Life Skills

sleeping bag

A long standing tradition in the 4th grade at my school is a 3-day, 2-night science field trip to learn about the ecosystems of barrier islands in South Carolina. For many students, it is their first time away from home without their parents.

We stay in cabins and eat in a dining hall, so we don’t expect the students to pitch a tent or cook meals over an open fire. However, the children do need to be able to eat family style at a table of 12, and they have to make their own bed. Whether a child is attending a sleepaway camp or just a sleepover at a friend’s house, there are a few handy life skills that are good to know by about age 10.


  • Children should be able to roll a sleeping bag and get it back into a stuff sack or tied into the roll. Even if kids don’t ever attend a campout, they might need to use a sleeping bag on a sleepover at a friend’s house and will need to be able to put the sleeping bag away.
  • Kids need to know how to make a bed. I think hospital corners would be aiming a little high, but it is helpful to know how to get a fitted sheet around the edges of a mattress and pull blankets up straight.
  • Have the ability to fold clothing and pack a bag in a semi-organized fashion. Folding clothing does not have to be the perfect fold in thirds around a shirt board, but kids should be able to get a shirt or pants folded in half, socks together, and have an idea about layering items in their bag.


  • Many families have activities after school that run through dinner time, and it can be difficult to sit together at the dinner table. When you do have family meals, remind kids that they should pass food to everyone at the table. Don’t serve yourself and then set the dish right in front of you forgetting to offer food to other people.
  • Leave enough food in the dish, so everyone gets a first helping.
  • Practice asking to have salt and pepper, ketchup, or seconds on an item passed rather than standing up and reaching across others at the table.
  • Show kids how to wipe a counter or table. Push the sponge (or cloth) in one direction, so all the food crumbs stay in front of the sponge rather than wiping in a rapid circular motion. The circular motion smears dropped food all over the eating space grossing out the potentially OCD adult sitting nearby.

wiping a tableHygiene

  • My son, Mr. Star Wars, still needs occasional help washing his hair to get it clean and rinsed well. Most days, he can wash it by himself, but I do a deep clean every few weeks. Help your child practice washing hair on his own and understand all the pieces and parts that are supposed to be washed in the shower. Part of our 4th grade trip is a visit to the pluff mud pit. Several students needed a second turn in the shower after this particular activity.
  • Learn how to get and use Kleenex when needed.
  • Let kids apply their own sunblock every once in awhile. The sunblock sticks work well on faces for inexperienced sunblock appliers. Using a mirror while applying sunblock helps too.

mud pit

What are other good skills kids need to have when they are away from home? One skill I learned at camp is how useful a poncho can be for many things besides rainy weather– like bug protection, sun protection, mud protection…

BI poncho

4 thoughts on “Life Skills

  1. Thank you for that post! I used to take my fourth graders on a camp very similar to this but it soon became too expensive for their families to afford. I totally agree with life skills and have my five, three and one year old doing as many of their own things as possible.

    • Thanks for the comment! I think the main thing is to encourage kids to think they can complete something on their own rather than standing by. I want them to at least give it a try. I am sure your kids could come on our camping trip and be completely self-sufficient. 🙂

  2. When I taught sixth grade we did a Science camp trip. I think the parents were suffering from separation anxiety more than the students. It was great to see the camp counselors interact with students and how self sufficient and independent the students were able to be. Great post!

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