A few decades ago, home economics classes were a staple in junior high and high school curriculum. However, these days only about 6% of students will take a home economics class before they graduate. The result is that today’s young adults are lacking many of the skills needed to live independently. What that means and what to do about it.
Would you believe that many kids these days don’t know how to read an analog clock?
I was shocked when I realized that my oldest daughter couldn’t tell time on what she calls an “old-fashioned” clock. Though it makes sense when most of us rely on our phones and other digital clocks throughout our day.
What about a college student that drops out and moves back in with their parents because they don’t know how to do their own laundry?
It sounds crazy, but unfortunately, that is not a made-up story.1
Today’s youth are increasingly struggling with the transition to adulthood and independent living.
Because they’re simply not being taught how to do so.
Todays Kids Aren’t Learning How to Adult
After graduating college, the next logical step for our children is to go out and forge their own path in the world, starting a career and perhaps a family.
Or is it?
More and more, students are leaving college and returning to their parents’ home — so much that today’s college age kids have earned the nickname of “boomerang” generation.1
The root of this goes beyond a tougher job market. Many of these young adults aren’t equipped with the skills to live independently.
When I was in high school, we had to take either home economics or shop class. Ever the rebel towards stereotypical gender roles — in elementary school I refused to wear “baby pink” or any “girlie” clothes — I opted for shop class.
While I didn’t take home economics, I did have to take a class that taught at least some basic handy work and skills that could prove useful later in life.
That was in the late 1990s.
However, just two decades later, students often don’t have the choice at all. After facing backlash for promoting “outdated” gender roles, many schools rebranded home economics as “Family and Consumer Sciences,” or dropped it from the curriculum altogether.
The demise of home economics is staggering — these days only about 6% of students in the United States take it at some point in their school career.
Out of over 50 million total students in U.S. public schools, only 3.5 million were enrolled in Family and Consumer Science classes. 2
While the name has changed, the premise is generally the same. FCS courses are intended to teach students real-life skills to help them manage their household and personal finances.
When you think about it, “Family and Consumer Sciences” is just a professional sounding way to say “adulting.” And that is something our kids sorely need!
What do students learn in Family and Consumer Sciences classes?
According to the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences, the typical coursework includes:
- Personal and family finance
- Nutrition and food science
- Responsible parenting
- Conflict resolution
The idea is to “apply math, science, and communication skills to everyday living” tasks such as cooking and sewing.3
There’s also been a concentrated effort to modernize the class formerly known as “Home Ec” and include a more diverse set of skills, such as composting and community gardening.
Isn’t it the Parents’ Job to Teach Life Skills?
There is the argument that it shouldn’t be the school’s responsibility to teach kids how to take care of themselves. Schools are for teaching academics and preparing kids for college and the workforce.
While there is definitely validity to this argument, today’s world is quite different than it was half a century ago and students often don’t have the same opportunities to learn these skills at home.
For one, fewer women are full-time homemakers, which means that they simply have less time to pass along those skills to the next generation.
The Decline of Homemaking
Up until the past couple decades, many women did not work outside the home. In 1950, only one-third of women were a part of the labor force. 4
However, by 2014, that number had nearly doubled, with 6 out of 10 women taking on employment outside the home. 5
Because they’re working, many moms aren’t cooking dinner every single night or focusing on traditional homemaking in the way that a mid-century American mother likely could.
This means that kids have fewer chances to learn these things at home.
As a working mom, I get it. When you’re trying to support a family, make sure everyone is fed, get kids to after school activities, and so on, the last thing you feel like doing at the end of the day is sitting down for a sewing lesson. If you even own a sewing machine that is!
Parents Aren’t Always Equipped for the Task
Another problem is that parents themselves don’t feel equipped to teach kids many of the skills they’d get in a home economics class.
Think about it — we live in a consumer society where we BUY instead of make. Most of us don’t grow our own food or make our own clothes. We’re a few steps and a few generations removed from all that.
So how can we teach our kids to do something that we don’t know how to do ourselves?
Confidence is another issue. When it comes to financial literacy, only 43 percent of parents describe themselves as ‘well prepared’ for money conversations with their kids. Whether or not they’re actually “bad with money,” many parents THINK they are. So they don’t attempt to teach their kids about it.
And that is where a home economics or consumer science class comes into play — not necessarily to teach kids everything about adulthood, but to fill in the gaps of what they don’t or can’t get at home.
What Can We Do to Better Prepare Our Kids for Adulthood?
It’s not all the schools’ fault, nor are parents completely to blame. We’ve all failed our kids to some degree by not equipping them with household skills, financial literacy, and just general adult stuff.
The good news is that we CAN reverse this trend, though it will take a dedicated effort.
First, if we want to see specific classes in our schools, we can’t expect legislators to read our minds. We have to ASK. Petition schools to include life skills or consumer science courses in the curriculum.
Another option is starting an after school club or bringing special programs to the school. One example is the FutureSmart program that I partnered with a couple years ago, which travels the country to teach kids about financial literacy through an interactive arena show.
Since changes to school curriculum can take time, so in the meantime we have to step up our game at home.
Don’t simply assume that kids know how to do things. Even things as simple as operating a washing machine have to be taught — especially with how complicated today’s appliances are becoming!
Instead of simply assigning kids chores “just because,” emphasize that these are life lessons that will ensure they are more successful as adults. That’s not an empty claim either — there are quite a few studies that correlate household chores with future success.
Involve kids in things like creating a grocery shopping list, budgeting for the week, etc. Have conversations about things like health insurance or what to do in a car accident — these aren’t things that kids will inherently know. It all must be taught.
Even if these topics seem complicated for kids, the more they hear, the more they will absorb, and the more it will make sense when they’re old enough to need to know those things.
It doesn’t all have to be “work” or feel like a “lesson.” There are many ways to teach kids practical life skills and have fun at the same time!
Here are a few things that my husband and I do to teach our kids real world skills:
- Plant a garden — Whether it’s outdoors or an indoor herb garden, growing their own food is both education and gives kids a sense of pride. I know I’m pretty proud of myself when I grow something and it ends up on our family’s dinner table!
- Bake cookies — Kids learn measurements (math), cooking skills, and the end result (delicious cookies) makes it fun!
- Go grocery shopping — This is one of the most practical ways to teach kids about money and budgeting, as well as how to plan a menu for themselves or a family. Plus it’s a great way to spend time together!
Those are just a few ideas, but there are many more possibilities for bonding and learning together. What would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!
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