What are Life Skills?
We pick up life skills throughout or childhood, teens and into adulthood to help us to function in difficult situations. They include practical skills such as managing a budget and time-keeping, and abstract skills such as empathy and perseverance.* Although our children are achieving higher and higher levels of academic achievement, many employers and universities complain that students’ basic life skills are often lacking. When and where should children start to practise these important abilities?
The responsibility of schools
The classroom is a great place to introduce basic life skills, even with very young students, as many of the essential skills such as organisation, looking after personal possessions, and team-working are also necessary for school.
Teachers of primary students often have classroom reward systems, where students receive points for arriving on time, clearing up their workspace, and showing kindness towards others. Primary students are also introduced to more difficult skills, such as how to behave in an emergency, through drills and games to practise emergency procedures.
For secondary students, schools often focus on preparing students to manage their study time, keep detailed study notes, and present themselves in a professional manner. Although these are study skills, they are also crucial to finding and keeping a job. Students are more likely to take these lessons seriously if they know that the skills they are learning are transferable to the real world.
What can parents do?
Although schools can incorporate life skills in lessons, teachers see students for such a short period of time that the vast majority of skills are learnt and practised in the home rather than in the classroom.
As well as the obvious practical skills such as cleaning or cooking, why not include your child when you complete financial tasks, such as paying bills? Children can be involved in making a shopping list, planning a menu for a family meal, or any other practical task which you can safely oversee.
More important than practical skills, as a parent your biggest input is as an example of life skills for your child. This does not mean that you need to display perfect organisational skills at all times – you are human! But it does mean that when things go wrong, we can explain why and use perseverance to get back on track, modelling the behaviour we hope to see from our children in the future.
At the British Council
In our Primary Plus classes, students complete tasks every five weeks which require organisation and team work. The topics of our Primary Plus materials are also geared towards real-world skills, such as what to do in an emergency, how to follow basic instructions, or developing empathy. These skills are motivating for the students, meaning that they are more engaged in the lesson and ultimately learn more English.
Our Secondary students are exposed to much more complex themes in our themed lessons every term, such as online safety or bullying. These issues require teamwork, communication, and empathy, and lead on to practical tasks which students can do inside and outside the classroom as homework.
All of our students are required to use the life skill of perseverance to achieve goals which are challenging and motivating. Learning a language to a high level is a long and difficult task, and our teachers help students to break this up into manageable chunks through the use of objectives for every lesson, termly progress reports, and regular reflection on their progress.