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Asha Dornfest

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Asha Dornfest is the founder and editor of Parent Hacks, a blog that shares "forehead-smackingly smart parenting tips." She's also the coauthor of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less, with Christine Koh. Asha lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two kids.

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Six life skills your kids can learn this summer

By Asha Dornfest |

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It’s summer, and the livin’ may be easy, but that doesn’t mean it has to be lazy. Not that I have a problem with lazy. I love days with no agenda or goal in mind. But an entire summer? Uh-uh. To me, that’s a lost opportunity, especially for kids who are old enough to spend the majority of their year in school.

Summer is that blessed moment when you and your kids are released from the lock-step of the schoolday schedule. It’s time to bone up on life skills that get lost under homework and/or after-school activities.

Household responsibility. This summer, teach your kids to do something more ambitious than setting the table or emptying the dishwasher. Show them how to cook dinner for the family. Take them through the process of doing the laundry, from hamper-to-folding. Get them pushing the gas-powered mower. Frame it as “move-out skills” they’ll be proud to have mastered when they become someone’s college roommate.

Independent entertainment. Being able to entertain oneself without the the use of a screen is a major life skill. Get your kids a library card and encourage them to use it (my spin: FREE BOOKS). If your library has website access to the catalog, all the better. Give your kids an old cameraphone or digital camera and send them outside to do a photo project of the neighborhood. Try not to get involved when you’re presented with distressed cries of “I’m bored!” Express your confidence that they will come up with something great.

Time management. Right now, summer feels endless, but come early August the kids will be scrambling to fit in all the fun stuff they planned to do. Sit down with a calendar and map out a few rough plans so you make sure to leave time for the kite-flying and beach-visiting.

Mind-body learning. The mind works better when the body’s engaged. Balance the academics and “head learning” of the school year with experiences and “body learning” of summer. Grab any chance to be active together, or to experience something by observing and doing rather than reading or watching.

Communicating with older and younger generations. In school, kids are surrounded by people their own age. Put them in the orbit of younger and older people, and show them how to connect. Encourage grocery store conversations. Volunteer. Take care of a neighbor’s young children and give your kids some responsibility for entertaining them. Call the cousins and the grandparents more often.

Goal-setting. Summer’s a great time to set a doable goal: X number of pushups, or riding a two-wheeler, or reading X number of books. Give your kids the opportunity to set a goal and reach it. They’ll take the self-confidence from the experience straight into the school year this fall.

What life skills do you intend to teach your kids this summer?

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About Asha Dornfest


Asha Dornfest

Asha Dornfest is the founder and editor of Parent Hacks, a blog that shares "forehead-smackingly smart parenting tips." She's also the coauthor of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less, with Christine Koh. Asha lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two kids. Read bio and latest posts → Read Asha's latest posts →

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6 thoughts on “Six life skills your kids can learn this summer

  1. Korinthia Klein says:

    We’re trying to get our kids better at their neighborhood geography. We’ve been getting around more on foot and by bike and making sure they know the names of the streets nearby and how to get to places like the library on their own. The big goal by the end of the summer is to teach them how to use the bus.

  2. Boston Mamas says:

    Yes x 6. And in fact, we’re experimenting A LOT with this today. I’ve thought of you every single time Laurel says “I’m bored, I don’t know what to do!”

  3. Asha Dornfest says:

    Boston Mamas: You can just make me the bad guy. “Sorry, Laurel, I would have rented a clown for today’s entertainment, but Asha said that boredom is great for kids!” I KNOW you’re secretly dying to employ a household clown.

  4. Meryl Neiman says:

    I like to pair the boredom problem with the household responsibility. If my kids complain of boredom, I tell them to go clean their rooms . . . that usually puts an end to boredom!

    I love your suggestions, but would add that parents should not forget to encourage their children (especially those not in camp or summer school) to socialize and play with friends. Just as kids can get rusty on reading and math, if they don’t have these opportunities to play with peers, they can definitely fall behind in their social skills and they won’t benefit from all the important development that happens during play.

  5. Asha Dornfest says:

    Yes! Thank you, Meryl, that’s a rather huge oversight on my part. Transitioning from the short social bits of time at school to the long spans of time during the summer takes work and learning.

  6. sue at nobaddays says:

    Great article, Asha. Perfect timing for my six year old. Thanks.

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