Why I Think Our Kids Need To Go Back To School To Learn Basic Life Skills

by Lisa Sugarman
Lisa writes the nationally syndicated column "It Is What It Is" and is the author of Untying Parent Anxiety.

I often think about the things I’d do if I had a lot of money. No, not shop retail at Nordstrom’s. I’m talking meaningful things, like ways I would give back, make an impact, and affect change.

There’s one idea I’ve had for a while now that I just keep coming back to whenever I have philanthropic thoughts.

Nope, it’s not a cure for cancer or a way to end world hunger, even though I wish I was qualified to make those things happen. What I’d like to do is something that I’m sure would greatly improve the quality of lots of lives, especially the lives of today’s youth. It’s something a little low on the general population’s radar, I’m sure, but no less significant.

If I had the resources, I’d like to design, build, and run a new type of school throughout the country. A school that kids would go to post-high school but pre-college. And not even for a year. Maybe just for a gap semester. I’m envisioning it as a place that would teach all our future generations of kids what I believe to be some of the most important life skills they can take with them into the world—skills they’ll use and rely on every day of their lives.


What I’m talking about (and don’t laugh, because this is serious) are skills like egg boiling and tire changing and sewing on a button and reading a thermometer. Skills like how to pump gas and check your own oil and reconcile a bank statement. These are real-life abilities that we all need in order to function in the real world. I mean, unless we’re all independently wealthy with a ton of hired help, we’re on our own to manage our to-do lists.

I’m not talking about skills like how to apply mathematical equations or conjugate Spanish verbs or properly answer an open response question. Those are obviously important ones, but they’re certainly not the kinds of skills most of us are going to draw on in our regular everyday lives after we graduate from school. I know I haven’t. Like, the last time I needed to apply a physics formula was in eleventh grade physics.


Think about it: how can any of our kids possibly manage in today’s world if they can’t cook for themselves or iron a shirt or make themselves a doctor’s appointment or recognize when it’s a bad time to check their Instagram feed? They can’t.

Although it’s absolutely our job as their parents to teach them all of these important life skills, I think most parents will agree that our kids are oftentimes more responsive to the things they’re taught by people other than us.


Right now, according to a video that came across my news feed this summer from ATTN:, today’s generation of kids aren’t being taught the essential life skills they need to survive in today’s world. ATTN: claims that 30% of kids in college haven’t got a clue how to boil an egg on their own. They also say that 52% of US teens can’t change a tire. And 70% of today’s youth can’t sew on a button.

Now I distinctly remember taking Mrs. Potter’s home economics class back in the late 70s, where I learned the finer art of making my own shark pillow and pot holders and the mad science behind button repair. My own girls never had a class like that in junior high or high school. Even though I’ve hammered most of those things into my own girls’ heads, I wonder why every single school in this country isn’t teaching kids these kinds of skills.


At my Life Basics School, though, they’ll learn ‘em all.

We’ll have basic cooking classes and a basic personal finance class that teaches kids how to manage a personal bank account. We’ll teach kids how to use an ATM machine and how to write checks. We’ll educate them on how to navigate a kitchen and a laundry room. They’ll take basic Home Ec classes where they’ll learn how to sew on that button or use a sewing machine to hem a pair of pants.


I don’t know, maybe it’s because we’re a generation of helicopter parents who are constantly doing everything for our kids that’s made it impossible for many of them to learn to do certain things for themselves.

Whatever the case, this is our new reality, and we need to do something about it. So I’m leaving a coffee can on my front porch. If you’d like to donate to the Life Basics School Fund, please drop in whatever spare change you have. Don’t worry, it’ll be legit. We’ll have our own football team. (Team jerseys sewn by our students, of course.)


Do you think kids these days are lacking the basic life skills they need to succeed as adults? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

For more from Lisa Sugarman, visit and Twitter.