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Do-it-yourself Domestic Skills -- Practical Home Ec tips for kids of all ages

If you hear “google it” or “there’s an app for that” far too often and are worried your kids aren’t learning essential life skills, you’re not alone. Erin Bried, author of How to Sew a Button and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew, spoke with us about the dramatic loss of personal independence our world of hyper-automation has created. But it’s not too late for our kids! With suggestions from Bried and memories of our own childhoods and scout days, we generated a list of domestic arts your kids should know, skills that will bolster their self-esteem and sufficiency. – Emily Frost

Do it yourself: Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, made making her bed a priority – for her, and for many people, having a tidy bed starts your day off on the right foot and lends a sense of calm. Help your child build this great habit early by teaching them to make their bed before they know you’ll do it for them. Make sure they can walk around both sides – there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to tuck a sheet in and running into the wall. Give them a large comforter that they can arrange in just a few moments by tugging it into place and then show them how to fluff their pillows and arrange their favorite stuffed animals and dolls on top of the pillow. Tip: Tired of pajamas ending up on the floor? Teach your child to tuck their pjs under their pillow, then they’re right where you need them at night. You’ve just built a really great habit that will help them (and you) – and make them excellent houseguests!

Create: If you’ve got a family event looming – a dinner party, birthday or holiday – nominate your child to be a key member of the party-planning committee. Make them feel even more important by giving them the sole responsibility of brainstorming and creating the centerpiece. You can provide traditional suggestions – lemons, a flower arrangement – but the looser the guidelines, the better the results. With creative freedom, your child will feel like the task is all theirs, and you’ll end up with the hippest table on the block, accented with a collection of toy dinosaurs, a mix of colorful blocks, or a diorama. Their centerpiece will be the talk of the party.

Do it yourself: Teach your kids about the farm-to-table movement by letting them help you plan and grow an herb garden. If you have a backyard, give your child a little plot to call their own. If you don’t have outdoor space, create a windowsill herb garden. Pick out seeds at the local flower store or nursery (parsley, sage, chives, cilantro, and basil are just a few that do well in a sunny spot), plant them in small pots on your child’s windowsill, and water them regularly. Bried cautions: “It may take up to four weeks” for anything to emerge, but “once you see some sprouts, hoot and holler and dance around.” When the garden’s in full bloom, let them add their herbs to a special meal.

Babble’s Family Kitchen blogger Caroline Campion started a tomato garden with her children and then asked, “Is there a better way to have them learn about where food actually comes from than growing it themselves?” See how her garden grows.

Create: It’s important that kids learn to lend a hand in feeding the family. Try kebabs; they’re easy and fun to create. Buy some wooden skewers (use bamboo skewers if you want to be eco-friendly) and easy-to-slice or no-slice fruit (bananas, raspberries, pineapple chunks); show your child how to assemble them on the skewer in colorful rows. Supervise this activity or you could end up with injuries! Babble’s Family Kitchen blogger Jenny Rosenstrach added pound cake to her skewers; here’s the ultimatum she gave one picky eater: “She had to eat the treats in order, from top to bottom on the skewer, which meant for every little piece of cake she had to eat about two pieces of fruit.”

Other things kids can do in the kitchen: shuck corn, wash potatoes, clear their plates, rinse them and put them in the dishwasher.

Do it yourself: Rather than use that old pillowcase for a dust rag, let it be the material for your child’s first sewing project. Lay the case flat and trace a semi-circle along the short, close end – this will make the neck. Let your child carefully cut along the line and then try out whether the hole they created fits comfortably over their head. If not, cut even deeper into the pillowcase. Next, trace semi-circles along the two long sides – these will make the arms. Cut carefully on each side. Once the sheath (you could also call it a shirt or a dress) fits on your child, take this sewing lesson to the next level by actually sewing. Thread a needle (this is the toughest part), then fold the sides of the bottom opening under and pin all the way around to create a hem. Guide them in moving the needle in and out of the garment along the line of the pin. Remove the pins and knot the end of the thread and:ta-da! They’ve sewn their first piece of clothing. Whether they grow up to be a businesswoman, a sailor, a chef or an IT consultant, knowing how to sew a simple stitch will always come in handy and will make them feel resourceful and prepared. Inspire the can-do attitude early on in life!

Other DIY suggestions: sewing a button, repairing a flat tire on a bicycle, making a sandwich (and putting everything away after!), separating and/or folding laundry.

Create: Make pancake Sunday a family project and whip up a huge batch of pancakes together. Bried’s tip: “Spritz a few drops of water into your frying pan before adding the batter. If it sizzles, you’ll know it’s ready. If not, keep it on the fire a little longer.” Learning to properly time and flip pancakes takes practice, but your child is sure to beam with accomplishment once they get the hang of it. When they’re feeling confident, make pancake day a fun game and a step towards learning real entertaining skills by encouraging them to have friends over – and even to play restaurant!

Other kitchen tasks kids can learn: vegetable peeling (with a peeler and supervised), sauce-stirring (if they’re tall enough), even chopping (older kids only – and with a lot of coaching and watching).

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