By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist
As a transition specialist working with students who have the cognitive and academic potential for college but have sometimes missed opportunities to develop life skills while keeping up with rigorous academic and extracurricular schedules, I am encouraging families to think of this time as a gift. Students, especially those in 8th-10th grade, have a novel opportunity to build life skills that can help them to live away from home and self-direct their schedules. Without school closures, this opportunity likely would not have come until after 12th grade. With that in mind, here is a list of 4 life skills that are critical for attending residential college that I am recommending some of my students work on:
- Getting up “on time” each morning: We all know that teenage sleep schedules are rarely in alignment with traditional high school hours. Without transportation time, there is a new opportunity to practice using an alarm clock and build a sleep schedule and that is a little closer to teenage physiological needs. If teens are using a cell phone alarm, it is helpful to put the phone in airplane mode and plug it in away from the bed. With an alarm clock, some experts recommend clocks with blue numbers and facing the clock away from the bed. Good sleep hygiene depends on many factors, such as diet, caffeine intake, exercise, temperature, clothing and electronics use, so teens may want to organize their own “sleep study” to figure out what helps them personally to build a successful sleep routine. Teens can also play around with the sound an app or alarm clock makes to find something that is effective in waking them up without startling.
- Laundry: When building new skills, I always recommend that students learn and practice the skills to the point of automaticity. Given the amount of time that we are now spending at home, this is the perfect opportunity to learn to do laundry, including reading labels, sorting clothing/linens and running the washer and dryer. If a teen is not interested in learning from a parent, YouTube is a great resource for learning steps to manage laundry and how to operate practically any model of washer or dryer. Teens will learn more quickly if they are practicing the skills multiple times per week, so consider building a schedule that takes into account repeated practice (e.g., clothing is washed midweek, and sheets and towels are washed on the weekend).
- Basic kitchen skills: While colleges do have meal plans available, many students will still choose to cook a least one meal a day or week for themselves. Being able to cook some basic breakfast, lunch and dinner foods allows students to save money and time, be creative or enjoy a preferred taste/food that they are missing. If a student enjoys cooking and wants to learn to cook for others, that is a great social skill—food is definitely a way to build community (I still have college friends who request I make them grilled cheeses when we get together). I recently came across this parenting piece in The Washington Post highlighting 7 kitchen skills kids need before they leave for college, and now is certainly a good time to work on some of these skills. The article highlights wielding a knife, boiling water, sautéing, baking and roasting, using a slow cooker, planning meals and doing the dishes. But you may want to just start with planning and prepping preferred cold foods or microwave safety. Teens should consider their favorite basic foods and go from there.
- Using basic tools: You don’t need to know every household maintenance skill to live in a college dorm. But being able to assemble things, fix loose screws and make other basic repairs is important for setting up your dorm or apartment space and saving time (and energy) chasing down maintenance. Some of the basic tools that are useful to be familiar with include a hammer, screwdrivers, measuring tape, pliers, a level, Allen keys and even some wrenches. There are lots of ways to start building familiarity with tools, such as inventorying current household tools, tightening screws on cabinet and drawer handles, hammering down loose nails on a porch, etc. As home repairs need to be tackled, use this as a life skills lesson and include teens in the process. One additional maintenance task that does not require tools is replacing lightbulbs—students should know how to safely remove bulbs from floor and table lamps and check the size, shape and wattage of the bulb, and shop for replacement bulbs.
Stay tuned for additional Life Skills recommendations in next week’s Transition Thursday blog!
If you are interested in working with a transition specialist at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.
About the Author:
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.