Community Voices

Beyond the Classroom: From Core Standards to core life skills

As a teacher, accruing core academic knowledge is certainly at the front lines of the education challenge, along learning values, compassion, and accountability. But are there other core pieces to this puzzle of becoming a better person?’s Life Skills section and a superb piece on Common Core Standards by TIME magazine’s Kristin van Ogrop offer some great insights about the common core things kids should be able to do before they grow up and/or leave home. As a parent and teacher, I couldn’t agree more — these things are right on the money. So kids: these are for you (but parents can read them too).

This will be a two part series, with seven skills listed today, and eight more next week.

1. Learn to swim. Many animals are born with the ability to swim, but we must learn to swim and then practice before we feel comfortable in the water. Sadly, some kids never learn how. A parent’s own fear of water or limited access to pools and/or swim lessons can prevent many children from learning how to swim. This in turn perpetuates the fear of water.

In South Florida where we are surrounded by water, it is vital that you learn to swim. As a middle school science teacher, I am saddened every year when certain honor students are excluded from amazing opportunities because they are unable to swim across the pool for the requisite Miami-Dade County swim test.

Learning to swim is so important for so many reasons, and learning how at a young age can offer you many benefits throughout your life.

▪ Being able to survive is top on the list of reasons to learn to swim. Something as simple as keeping your head above water can be the difference between life and death.

▪ Being able to rescue others. More than 3,400 people drown in the U.S. every year and is the second leading cause of death in children under 14. If you are able to swim, you could help save a life.

▪ Swimming is great exercise and exercise is good for your heart, lungs, muscles, bones and overall health.

▪ Swimming offers great opportunities. Being a good swimmer allows you to participate in school sports such as water polo and swim team and enables you to participate in water related field trips.

2. Write a personalized thank you note. We don’t say thank you nearly enough and a personal thank you note says a lot about a person. In a world of email and acronymized texting, you need to know how to compose (with a pen) a written personal letter that includes the essential five parts (heading, salutation, body, closing and signature). Don’t forget about the address and stamp.

3. Practice proper personal hygiene. Just as you learn how to ride a bike or drive a car, you must learn and practice a hygiene routine to keep your body healthy. Every day, without an adult reminding you, you need to:

▪ Brush your teeth and floss to prevent cavities and gum disease. People who keep their teeth clean and have healthy gums tend to be healthier and live longer.

▪ Bathe/shower daily with regular soap (not antibacterial). Soap helps remove dirt and oil build up from the skin. You need the bacteria that lives on your skin — this eubacteria prevents the presence of more harmful bacteria — so when you use antibacterial soap, you are just killing the watchdogs. Showers also reduce stress, help you fall sleep faster, and just plain feel good.

▪ Learn how to wash your hands properly. While this sounds like a “duh” moment, there is a proper time and way to wash hands. Everyone should wash hands either AFTER or BEFORE something — AFTER using the toilet, after sneezing or coughing, after caring for someone who is sick, after handling animals or animal waste, or after handling garbage; BEFORE you handle/prepare/eat food, and before you handle wounds or care for a sick person. You don’t want to move microorganisms from one place to another where they can do harm.

According to the CDC, hand-washing is like a “do-it-yourself” vaccine — the five step process of Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry can reduce the spread of illness and help you stay healthy.

▪ Practice smart toileting skills. No joke. Join my middle school human growth and development course and you will see for yourself how many young girls don’t know the proper direction (front to back) to wipe after going to the toilet, or why. Girls need to understand why wiping from clean (front) toward dirty (back) is critical to preventing urinary tract and vaginal infections.

4. Aim for the top, but don’t race there. Never race to the top. If you want to aim for the top, that’s a great ambition. But get there slowly, deliberately, and without knocking everyone else out of the way. Taking the long way is sometimes the best way — you get to see the beautiful views. Besides, the top isn’t always what you think it is.

5. Learn how to cook a meal on your own. If you want to be successful with tools or other appliances, learn how to use them the right way, with supervision. So besides opening a Lunchable or a microwave mac and cheese, at some point in your adolescent life, you should learn how to safely use a stove, an oven, a knife and a few pots to make a proper meal for your family. Choose a dish or two and ask an adult to show you how to make it. I remember with pride the day my mom was sick and asked me to make dinner for myself and my siblings. Although I made a 12-year-old’s rendition of beef stroganoff — meatballs plus Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup — I had stepped into adulthood.

6. When you get a new toy or gadget, give one away to someone who doesn’t get new things as often as you do. This way you think about what you really need and helps you control how much stuff you have. It is like the circle of life. Giving and receiving.

7. Live for a weekend without a cell phone or electronic device.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau shared this fine point during his stay on Walden Pond.

Life is more than our objects yet we often become enslaved by them and in doing so often miss out on the beauty of the natural world. Our journey from birth to death should not be measured by emails or texts or how many YouTube videos we watch, but by the things we learn from people through conversations and by the things we learn from the amazing earthly creatures that were here long before us.

Make one weekend a month electronics-free. Take a bike adventure, go kayaking or go snorkeling. Go on an air boat ride in the Everglades. Nature has so much to offer. When you return from wherever you go, write a story about your adventure. Get a book on the night sky so when night closes in, you can look up and find the constellations. Get out the flashlights and make up stories. Read a book, play Anomia (great game), Scrabble or chess. Bake brownies.

Whatever you do, leave the electronic stuff alone. You will see that you really won’t miss it for 24 hours. Your friends will still be there when you sign back on but you will have so much more to tell them.

Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.