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What do people need to leave school knowing?
According to the BBC, an independent school is giving pupils etiquette lessons, so they will know which fork to use and when to remove jackets at dinner.

What life skills do you think I should ensure that my children have learnt by the time they leave school? How to balance a checkbook (surely not)? How to deal with call centre operatives? How to wrestle alligators? How to iron a shirt? Which fork to use at dinner with the queen?

Advice welcome. There is some method to my madness; I have a plan to present M&J with a list and seek their involvement in learning, eg, how to do laundry.

Off the top of my head:
How to write a formal letter.
How to write an informal letter to someone you don't know.
CV preparation.
The basics of cooking.
Nutrition (at the least, what to keep an eye out for on ingredient lists).
The most common scams, and how to avoid them.
The most common logical fallacies, and how to recognise their use.

Well, if the independent school's students are upper class, those certainly would be survival skills.

Life skills don't necessarily have to be taught at school, do they? Balancing a checkbook, understanding that overdrafts aren't really your money, and how credit works are three key financial skills. Washing dishes and clothes and the bathroom are three skills that are always surprising to find lacking in "grownups" (one housemate had grown up with a maid and came up with some creative reasons why his "clean dishes weren't; we taught him to use dish soap, not just hot water). Filling out forms (which is mostly reading instructions) and hacking bureaucracies is a subject for lifelong learning, but it helps to have the basics early on.

This of course presumes reading, writing, math, and computer usage -- which I assume your kids already have in spades.

Balancing a chequebook has completely ceased to be a key financial skill in the UK. I write about one cheque per year. You need to be able to understand your bank balance, but there's no way you can do so via your chequebook.

Edited at 2008-01-09 02:25 pm (UTC)

How to make best use of London's public transport system.

How to wash up by hand as well as dishwasher.
How to sue a laundrette as well as a household washing machine, and how to decode washing instructions on label.
How to wire a plug.
How to budget for a week's living expenses and stick to it.
What a deadline really means.
How to map-read (not every situation can be solved with GPS).
The ability to speak at least one other language with reasonable fluency -- and to regard language skills as valuable and fun, not scary/dull/pointless.
How to read and listen critically.

Oooh - washing machine/instructions would have been very helpful when I went to uni.

I didn't consider "how to wash up by hand" as I assumed most people would know by the time they were 10.

budgeting - definitely handy.

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest "Swallows and Amazons", with particular reference to Susan's role.

And then similar for the sequels...

Some basic cooking.
How to wash and iron clothes.
How income tax and tax returns work (I had a panic the first April I was working as to whether I should have filled in a tax return).
How to change a lightbulb.

Can I add:

How to lay and light a fire.
How advertising works and how not to be taken in by it.
That planetary resources are finite, and to husband their use.
How to organise one's space to be tidy enough to work - ie so that things don't get lost or broken, causing needless distress, trouble and wastage.

How advertising works they both have quite a good idea of already.

What they all said (so I'm stealing some of their ideas!)

