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Six Old-School Lessons We Aren't Teaching Our Kids

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by Shannon Meyerkort (subscribe)
Writer. Storyteller. Find out more at
Published October 27th 2013
The simple things in life are often the best
Life is complicated for children these days. They have to negotiate technology that simply didn't exist 20 or 30 years ago, and there seem to be more distractions and risks. It's hard for parents to keep up, but by focussing on the big life lessons, sometimes we forget to teach our children the simple lessons which add value to our lives.

Old-school proficiencies often teach more than just basic skills and many have hidden lessons.

These are six dying arts we need to teach our children.

Teach your kids to write (preferably not on the floor)

1. How to write a letter by hand.
Growing up, I regularly wrote letters to friends and family across the globe, and the joy I received when I checked the letter box and found an envelope addressed to me is a simple pleasure I rarely receive these days. The days of 'pen-friends' are long gone as kids are increasingly copying their parents and keeping in touch via email and Facebook.

Along with the loss of snail mail communication, is the loss of penmanship and the ability to structure a letter. I am guilty of this myself, preferring to type letters on the computer. Writing a letter by hand encourages you to stop and think about what you want to say as you do not have the option of deleting careless comments. It teaches you to be more thoughtful with your words.

2. How to wash dishes by hand.
In many Australian houses dishwashers are now commonplace, but growing up they were a rare luxury. One of our regular jobs to earn pocket money was washing and drying the dishes. I can't pretend it was my favourite job, but it taught me not only the simple act of scrubbing plates in soapy water, but the ability to stack carefully and plan ahead, so that removing a glass from the drainer wouldn't cause everything to collapse.

It also taught me the art of negotiation with my sister and inadvertently how to be a more efficient cook, as I quickly learned that I would have to wash everything I used.

Kids need to be able to amuse themselves

3. How to amuse yourself.
My kids have more toys than they know what to do with, and with choice comes confusion and eventually boredom. They simply turn to the TV. Growing up we didn't have a lot of toys but we were taught the value of having a good imagination and being able to amuse ourselves.

A bucket of water and paint brush and the concrete path became an artist's canvas. A plastic pipe and some bricks and we could create a mini golf course in the backyard.

Taking away toys that 'do' things forces kids to create, imagine, manipulate and see potential in objects that aren't toys. It helps them think outside of the box and not be so rigid in their play.

A love of plants teaches respect

4. How to plant a garden.
When we were growing up my Dad always had a vegetable patch which we were encouraged to help with. Fertilising passionfruit, picking beans, watching potatoes sprout in the bath: we had home-grown salad and vegetables year-round. Not only did we learn how to prepare the soil beforehand, but it was our job to hand-water the tomatoes every day over summer, a job we admittedly hated, but certainly made us appreciate the end product when it wound up on our dinner plate.

It also taught us responsibility and that the consequence of forgetting our task on a hot summer day was dire.

Even if you live in a unit or have a small backyard, herbs can grow in hanging baskets and cherry tomatoes grow satisfyingly quick against a sunny wall. Planting gardens help children understand where food comes from, and the investment of time it takes to create something which can be gobbled up in a second.

Spending time in the garden teaches children about the weather and environment, symbiotic relationships and the wealth of wildlife you will find in even the smallest patch of dirt.

5. How to sew on a button.
We probably all know an adult who will toss away a piece of clothing because a hem has come down or a button fallen off.

We have become a disposable society, and while clothing may be cheaper than ever, this is no reason not to teach our children the simple art of sewing on buttons and mending small holes.

Both girls and boys need to learn this skill. Learning to sew teaches patience and fine motor skills, and encourages children to see value in objects rather than viewing them as something that can be disposed of.

A love of books is one of the best gifts you can give your kids

6. How to appreciate books.
With the vastness of the internet and increasing availability of short blogs and articles it is easy to see the computer as the go-to destination for reading. As busy parents we probably spend too much time online, rather than turning everything off and reading a good book.

I realised the other day my children never see me with a book, as I usually only read in bed after they have gone to sleep. They only ever see me at a computer. Loving books means loving language and appreciating how to use words in new ways. A love of reading fosters imagination and opens up new worlds to our children.

It also, conveniently, fulfills Lesson Number 3.
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Why? Old school lessons are not as simple as they initially seem
When: While your kids are still young
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Your kids are too cute; You get my vote :)
by Lorraine A (score: 3|1634) 2878 days ago
Wonderful article Shannon. I strive to live by and teach our son these simple, but necessary old school values. This may be controversial, but it is just my opinion, I think there should be one more on your list - Please and Thank you! Three simple little words that can have such a big impact on the way one moves through this life. Thanks again for a great article.
by Tabatha (score: 1|76) 2882 days ago
How to write by hand is an important one. With computers and typing, handwriting skills are threatened.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12626) 2888 days ago
Congratulations on securing 1st place.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12626) 2874 days ago
So true and all so important.
by Susan Jackson (score: 2|817) 2888 days ago
Excellent article
by moral (score: 1|37) 2887 days ago
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