25 Life Skills to Teach at an Early Age

Have you thought about what “life skills” you want your children to be learning?  Wait, what are life skills, you say?  According to Wikipedia,

Life skills are problem solving behaviors used appropriately and responsibly in the management of personal affairs.  They are a set of human skills acquired via teaching or direct experience that are used to handle problems and questions commonly encountered in daily human life.

life skills

I think that teaching your children life skills at an early age helps them to develop good habits, gives them daily “real life” opportunities to practice fine and gross motor skills, and ultimately teaches them responsibility.  By teaching them how to do things for themselves, it also helps them to become more independent, which in turn builds their self-confidence.

Following is a list of 25 such life skills that I’ve come up with for my own two children: Luke who is currently 4-1/2 years old and Lilah who just turned 3.  Some of these skills my children were able to learn as early as 7 months old.  You might be surprised what your child is capable of if given the chance…I know I have been!  Of course, every child is different and you know your child best, so keep in mind your child’s development and abilities when you choose a life skill focus.

This list of life skills is by no means exhaustive; merely a list of 25 items I personally have (or have had) as goals for my own children to learn.  Where applicable, I will tell you the earliest age either of my two children were able to complete the skill with success just to give you an idea of my own experience, however your child may complete the skill much earlier or later than mine.  I don’t think that most of these skills have a “normal” age at which the goal should be mastered, however these are all skills in which children in the toddler to preschool age range can begin working!!  And like I said, you might be surprised what your child is capable of when given the instruction and opportunity!


life skills

25 Life Skills to teach children at an early age

1.  Drink from a straw cup and an open cup — my babies could both drink water from a regular straw by 7 months old (we just used the regular BPA-free Take and Toss cups from Target…we still have them, too!) and from around 18 months, both children drank from open top kids drinking glasses at meals (if glass makes you wary, you could always start with those little paper bathroom cups) — These are incredibly helpful skills to have when you are away from home because you won’t need to have special kid cups on hand!

2.  Eat with a spoon and fork — from the time you start feeding your baby solid foods, put a spoon in their hand; my children could eat with a spoon and fork by 18 months…now whether they choose to or not even now is a different story!!! 😉

3.  Hold a book and turn pages carefully one-by-one — my oldest could do this from 9 months old; my youngest by 18 months…after she realized books were for reading and not for eating!

4.  Blow their nose — this was on my must-teach-them-as-soon-as-possible-list and I do believe it really is a skill that can be taught!!!  Both my kids were able to blow their nose on cue shortly after turning one year old!!  Model, model, model! At ages 3 and 4, my two can do this completely independently.

5.  Properly wash hands — You can start teaching this one as early as around 12 months by holding your child up and letting them rub their hands together under running water, but you will probably need to give little mini-lessons on all the different steps of how to do it properly up until at least age 5 (i.e. knowing the difference between the hot and cold faucets, how to adjust the flow of water, how to use a soap dispenser, how to use bar soap, how to lather hands, how to thoroughly rinse, how to dry hands, how to clean up any water splashes, etc.)

6.  Wipe up their own spills teach them where to get paper towels, rags, or cloths and how to wipe up a spill; started from around 18 months – age 2.  We love these flour sack cloths!

7.  Brush their teethEven though you will most likely start or finish the brushing, give your child some time to brush his or her own teeth; from around 18 months – age 2

8.  Put dirty clothes in the laundry — Teach your child what your dirty laundry system is; from around 18 months – 2 years old my children were able to take their dirty clothes and put them in the open hamper in the laundry room.