Basic sewing, laundry and ironing (including how to clean the lint filter in the dryer and whatever filter you've got in the washing machine)
Basic cooking (microwaves and metal, how to boil an egg (actually the Delia course would be good!))
Basic cleaning (how often, what products, hygene in general)
Food safety (raw/cooked meat handling, how long things can live in a freezer , how to tell if something is unsafe to eat etc.)
Wiring a plug, changing a lightbulb, changing a house fuse or resetting the circuit breaker
How to switch off the water to the house in case of plumbing emergency
How to find a reasonable tradesman (plumber, electrician, roofer etc.)
How to read a map
How to travel on public transport
How to ask for assistance
How to calculate a tip
How to calculate percentages in general
How to figure out if £2 for 1 litre is better value than £3.75 for 1.75 litres
Basic estimates for length (how far away 1km is, 100m .. how big 5cm is (and the same for imperial as it is likely to still be around for a little bit longer)
Eventually how to drive
How to ride a bicycle safely (helmet use, signalling, stopping at red lights, indicating, watching for parked or slowing cars opening doors etc.)
Basic bike maintenance (flat tyre, adjusting brakes, putting new batteries in the bike lights)
How to book travel on the internet
How to find out what visas, innoculations etc. you need for travelling
How to pack for travelling
How to sort through stuff and get rid of stuff you don't need (wish I'd learned that!)
How to travel through airports (security, passport control, check-in desk, baggage reclaim, customs etc.)
How to use a mobile phone (including texting)
How to spot scams (postal, live and on the net)
Basic first aid
Basic fire fighting (using a damp teatowel on chip pan fires and not lifting the cloth to see if the flames have gone out, checking the bedroom door with the back of your hand to see if it is hot, keeping low to avoid suffocation)
How to test the smoke detector
Basic tool use (hammer, screwdriver, saw, drill, plane etc.)
Good manners/etiquette (cutlery, don't talk with your mouth full, listen to what other people are saying don't just wait for your turn to speak, open doors for *people*, be helpful, be polite)
Sensible drinking
Safe sex (!) oh my goodness, how did this take so long to reach this list!
A musical instrument (or three), preferably piano (co-ordination, two stave music reading, great for learning music theory)
Basic money and finance (bank accounts, what stocks and shares are, risk vs return, how to calculate interest rates)
Business letter writing
How to write a CV
How to interview (attend or give)
How to job hunt
How to do basic research (libraries, online)
How to study
How to relax/de-stress (a few private schools are now adding this to the curriculum, very sensible!)
Basic car maintenance (change a tire or a fuse, check the oil etc.)
How to write a report/a presentation/a speech
Public speaking

oh, you've saved me some work compiling; though I think I'm going to divide my list into subject areas. They learn a few of these at school which saves me a job.

Take him all the way through the Dangerous Book for Boys.

Or her, even, though I prefer the similar books I had when I was a child; they were better then.

- Budgeting and understanding money including credit and interest.
- Making meals from ingredients, even if really simple meals. I know people who live on beans on toast, pot noodles and ready meals, which is obviously not a great diet. Understand what foodgroups are and what sort of mix of food to eat.
- Wire a plug, change a lightbulb.
- Wash up and/or load a dishwasher.
- Sew on a button.
- Write a letter of complaint which is concise, but contains enough facts and details of expectations to be likely to get results.
- Read a map.
- Deal with an emergency, including summoning emergency services.
- Swim.
- Understand the roads (I guess their cycling experience covers this) including roadsigns.
- Read bus and train timetables, work out how to make a journey that involves connections (When I was due to catch my first train alone I was about 16 and I sat in front of it and watched it leave. I wanted to go to Northampton and the one on the platform was going to Hemel Hempstead. It didn't occur until after it left that it would go to my stop *on the way* and station displays were not what they are now.)
- Cleaning - knowing what different cleaning fluids are for and how to use them. And understanding that you might not need to do it constantly but you DO need to do it from time to time.
- Recognise Phishing/personal data and password theft attempts and understand what they are trying to do and why it's important to avoid.

It occurs to me that a glance through scouts/guides badges might reveal a whole load more.

M has swimming to my satisfaction, but J needs to learn some strokes.

How to wire a plug.
How to change a fuse.
How to change a lightbulb.

How to manage a budget.
How credit cards work (including an explanation of interest).
How to write a cheque (a vanishing skill).

How to read a map.
How to plan a journey.
How to perform basic car maintenance (change tire, top up oil and coolant)

How to plan a meal for a group of people.
How to cook a variety of meals from basic ingredients.
How to store and use leftovers.
How to wash up.
How to bake a cake.

How to write a thank-you letter.

How to clean a house.
How to remove red wine stains from carpets.
How to wash clothes (including interpreting laundry instruction).
How to iron clothes.
How to sew on a button.
How to darn a sock.

An understanding of probability, hazard, risk and expectation sufficient to realise that you're far more likely to lose money on the Lottery than win anything.

