The 11 Essential Skills to Teach Your Children

September 10, 2008 – 6:47 am

As my children continue to sprout, I find myself focused on sharing with them the essential skills which I believe a self-sufficient adult should master. These are low-tech, perennial disciplines which I intend to offer my family. Read through these, and let me know what your essential self-sufficiency skills are. These are not listed in any order of priority.

  1. Boating: the ability to navigate the waters safely, and both sailing and canoeing… I didn’t realize what a crucial skill set boating had become in my life until I taught canoe classes at my University. Growing up on the water at camp every year and at the beach and bay every Summer I thought everyone knew how, but you can’t get in a boat and just hope to safely plunge your blade in the water or hold a sail in the wind. The first skill to be learned in boating is how to get back to the boat or to the land: in other words, swimming. Oh, and knots. Knot tying is probably one of the most universally useful skills to take from boating.
  2. Hunting and horseback riding: the ability to locate, track, trap, fish or take down animals and to use every part of the animal who had given its life for one’s family’s life is not for everyone, but for me, critical skill. As my son grows older, I see him in a culture casting the illusion that food comes from nowhere. Than for no other reason than to intimately be connected to the Life Force of another animal, hunting in all its forms, is an essential skill. As an “old fashioned” father, I believe the interaction of horseback riding integrates just as importantly under the same heading.
  3. Martial arts: though some look at martial arts as purely the discipline of fighting, martial arts are emotional control training, without which fighting is the only option; but once trained becomes a long continuum of force options, including the ability to evade, defuse and outmaneuver potential violence (from those who have not had authentic martial art discipline.) That said, no one wants to fight, but someone must remember how.
  4. Yoga: the ability to discipline the body through force of will, and to discipline the mind through vital power. Yoga, as a result, involves all forms of exercise, sports and physical games from my perspective. I include in here the eventual ability to meditate, but for children and even most adults, meditation isn’t possible until the body has been harnessed in all of its physical, creative, biochemical and sexual energies. I believe teaching my children yoga, gives them the eventual ability to truly be of service to others, and without which they will be slaves to the whims of their emotions and the drama that they project upon the world.
  5. Cooking: the ability to safely and effectively prepare nutritious food from “scratch.” This isn’t the microwave, or opening a “tv dinner.” But rather understanding the connection between one’s needs, one’s disposition (in Ayurvedic medicine called one’s “dosha”), spices and foodstuffs. Cooking is the immune system’s frontline defense. If you don’t connect with the preparation of food, I don’t believe you adequately appreciate and as a result completely uptake food into your body.
  6. Public speaking: though this may seem like an odd essential skill, we are not isolated creatures, but tribal ones. If you want anything done, you need to learn, practice and refine the art of communication, including presentation skills, public debate and even poetry reading and writing (the art of creating an emotional response in a listener.) I believe that public speaking is the a priori skill of leadership; and even someone who wasn’t born a leader, can lead others to safety and abundance with this skill.
  7. Gardening and gathering: I say gardening and gathering rather than farming to distinguish it from displacing the “natural” setting. Gardening and gathering can be efficiently interwoven with our natural environment without adversely displacing wildlife. And just as essential as hunting and cooking, gardening and gathering lets my children learn how to safely and effectively identify, nurture and collect foodstuffs, spices and medicinal aids.
  8. Mending and sewing: in an abundant society, this skill tends to be diminished, especially when most people throw away clothes every season. But I believe that your clothing is your 2nd skin, and without understanding how to mend and repair one’s 2nd skin, you don’t fully appreciate and as a result utilize your clothing appropriately, especially when traveling, in outdoor settings or in inclement conditions.
  9. Carpentry: the ability to fix and repair one’s home. I include in here much more than woodworking, but I do believe that working with wood is a noble art directly connecting you to the fact that you are never “outside” of nature even in the “city.” The endless small and large repairs require one to have the ability to address urgent and aesthetic so that one’s home becomes indistinguishable from nature, rather than the confused distinction we have between “civilization” and “the wild.” Being able to take care of one’s home in an ecologically friendly manner is crucial, and will become more so in the coming years.
  10. Medical aid: as a lifeguard and pool manager, I found myself using and developing skills I did not anticipate, and then as a martial arts teacher, and then as a father, found the never ending list cuts, bruises and broken bones to require constant readiness. Connected to gathering and cooking, understanding how our food is our medicine, I want my children to have more options than merely getting a doctor’s prescription. Furthermore, I believe my children also need to learn the intangible forces which foster healing within and between people through understanding the energies of healing.
  11. Orienteering: the ability to navigate the land, like boating is to the water. I believe that without being outside of the “city” one loses touch with our ecology, and how much energy we draw from it. How to integrate with our natural setting gracefully, quietly and efficiently, minimizing our footprint and maximizing our contributions, orienteering is an essential skill. In “the wild,” this includes climbing and rappelling skill sets, but I also believe that this includes “street smarts” since the “city” is yet another setting to be able to “orient.”