9.  Wipe their feet and/or remove shoes before entering a house, and also where to put their shoes when they take them off — Make it a habit to teach kids to always wipe their feet on a rug before entering a house or store; this can be taught starting around 18 months to age 2.  Removing their own shoes can be taught around the same time frame, though help may be required depending on the type of shoes used and your child’s motor skill development.  After shoes are removed (either by the child or someone else) make it a habit to have your child put them away.  Our kids each have a shoe basket that stays under a chair and as soon as they come in the house, they take off their shoes and put them into their basket.  It makes finding shoes so much easier when we’re ready to go somewhere and shoes aren’t left catawampus all over the house!  We have utilized the shoe basket approach since ages 2-3, and now it’s almost always automatic that the kids put their shoes away on their own without reminders.  Also you can teach children to neatly pair their shoes and place them against a wall or under a table or chair when away from home, instead of simply kicking their shoes off and leaving them in the middle of the room.

10.  Set the table properly — using place mats that show outlines of the place settings, kids can set out utensils from around age 2; the counting practice is great for math, too!

11.  Brush/Comb their hairParent may have to finish the brushing, but the child can do what they can to start with from about age 2

12.  Dress and undress themselves — At least partially by age 2; if your child has a…ahem…big head, they may require assistance with getting shirts off for quite some time–I still have to help the 4.5 year old sometimes!

13.  Put on their own shoes — With the exception of tennis shoes with laces, my kids could put on their own shoes and take them off independently in the year they were 2.

14.  Prep some of their own food — peel a banana, peel a clementine that has been started for them, de-stem grapes, open a package such as a string cheese that has been partially opened for them, use a spreader to put soft spreads like peanut butter or whipped cream cheese onto crackers, toast, or sandwiches, cut a banana for their cereal using a spreader or butter knife (starting around age 2)

15.  Hang their coat or hat when they come in from outside — My kids were able to do this last winter at ages 2 and 3; simply teach them which hook or coat rack (we have a kids’ coat rack) to hang it on

16.  Lock and unlock doors (Teach safety precautions at the same time!) — Why teach how to lock and unlock doors?  I recently witnessed a young child (and mom) panicking when she was unable to unlock the door of a single-person bathroom she had gone into while her parent waited outside.   If your child is ever on the locked side of a door and you can’t get in, you’ll really wish you had taught them how to unlock a door!  Definitely teach them about when it is safe and unsafe to lock and unlock doors while you are teaching them this skill!!!  My children learned this between ages 2 and 3.

17.  Properly grip a pencil or crayon — start around age 3 to teach and encourage proper grasp; use a key phrase like, “Hold it like a pencil,” as a gentle reminder

18.  Sort items while cleaning — From around the age of 2.5 to 3 when we would clean out our toy drawers, I’d have my son help me organize his toys by sorting them into bins such as cars in this one, monster trucks in this one, and people in this one.  At age 4-1/2, Luke has a great understanding of categories and sorting, and I swear the child can clean and organize a room faster and better than I can now!!  Note to self: work on this more with Lilah!!!!

19.  Fold simple items like dish and washcloths — Starting with a small square material like a washcloth, teach them to fold in half and then half again; good for early math concepts as well (around age 3)

20.  Scrape dirty dishes and place them on the counter or in the dishwasher after meals — Around age 2-1/2 to 3, once excused from the table, we taught our children to scrape any leftover food or trash into the garbage can and place their dirty dishes next to the sink, right above the dish washer.  

21.  Make their bedAround turning 4 years old my son showed a great interest in making his bed.  We use a fitted sheet to cover the mattress and then he wraps up with a blanket instead of using a flat sheet, partly because his bed is a loft bed and I find making a bed like that is quite difficult, even for me.  All he has to do is fold his blanket and put it neatly on his bed, and — voila! — it’s made!

22.  Put shirts on a hanger and put away clean laundry in the right placesMy 4 year old happily requests to hang his own shirts, and both my 3 and 4 year olds put away their own underwear, socks, and pajamas that I give them after I’ve folded laundry.  You can see part of how we’ve organized the kids’ closets to make this easy for them here: I Got Dressed All By Myself: Organizing Your Child’s Closet to Promote Independence

23.  Snap, zip, button, and tie  — my son could zip his own jacket at about age 3-1/2 much to my surprise as we had never even worked on the skill; easy snaps came soon after; we are still working on buttons at age 4-1/2 and will soon begin to tackle tying.