Writing cheques is a vanishing skill because so are cheques! I rarely write one... Shops will no longer take them for the most part, companies want card payments by phone or direct debits. I have used cheques for a few ebay items I failed to note didn't have paypal options, occasional conventions (though they are becoming more likely to accept online payments) and at a stall at a larp event where there was no electricity to power a till and card setup and I was short of cash.

I'd echo the above comments for specifics, all of which are good ideas. As a general principle, something that the Youth of Today (and many of the supposed adults) could do with understanding is that 'Respect' is something you earn, not something that you demand. Another point it's worth accepting is that people will form 90% of their impression of you in the first two minutes of meeting you - sometimes a lot more quickly than that. Yes, this is unfair, but it's true and if you want to pretend otherwise then be prepared to take the consequences.

From the experience of colleagues involved in recruit training, I'd agree with everything said about financial responsibility. All too many people leave school with no idea of how money works, or how they can make best use of it. Again, a lesson I wish more people would learn is that whilst money can't buy happiness, it can buy off a lot of misery, so it's a good idea to learn how to hold on to it.

Finally, as someone learning law I'm often shocked at how little most people (including me before I started) know about the law. Things I think everyone should know:

- There are two sorts of law.
-- Criminal law is when you do something most people think is bad (a crime) and the Government comes after you and punishes you.
-- Civil law is when someone does something to someone else that is nasty or dangerous, or breaks an agreement, and the side feeling bad asks the court to put it right, either by making the other side pay money or do/stop doing something.
-- You can sometimes be in trouble in both sorts of law for the same thing.

- You have rights. So do other people.
-- Some of them can be enforced only against the Government (but that includes nearly anything the Government pays for, such as hospitals, local authorities, the Police and so on.)
-- Others can be enforced against nearly anyone (especially re discrimination).

- A house is the most valuable thing most people ever own. As such the law about owning one is a lot more complicated than for other things, and if you share a house with someone you have to make sure everyone agrees and understands who owns it in what share.

- A present is for Xmas, but in this day and age getting into all but trivial trouble with the law is forever. Again, you might not like this but you'd better accept that it's true.

- Suing someone is a huge step to take, but it is not the last resort. It is certainly a better step than having a fight down the pub with them, no matter what you see on Eastenders.

(That last point is one of my pet hobby-horses: I think the media has a lot to answer for in promoting the meme that Real Men (and Women) sort out their differences with their fists. It's a common complaint amongst people involved in counselling and probation that their clients genuinely seem unable to conceive of any way of dealing with a problem other than having a fight over it. I suspect that this is in part because it's the only way of dealing with problems they ever see.)

The flip side of 'getting into non-trivial trouble with the law is forever' is understanding that a huge number of people get into trivial trouble with the law, and that it is trivial and not the worst thing ever. Ditto pregnancy for that matter. Learning Not To Catastrophise.

Basic carpentry: How to build a bookcase. How to fix up a broken chair or table (such as from a thrift shop) so it is safe.
Paint the chair (use oil or polyurethane-based paint, same as the old paint, avoid chemical strippers).
Paint a room (use latex paint, rollers, have fun with colors, use sponges for painting fancy gradients and textures).
Basic electric: How to repair a lamp.
Basic plumbing: How to replace the washer in a leaky faucet, how to unclog a drain, how to recover an object from a sink trap.
How to tell when fresh fruits are ripe, and when vegetables and meats are good.
Simple dishes to make without expensive pre-packaged ingredients: Mac and cheese, lentil soup, rice and veggies, spaghetti sauce, peperonata, ratatouille, baked potato, roasted potatoes, roasted chicken, curried chicken and/or vegetables, scrambled eggs, pancakes.
How to make your own salad dressing.

How to use a library. How to plan an investigation. How to ask for assistance. How to interview experts. How to cross-check. How to determine if information is faulty or reliable.

How to recognize abusive behavior. A good book is The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense.

How to run a science fiction convention.

Also in the carpentry section, how to hang a shelf.

How to introduce yourself to a stranger, how to introduce one person to another, how to have a conversation that isn't about yourself.