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Should our children learn basic life skills in school?

Are kids missing out by focusing only on classes that prepare them for college?

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From about fourth grade on, both of my children have wanted to type their reports and major assignments for school. A typewritten paper wasn’t mandatory yet few kids turned in handwritten reports which made the standard being typewritten papers. However, when were these children supposed to learn to type?

 In elementary school, my kids visited the school library or computer lab once a week with their class. Because of the number of computers available, they received about 20 minutes of computer training a week.

This training was not typing instruction, but did involve getting familiar with the keyboard in order to do the other lessons on the computer.

In middle school, my kids each did their 6-week rotation in the computer elective. A few of their teachers did have additional computers in their classrooms which allowed the children additional opportunities to learn. But the majority did not. Still, there was no formal training on the proper methods and finger positions for typing.

I spoke to the elementary school district office, where administrators told me that the elementary schools in our district vary greatly on the computer and typing skills taught to the children. That's because most of these programs are funded by the school’s PTA.

Unless parents provide a method for their children to learn to type, most students are learning to type by continual practice texting their friends and family. Thus, typing by teens these days is generally two finger typing.

They are getting amazingly adept at this yet could double their speed on the computer keyboard if they had been taught the proper way to type. I had my kids take one of the free typing tests online. My high school sophomore typed 34 words per minute and my 7th grader typed 28 words per minute, and this was with two finger typing.

I can just shake my head and imagine how much easier school work would be if they could type double that speed and rely more heavily on their accuracy, especially when they are in college.

My friends and I had fun with the site also. For adults, all of which had some typing training, typing speeds ranged from 56 to 83 words per minute.

When I was in high school, typing class was a requirement. Most of us could type between 40 and 50 words per minute after completing the course. This was on manual typewriters, which translates to almost double that when using a computer keyboard.

I noticed that this opportunity was not available to my son at Hillsdale High, so I spoke to the district office who informed me that there are basically no business classes available at any of the district high schools. These classes that have been cut.

It seems that the middle and high schools are preparing our children for college, yet bypassing the classes that teach more basic life skills (typing, woodshop, auto mechanics, cooking, sewing, etc.). With emphasis on preparing our students for college, what happens to the students who don’t attend college and instead head straight for trade school or the workplace? Are the schools preparing these students for their “next step” following high school? Even for those that attend college, are there big gaps in their essential life skills that are not taught at home or at school?

What about other skills that our children are growing up without?

I know very few kids who would know how to do research if they were sent to the library and told that only books were available to them. By doing all their research for their studies via Google and the Internet, are our children just recycling information instead of digging it up themselves? How do we get them to be creative and self-driven when information can be had so easily via the computer?

Has your child ever used a phone book for either looking up a phone number or to browse the yellow pages for information? Do they even know what the Yellow Pages are and truthfully, is it really important that they know? What about an encyclopedia or atlas?

Kids do homework assignments utilizing dictionaries quite often in elementary school, but I’ve not seen either of my kids bring home assignments using any other research tool in quite some time (in the lower grades, it was often required that they include at least one book in their bibliography). Can your child balance a checkbook, or even write a check for that matter?

The schools are working so hard on preparing our children for college, but how many parents have stepped up and taken up the slack because these other skills are no longer taught?

I’m doing my best to prepare my son for getting his driver’s license and have attempted (without much luck) to get both my children to dedicate time to a computer program to teach them typing (Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing is used by elementary schools in the district and was recommended by the high school district office).

Our expectations of what our kids are learning are quite often based on our past experience, not today’s reality. So we find huge gaps in what we once thought of as skills to learn in school and what is actually taught.

Our kids work so hard at school and often have several hours of homework each evening. After a long day at school, do we have the time or the heart to attempt to teach them things we think they should know but are no longer being taught?

What is your opinion or thoughts on this subject?  Share with us by emailing sarahy@patch.com or commenting below. 

Troy April 30, 2011 at 02:13 PM
My daughter is learning basic life skills at Brewer Island Elementary School such as: "responsibility, caring, friendship, common sense, organization etc." I'm sure they empathize this at all Foster City schools. ----No better place to raise a child.
Lois G. Owens May 01, 2011 at 04:07 AM
I also think there should be an emphasis on developing a "virtual" budget and learning the intricacies of the monetary system so they will know how to handle their money.But, I am not even sure our children are being taught the basics. I am, again, involved in the Foster City schools with my grandchildren and I find it disheartening, to say the least.
John Craighead May 01, 2011 at 04:54 AM
Once again, due to budget cuts & cirriculum that focuses elsewhere, basic things are being ignored. My boys can all out type (& text, for that matter !) me, but I'm a hopeless 2 finger typist. These basic lifeskills should be taught by Schools AND Parents. Kick 'em off Facebook or the Xbox 360 & make them learn to type or balance a check book.

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