24.  Fasten and unfasten a belt buckle — and teach them to allow extra time when they need to go potty while wearing a belt!  (currently working on with my 4 year old)

25.  Change the toilet paper roll — going to start working with my 4 year old on this one this week!! 

What life skills are your children learning?  

Which ones do you plan to target next?


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Genny Upton

A former teacher turned stay at home mom to two preschool aged children. Creator (and writer) at In Lieu of Preschool and Parent Teach Play. Currently publishing my first children's picture book!

  • Anonymous says:

    How aboutsneezing/coughing into your elbow? It keeps the germs off your hands and the environnment.

  • Vicky says:

    Great list! What I love about so many of these is that they can start off as play. My little one loves to play and “brush” her hair. They also love to pretend to clean. Just another wonderful way play helps build important skills. Pinning this now. Vicky from http://www.messforless.net

  • Amy says:

    My 4 year old loves to wipe all of the baseboards and door frames/handles to help clean. Not perfectly, but well!

    They also add ice to glasses and have been taught to wash their hands before working on anything to do with food. They push a chair over to the sink independently (even my 2yo). I am still helping to turn off/on the water.

    We are teaching them to shake hands and look people in the eye when they are talking to them as well.

  • Anonymous says:

    My 3yo loves to “wash dishes” – I lay down a towel on the kitchen floor, give her a big pot with soapy water and a washcloth, and she wipes down plastic items and spoons and whatever else is not too breakable and not too dirty/greasy.

    She is also in charge of packing her own snacks for preschool – I set up little containers in the fridge Sunday night, she chooses one each day to put in her lunch box.

  • The Richards says:

    What a great post!! I’m a speech path and I always get so frustrated when I see parents of my pre-k and kinder kiddos doing simple things for them that I feel like they could do on their own (taking off a jacket, for example 🙂

  • Deb Chitwood says:

    Great list! I added your post link to my Montessori-Inspired Activities for Care of Self post at http://livingmontessorinow.com/2012/04/10/montessori-inspired-activities-for-care-of-self/

  • Brenna says:

    Awesome list. And yes, early childhood education is the place for many young children to learn these tasks. I teach these life skills in my preschool classes. Thanks for sharing. I going to RT.

  • Deirdre says:

    Totally awesome list and post! I was surprised that a lot of those i’ve been doing with my twins as well, but just didn’t think of it as a life skill and more as “you do it because Mommy can’t do it for you” thing. Now at least I feel like I’m doing it for them.

    Any idea/recommendation where I can find those placemats you have for the table settings?

  • […] might be surprised, but having kids set the table is huge for help with counting.  Once my kids were tall enough to reach the silverware drawer, […]

  • Nice list! I can add that since 4.5 my daughter can and will make her own PB&J sandwich for lunch. Clear her plate from the dinner table and can buckle and unbuckle herself int he carseat as well as playing on the play structures at the park by themselves. I really try not to help them climb, but encourage them to do it themselves 🙂 Not sure if that last one is a life skill, but it teaches independence and shows them what their body is capable of, so I guess it kind of is..

    Thanks for the post!

  • […] tray or table where he eats, and using the Swiffer Sweeper, which he LOVES! Many of the things on this list are things that are also on my list of […]

  • julie says:

    I think all of the ideas are great, however, children learn to socialize in larger groups that offer exposure to a variety of personalities; that is just not something children get at home. I kept my kiddos home from preschool and I ended up regretting it because they were socially behind the majority of children who were at preschool or daycare. No judgment… just another perspective.

  • Tody says:

    Thanks for your awesome tip
    I think the life skills for kid is very very important
    It not only helps the child smart, creative but also to adapt to the environment.

  • Janney Marin says:

    Thanks for this blog post. These tips are really helpful. Most parents don’t realise the importance of preschool education but when you consider the developmental aspects addressed in preschools, they certainly are key towards a well rounded early growth and education.

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