9 Skills That Every Kid Should Learn

9 Skills That Every Kid Should Learn

Kids in today’s school system are not being prepared well for tomorrow’s world.

As someone who went from the corporate world and then the government world to the ever-changing online world, I know how the world of yesterday is rapidly becoming irrelevant. I was trained in the newspaper industry, where we all believed we would be relevant forever — and I now believe will go the way of the horse and buggy.

Unfortunately, I was educated in a school system that believed the world in which it existed would remain essentially the same, with minor changes in fashion. We were trained with a skill set that was based on what jobs were most in demand in the 1980s, not what might happen in the 2000s.

And that kinda makes sense, given that no one could really know what life would be like 20 years from now. Imagine the 1980s, when personal computers were still fairly young, when faxes were the cutting-edge communication technology, when the Internet as we now know it was only the dream of sci-fi writers like William Gibson.

We had no idea what the world had in store for us.

And here’s the thing: we still don’t. We never do. We have never been good at predicting the future, and so raising and educating our kids as if we have any idea what the future will hold is not the smartest notion.

How then to prepare our kids for a world that is unpredictable, unknown? By teaching them to adapt, to deal with change, to be prepared for anything by not preparing them for anything specific.

This requires an entirely different approach to child-rearing and education. It means leaving our old ideas at the door, and reinventing everything.

My drop-dead gorgeous wife Eva (yes, I’m a very lucky man) and I are among those already doing this. We homeschool our kids — more accurately, we unschool them. We are teaching them to learn on their own, without us handing knowledge down to them and testing them on that knowledge.

It is, admittedly, a wild frontier, and most of us who are experimenting with unschooling will admit that we don’t have all the answers, that there is no set of “best practices”. But we also know that we are learning along with our kids, and that not knowing can be a good thing — an opportunity to find out, without relying on established methods that might not be optimal.

I won’t go too far into methods here, as I find them to be less important than ideas. Once you have some interesting ideas to test, you can figure out an unlimited amount of methods, and so my dictating methods would be too restrictive.

Instead, let’s look at a good set of essential skills that I believe children should learn, that will best prepare them for any world of the future. I base these on what I have learned in three different industries, especially the world of online entreprenurship, online publishing, online living … and more importantly, what I have learned about learning and working and living in a world that will never stop changing.

1. Asking questions

What we want most for our kids, as learners, is to be able to learn on their own. To teach themselves anything. Because if they can, then we don’t need to teach them everything — whatever they need to learn in the future, they can do on their own. The first step in learning to teach yourself anything is learning to ask questions. Luckily, kids do this naturally — our hope is to simply encourage it. A great way to do this is by modeling it. When you and your child encounter something new, ask questions, and explore the possible answers with your child. When he does ask questions, reward the child instead of punishing him (you might be surprised how many adults discourage questioning).

2. Solving problems

If a child can solve problems, she can do any job. A new job might be intimidating to any of us, but really it’s just another problem to be solved. A new skill, a new environment, a new need … they’re all simply problems to be solved. Teach your child to solve problems by modeling simple problem solving, then allowing her to do some very easy ones on her own. Don’t immediately solve all your child’s problems — let her fiddle with them and try various possible solutions, and reward such efforts. Eventually, your child will develop confidence in her problem-solving abilities, and then there is nothing she can’t do.

3. Tackling projects

As an online entrepreneur, I know that my work is a series of projects, sometimes related, sometimes small and sometimes large (which are usually a group of smaller projects). I also know that there isn’t a project I can’t tackle, because I’ve done so many of them. This post is a project. Writing a book is a project. Selling the book is another project. Work on projects with your kid, letting him see how it’s done by working with you, then letting him do more and more by himself. As he gains confidence, let him tackle more on his own. Soon, his learning will just be a series of projects that he’s excited about.

4. Finding passion

What drives me is not goals, not discipline, not external motivation, not reward … but passion. When I’m so excited that I can’t stop thinking about something, I will inevitably dive into it fully committed, and most times I’ll complete the project and love doing it. Help your kid find things she’s passionate about — it’s a matter of trying a bunch of things, finding ones that excite her the most, helping her really enjoy them. Don’t discourage any interest — encourage them. Don’t suck the fun out of them either — make them rewarding.

5. Independence

Kids should be taught to increasingly stand on their own. A little at a time, of course. Slowly encourage them to do things on their own. Teach them how to do it, model it, help them do it, help less, then let them make their own mistakes. Give them confidence in themselves by letting them have a bunch of successes, and letting them solve the failures. Once they learn to be independent, they learn that they don’t need a teacher, a parent, or a boss to tell them what to do. They can manage themselves, and be free, and figure out the direction they need to take on their own.

6. Being happy on their own

Too many of us parents coddle our kids, keeping them on a leash, making them rely on our presence for happiness. When the kid grows up, he doesn’t know how to be happy. He must immediately attach to a girlfriend or friends. Failing that, they find happiness in other external things — shopping, food, video games, the Internet. But if a child learns from an early age that he can be happy by himself, playing and reading and imagining, he has one of the most valuable skills there is. Allow your kids to be alone from an early age. Give them privacy, have times (such as the evening) when parents and kids have alone time.

