother. I was exposed to the we can fix it, we can create it, life, but also to the if you want something that you cant fix or make then you work hard to get it. 🙂 My father was in school as much as I was and my mother read all the time. I hope that I have passed some of this on to my own children. 🙂 And Hope I continue to even though our life has changed the way it looks right now. 🙂

  17. I learned to sew as an 8-9 year old from my aunt/godmother under the guise of 4-H. I did sewing projects every year and now, in my early 30’s, sew something nearly weekly for one of my kids, nieces, nephews, friends, etc. I even had a side business of making wedding veils and accessories for most of grad school while I got my PhD! I’ve taught several friends to be confident seamstresses. Around age 12 I tried to learn crochet but was a total wreck at it. I taught myself to knit in my 20’s and liked it, and finally re-attempted crochet in my 30’s and like it more than knitting. Easier to start/stop as needed, which is critical with 3 little ones. We definitely model the ideas of learning to fix things, looking stuff up and trying it out. My daughter (then age 5) read about a drop spindle in a book and we looked it up to see what it was. It looked like such a simple tool we made one out of a pencil, old CD, rubberbands, and a cup hook. Together she and I learned to spin yarn with it and she brought it to school and taught her whole K class. We made a few more with dowels and she donated one to her classroom. This past Christmas my husband made her a kick-spindle which she’s now mastering (age 6.5). Both my “big kids” (ages 6.5 and nearly 5) help cook at least one meal a week. Nothing fancy, but they can do a home-made shake-n-bake type mix and coat some chicken and lay it out on a baking sheet; measure out and heat some frozen veggies; mix up a loaf of bread in the bread-maker; and prep a simple tossed salad as long as I set out all the tools with them. My mom was from a long line of farming home-makers and my dad a Navy-trained tool-and-dye factory working farmer so we almost never saw a hired person do anything at our house. In fact, I had NO IDEA what careers were available other than teachers and doctors and grocery/retail and restaurant servers because I’d never seen anyone really DO anything else for money!

  18. Mom of 4 in VP says:

    Can you believe I exposed sewing to 7th and 8th graders who have never used a sewing machine in this day and age? Those kids were so proud to sew pillowcases for our local children’s hospital. My 8 year old is learning cursive and some teachers believe it’s a waste of time. It’s fine motor-people! My kids have a two great parents with”can do attitude” I don’t always win a prize, but those little eyes are always watching us fix, make and tinker at all times.