What skills would you include here that I did not, and why would you include them for your children?Very Respectfully,Scott Sonnon

  1. 11 Responses to “The 11 Essential Skills to Teach Your Children”

  2. As a parent totally engaged in accompanying my son on many adventures/tasks/activities this is a wonderful list. In fact, we just did a lot of orienteering in the Sierra Nevada Mts. Thank you Coach for including our future generation/s in your blog.

    By Kevin Dougherty on Sep 10, 2008

  3. This is an excellent list, Scott. Now, I’m even more challenged to take up sailing like I’ve always wanted to - but I’ll be happy with my canoe and kayaking trips for now.

    I would definitely add storytelling to the list, as an addendum to public speaking.

    By John Sifferman on Sep 10, 2008

  4. Outstanding list Coach. I have one thing I would add. The value of money. My father never taught me about money, about banking and interest, or credit cards. When It’s bill paying I have my girls sit down so they understand the costs of running a household. I’m teaching my eldest how to budget her money now. My youngest is great at saving her money.

    This will be a great list for our bullitin board. :)

    By Joseph on Sep 10, 2008

  5. This is a great list Scott. We tried to teach the following as well.

    Goal setting and follow-through: A sub-aspect of goal setting might include money management…a good budget is a lot like a good goal.

    Contentedness and personal responsibility: Being self-sufficient involves knowing that happiness comes from within instead of from an outside source and that we can choose to act instead of to always react.

    By Kathryn Woodall on Sep 10, 2008

  6. Hello Coach!

    Great list you have there for kids.

    I certainly second all of them.

    1 other thing I’d add to the list is business accumen.

    Learning the trasaction of value and money as simply an exchange medium.

    For any human being to live their lives to the fullest potential, they need to have financial freedom.

    Business is a vehicle that merely allows creation of that freedom so that they may express their true essence.

    Lastly leadership. Our entertainia driven world puts people down in the trenches and devalues them as human beings.

    No one is willing to stick their neck out for fear of getting cut back. Now more than ever, kids need to develop a sense of granduer, to know that they are destined for great things and the only person responsible who can make it all happen is them.

    Can’t wait till you come down to Australia again.

    Do bring some friends, Australia is lovely.

    Warmest regards,
    Hoe Bing

    By Hoe bing on Sep 10, 2008

  7. Please include CST for consideration. A purposeful approach to wellness is essential.

    By bellhead on Sep 13, 2008

  8. One thing I would add is the art of listening and always ask the 3 questions while doing it:
    - what kind of character is the talker?
    - what are the circumstances?
    - what may be his intention telling you this?

    By andreas on Oct 3, 2008

  9. Well someone else nailed leadership, and business acumen.

    I would add to the list
    1) Archery & Bowery
    2) Basic Mechanical Concepts
    3) Metalworking

    By Firecloud on Mar 6, 2011

  10. Some great things being put forward here, an old school list of what makes a boy a man, or girl a women if I need to be politicaly correct. Boating I assume means having the skills of swimming also as I see that as a fundimental life saver. With everything that is coming out on this list it would suggest we are listing the qualitys of ninjitsu as the 18 skills set out. Not a bad list at all.

    By Adam Illidge on Mar 7, 2011

  11. Scott,

    The only thing that I would add is basic survival skills. Many of these can be touched on in the other skill sets you suggested.

    But to memorize the order of business in a survival situation and then be able to execute the stages of survival is something I considered vital.

    Too many stories of people that have no skill at all losing their lives in situations where they were trapped in the wilderness.

    I made sure my kid was capable of starting a fire from nothing but dry wood. Made sure she new the priorities of survival so she would be able to start doing what was necessary to make sure she could take the needed steps.

    This is both what I would call essential skills as well as confidence building. When you have the tools and knowledge then there is less to fear. Fear being the essential enemy when in a survival situation.

    My two cents.

    By Larry Clements on Mar 7, 2011

  12. This is really lovely Scott!
    It also suddenly & unexpectedly opened my mind to an answer that I’ve been seeking for a couple of weeks. What an amazing world we live in!
    Thank-you :-)

    By Jessica on Mar 7, 2011

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