7. Compassion

One of the most essential skills ever. We need this to work well with others, to care for people other than ourselves, to be happy by making others happy. Modeling compassion is the key. Be compassionate to your child at all times, and to others. Show them empathy by asking how they think others might feel, and thinking aloud about how you think others might feel. Demonstrate at every opportunity how to ease the suffering of others when you’re able, how to make others happier with small kindnesses, how that can make you happier in return.

8. Tolerance

Too often we grow up in an insulated area, where people are mostly alike (at least in appearance), and when we come into contact with people who are different, it can be uncomfortable, shocking, fear-inducing. Expose your kids to people of all kinds, from different races to different sexuality to different mental conditions. Show them that not only is it OK to be different, but that differences should be celebrated, and that variety is what makes life so beautiful.

9. Dealing with change

I believe this will be one of the most essential skills as our kids grow up, as the world is always changing and being able to accept the change, to deal with the change, to navigate the flow of change, will be a competitive advantage. This is a skill I’m still learning myself, but I find that it helps me tremendously, especially compared to those who resist and fear change, who set goals and plans and try to rigidly adhere to them as I adapt to the changing landscape. Rigidity is less helpful in a changing environment than flexibility, fluidity, flow. Again, modeling this skill for your child at every opportunity is important, and showing them that changes are OK, that you can adapt, that you can embrace new opportunities that weren’t there before, should be a priority. Life is an adventure, and things will go wrong, turn out differently than you expected, and break whatever plans you made — and that’s part of the excitement of it all.

We can’t give our children a set of data to learn, a career to prepare for, when we don’t know what the future will bring. But we can prepare them to adapt to anything, to learn anything, to solve anything, and in about 20 years, to thank us for it.

For the full original unedited article visit Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits.

14 replies
  1. http://www.ionicbathfootdetox.com/ says:

    3-13-12 poll results:"Unfortunately, this poll isn't a valid prediction of actual voting patterns. The poll you cite is an online poll that Newsmax has on its webiste. Newsmax is one of the most popular conservative websites on the internet and so its readership is weighted towards Republican candidates and positions. One drawback of online polls is that because of self selection (people choose to respond to the polls, or not), there is no way to determine whether the respondents to a poll are actually a representative sample of the population.

  2. car insurance says:

    thiago / e esse negocio de cota para negros ta errado. era pra ser cotas para pessoas carentes, com baixo pode aquisitivo; porque uma vez um amigo meu tem os olhos verde e cabelo loiro colocou negro ele tem ate acendenscia holandesa eu heim e ele passou! ta errado isso ate carro ele tm.Gostei deste comentário ou não: 21

  3. http://www.autoversicherung.tech/ says:

    mr. oblivious,Jim here: Misuse of police powers and abuse of the constitution (4th Amendment) has always been an interest of this blog. We do these things daily in Iraq, yet they hardly are a blip on the radar here in the states, so inured are we now to dynamic police entries.This is a real-life scenario that is taken right out of the series The Shield. These fictional series numb us to reality. In the meantime, Ms. Johnson is still dead.

  4. http://www./ says:

    Ooh! Makes sense! There are so many "false prophets" out there too, that it would be hard to distinguish real prophets if they even existed. So true, Diana — that's exactly how I feel! There's a temptation, but would I really want to know? We sure are captains of our lives right now and let us remain so! =)

  5. http://www./ says:

    Sensacional!Sonho em conhecer essa curva um dia.Pela tv a gente não tem noção exata do relevo da pista. In loco é outra coisa. Deve ser um paredão monumental!

  6. http://www./ says:

    spune:E mai deosebit tatuajul tau.. n-am mai vazut, recunosc.. Totusi eu daca mi-as face, nu as avea curaj sa-mi fac unul asa mare si vizibil.. eventual temporar. De altfel ce sa ma mai ascund atat: m-ar bate ai mei daca as veni cu ditamai stampila. Am murit de ras la faza cu “pulsul imi fugea pe gresie”. Scoti niste dume din tine

  7. http://www./ says:

    Thank you Jayme for spening time with my family, these pictures are beautifuland i will cherish them forever! You are truly talented. I cant wait to share these pictures with my friends and family.

  8. http://www.topkreditangebote.pw/ says:


  9. http://www./ says:

    Hehe… man mÃ¥ altid komme med ønsker, kan dog bare ikke altid opfylde dem. Ved ikke hvor meget jeg (eller tidligt) jeg nÃ¥r at ‘jule’ i Ã¥r, men har da et indlæg fra sidste Ã¥r at henvise til : og dette det er dog mest med billeder fra mine forældre:

  10. kredit bis 1500 says:

    I asked Gene Steinberg about his statement. He thinks he was only joking and admits that he doesn’t know how many listeners you have. Personally, I listen to both shows, so its not an either/or for me.

  11. http://www./ says:

    / the way you talk about Marius is so touching to the heart and so eyeopening too.. <3 he has a very strong spirit which is awesome to know!! :) thank you so much for always keeping is in the know David!!

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *