You can read the article any which way you want. Or not. It doesn’t tell you anything you don’t already really know in your gut.  It just makes you think. Somehow this one was made gender specific, but in my book, based on my experience and not my opinion, teaching life skills, no matter what level, is a parental issue and both parents have responsibility for teaching such basic skills to their children. Most of what’s listed is not a school teacher responsibility. It did make me think how complex and strange our world has indeed become. The list is partly silly and of course the one who frames the issue determines the outcome, obviously. With so many so-called specialists presenting online, even though there is really no way of checking credentials as such, ‘specialised‘ teaching has replaced what was once normal parental input into their children’s lives. To further exacerbate things, these days of course, with households needing dual income capability to pay the bills and advance the careers of both partners, it’s not surprising kids are developing their own subculture independent of their their fathers at least and probably both parents. I wasn’t altogether sure where, when, how or why this attitude became accepted as the dad’s responsibility being as all things are at least considered coequal in two-parent/guardian households. As a child in my parent’s home none of the list in the article fell solely to my dad’s prompting alone, my mum had equal input too. One of six kids, I learned first that it was important to follow instruction, read a timetable for chores. The list was divided equally between the children according to age appropriate tasks. I learned to wash dishes to standard and cleaned my own and my father’s shoes while making toast for the family breakfast. Saturdays was our major clean house morning. From personal hygiene to changing and dressing babies, feeding them and understanding responsibility for my siblings was as equally mine as it was everyone else’s. All in all my childhood was made a happy and responsible one because I understood responsibility. Nothing to change. The list of course is below par for normal life but perhaps it shows how with each generation things are slipping from a more mutual assumption of responsibility to something quite, well, passive. In  reality there are another thousand individual and normal tasks any mother or father might expect from their children rather than the pampering to temper tantrums and self pitying.

Looking down the list it became apparent that what I took for granted as a kid could no longer be taken for granted today. Playing out with siblings and friends was still a primary part of my life. When school ended I foraged for bike parts on the city dump one block away from my house. Surrounded by seagulls dive-bombing for food and scurrying rats big enough to shock even the most venturesome cat or ratting dog, I plunged myself to the depths of the pre-recycle days as if this was just normal life. Dens were my retreat. A lino-clad roof of asbestos sheeting at the end of the coal store next to the rubbish bins men in those days slung high onto their shoulders once a week. Here, at this point in my life, the Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and then Laura Lee Hope’s Bobbsey Twins came alive for me, introducing me to a class of society, called the middle-class, as a cultural group of people I really knew nothing of until my mid- to late teens.

As a youngster I consider myself a fortunate. My family was largish for those days with six children and two parents who remained married throughout their life. My dad taught me how to harden conkers and to play the game. He taught me how to hold it in readiness for thrashing all opponents and in all contests with two opponents there was always a winner and a loser. Woodland walks are still crystal clear in my mind. Looking for newts and sticklebacks for my jam jar, tadpoles and frogspawn too. Teeny frogs were mercilessly kept for their cute minuteness until thankfully they escaped my warm hands into the grass below.

I developed a live mousetrap from tinplate taken from an empty oil can. I folded the edges and soldered them, tapped brass rods and made spring closures for the entry door to drop when the mouse stood on the treadle mechanism. I can make one today from what I learned at 13. Mice were caught mostly as rodents. The real need for the live trap was for me to catch and breed field voles. This was a fascination to a 13 year old boy. The voles indeed bred readily in my large fish tank and when they were released in a local nature reserve I was happy to see them go.

It was when woodworking proper came to me that I discovered a world I would enter into. At 13 I finally built something that held together by its joints. I rounded roundovers with a spokeshave and it looked just beautiful. It was all my parents could do to pull together the two shillings and sixpence I needed to pay for the wood but that investment was about to change my life. 55 years later I am still working with wood all day long six days a week and still loving every minute I do it. It never grew old, not once.

It was working with my dad from 11 in a paper mill in the evenings where I learned what it was to work with a man in an adult world outside of family. He was a hard working man, two jobs from early morning till late, around 9pm, and a man I always respected because both he and my mother were not only good providers but connected to me. Imagine reaching a point in your life when you see your past from its early beginnings and feel gratitude for what your mum and dad put into you from your childhood.


  1. Mark Dennehy on 5 April 2018 at 10:16 am

    What kind of fantasy was that newspaper author living in where pooh-sticks and conkers are basic life skills but the list doesn’t include how to sharpen a knife, find water, do basic first aid, some basic maths and statistics, how to find out if someone is lying or even just how to read?

    • Jens on 5 April 2018 at 11:41 am

      Well, I’m in absolute no doubt, our children and grandchildren will find solutions to their problems. If they don’t know how to buff and polish their shoes, they simply just buy a new pair, when they much too soon have to discard the old ones – they cost so little now a days, that one can’t believe it.

      I consider it problematic though, that living the life that way means that they loose respect in so many ways. Respect for money and respect for the poor bastards that produce the shoes, because now that they have to buy so many more pair of shoes throughout their lives they of course have to demand better and cheaper shoes all the time. Meaning in fact that they don’t respect the previous shoemaker and his/her work or price that he/she had do ask for their shoes (their work).

      I don’t know where the shoemaker of my shoes lives today, if it’s in Afghanistan, Bangladesh og China. But fifty years ago he lived in my own neighborhood, I knew who he were, I knew what his skills were. And I could admire and respect him for that. And perhaps even be inspired to be a shoemaker in my own house. Instead of having to travel more than one thousand kilometers a week to earn my money and have too little time to teach my grandchildren how to… while they don’t see or know what I’m doing all day (working on a computer, my goodness).

      And by the way I don’t know what strange things they learn in school and elsewhere. No wonder, that we loose respect for one another. My perfect world is one where we do important things (doesn’t matter what things) with and for one another, so we can know, admire and respect one another for common and understandable things.

    • Gordon on 5 April 2018 at 1:25 pm

      Mark – It’s the Daily Fail: they live in a bizarre 1950s fantasy world where women knew their place and casual racism was normal. Basically it’s a hate-fuelled rag where everything was better back then because Johnny Foreigner bowed to us Brits.

      Heck, their journalistic standards are so low there’s a consensus at Wikipedia that they shouldn’t be used as a factual source for articles.

    • Will on 5 April 2018 at 2:09 pm

      At least they got “Learn the Importance of Money”… at number 27!!!

    • Donald Kreher on 5 April 2018 at 9:10 pm

      Forgive my ignorance, but what the hell are pooh-sticks?

      • Donald Kreher on 5 April 2018 at 9:17 pm

        Nevermind I remember now.

    • Jeff Polaski on 9 April 2018 at 1:45 pm

      You may be an excellent woodworking teacher, but you also teach things like, “You are responsible for your own safety.”

      I can almost hear your voice saying that as I work with very sharp things. This, from a still teachable 71-year-old.

  2. Ian Lait on 5 April 2018 at 11:38 am

    I could add several other things to the list like learning to weld steel, how to raise many different animals from the egg/birth, how to kill them quickly and humanely and dress them for the table. My Mum taught me how to cook them. My Dad’s greatest piece of hand work advice was “if it won’t go stop and find out why” rather than fetch a bigger hammer!
    The world is changing and I often feel I was born a few decades too late but perhaps that is the litany of every aging generation.
    I often wonder how people would cope if the power went off and try to pass on all the wonder of nature and outdoor play to my daughter.

  3. phill on 5 April 2018 at 11:49 am

    The world has changed (as it always has). We are on the way out and they are in the way in. It is up to the young to make decisions about their lives and reap the benefits or suffer the consequences. We must have faith that a toddler taught to use a cell phone will be better equipped than one taught to tie his/her shoes. Our parents made decisions for us that we now appreciate and respect. My grandchildren will be no different. Same as it ever was.

    • Richard on 5 April 2018 at 1:01 pm

      Well said. The new generation will take care of itself just as the past had. We are older but not necessarily better.

  4. Jim P on 5 April 2018 at 12:25 pm

    It’s just a list of memorable childhood things from a bygone age in England. Life in conurbations is now changed, mostly by the motor car and loss of playing space, and rise of virtual pastimes, tv,videos, YouTube. I saw a pair of cartoons once. In the first a boy is making a model airplane in an attic. In the send the attic is empty and there is a tv aerial visible through the skylight. Women’s lib has caused house prices to rise to meet two incomes. They have shot themselves in the foot. Obvious gender differences are ignored or denied. There’s plenty of scope for improvement. Manufactured goods are cheap and disposable. Pupils are taught to buy expertise rather than diy.

  5. Steve Dawson on 5 April 2018 at 1:47 pm

    The Daily Mail should have saved that article for April Fool’s Day, then at least we could have assumed it was all tongue-in-cheek. The web abounds with such advice. This my favourite: (and should teach their kids). I like #7: “(How to) Survive a Bear attack.

  6. Jeremy on 5 April 2018 at 1:56 pm

    No surprise to me this. When children are raising children. This is the fruit it bears. When children are teaching children in our schools, why should we expect anything substantial. Most of my son’s teachers stay on facebook more than they teach.

  7. John Purser on 5 April 2018 at 2:02 pm

    In Robert A. Heinlein’s “Time Enough for Love” the protagonist Lazarus Long says:

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    Hardly a comprehensive list of course but I think the idea is sound. And if the idea holds up then it seems to me that is a matter of no small importance to see to it that human beings are taught these skills. And that task should start with the parents.

    • John Purser on 5 April 2018 at 2:04 pm

      P.S. I consistently run into many more people who are authorities on “What’s wrong with kids today!” than I do kids who have anything at all wrong with them.

    • PeterS on 9 April 2018 at 12:12 pm

      There has always been the cry of “Kids these days, don’t appreciate whatever”. The truth is that kids almost never appreciate what they have, unless they don’t have anything,

      I look at the young people who are friends of my children and think that I’ve never meet a more thoughtful and caring bunch. Do they never make a mistake? Of course not, but considering the amount of contradictory information and advertising they are subjected to they seem to be very grounded and wary.

      Do they know how to catch and butcher a rabbit or chicken? Nope, but why would they? They do know how to get the best from their shopping and most of them can do a decent job of cooking given the chance.

      They don’t generally dream of owning a flash car or a big house, being content with the information and entertainment they have at their fingertips. They have seen their parents mortgage their futures purchasing big houses whilst trying to meet societies expectations of affluence. These kids can see through the lie of wage slavery and whilst some of them have plans for careers, in most cases it is the job that is important, the doing, that is important to them, not the purchasing power an income brings.

      These kids want to travel, they want to play they want to experience things. They don’t want to participate in a society that expects them to have shiny shoes and a 9 to 5 desk job.

      Yes they are dreamers, yes they don’t have a clue of the challenges they will face in later life. The thing they do have in abundance is hope and a desire to do more than their parents. They have seen the mistakes we have made and they have no desire to replicate them.

      Considering the state of the world we are passing on to them, I think we should be proud of how they are turning out. Lets stop with the condemnation of everything that is new, and start looking at the good things that are happening. You can always find things to complain about, I challange you to find something to praise.

  8. John Heintz on 5 April 2018 at 2:12 pm

    I’m a Yank. What is a ‘pooh stick’ and what is a conker?

  9. Gregg on 5 April 2018 at 3:06 pm

    After reading the list, and not missing the point of Paul’s post, it just occurs to me that, as a Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout troop in the U.S., perhaps more youth need to be scouts! Most of the skills on the given list can be learned from participating in an active troop and progressing through the ranks of Scouting. Though his list of “basic life skills” would, no doubt, differ than that of the article’s author, I am confident Robert Baden-Powell would wholeheartedly agree.

    • Donald Kreher on 5 April 2018 at 9:22 pm

      Well as a former Eagle Scout, junior assistant scoutmaster, and order of the arrow election officer, I can tell you it depends a lot on the troup. My troup was excellent others not so much.

  10. Donald WAYNE HOWE on 5 April 2018 at 4:20 pm

    There is one very important aspect of this piece which is either missed or dismissed by previous commenters. That is the importance of fathers and masculine role models. Not that masculine influence is better but that it is DIFFERENT, and vital. This assertion is not based on chauvinism, bigotry or any such thing; it is simply fact.
    Many things my mother taught me make me a better man but it was my father, grandfather and uncle’s who taught me to BE a man, and I hope a better masculine parent.

    • Richard on 5 April 2018 at 8:23 pm

      Say this to many of our talented female woodworkers!

      You still living with a mindset that belongs to the 40s and 50s.

      • John C on 6 April 2018 at 3:41 pm

        What do female woodworkers have to do with what DWH said? I don’t think he’s saying a mother couldn’t teach this skill but who could argue against men being better suited to teaching young men how to BE a man?

      • Adam on 9 April 2018 at 11:32 am

        He’s not saying a woman can’t teach a man woodworking. But how can a woman teach her son how to be a man if she doesn’t know herself? And vice versa of course for men teaching their daughters. A woman can teach her son how to be a good man though…that’s different.

        The two genders are different in so many wonderful ways and not everything has to be equal.

        • Adam on 9 April 2018 at 11:33 am

          Forgot to add…I say there’s nothing 40s or 50s about that.

        • PeterS on 9 April 2018 at 12:41 pm

          Ah, you do seem to be forgetting that what it means to be a “Man” has changed many times in the past.

          For a Roman, it was “with your shield or on it”.
          For a lower class Englishman of the 1800’s it was starting to work at a young age at a job that slowly killed you whilst trying to avoid starvation for your family.
          For a Gent of the 1950’s it was being an absent provider for the family whilst working all day at a desk job, only to see his children on the weekends if lucky.

          Yes I’m picking particularly negative stereotypes, but that is my point. Pick 100 different Fathers in any generation and you would find that there are a range of examples, there are the drunken louts all the way through to the absolute hero.

          The truth is that most of us fall somewhere in between. We are imperfect but trying to ensure that our children of whatever gender identity grow up to be decent human beings who are able to eek some satisfaction from their lives regardless of their interests or inclinations.

          You can always find something to complain about, always find things that could have been better. But you can also always something to praise.

          I don’t believe you can just say, “things were better in my day”. It’s easy to see the past through rose coloured glasses, we tend to forget the bad things. Our children are growing up in an amazing world, where a old woodworker in England can easily speak to people around the world. They are growing up in a world where they have no choice but to acknowledge the difference in the people around them and understand that there is no such thing as Black and White, Men and Women, Good and Bad. They are smart enough to know that everybody has value and they, being far smarter than us, know that trying to fit people into nicely labeled stereotypes means that you will never really get to learn the lessons they have to teach.

          How about we stop with the “How to be a Man” thing, there is no such thing. There are people, and learning how to be a decent person is far more important than learning how to be some ideal “Man” that has only ever existed in the adventure novels published in the 1950’s.

          • Adam on 9 April 2018 at 11:11 pm

            I’m talking about emotional intelligence – how to be a man. That hasn’t changed. You’re mentioning stereotypes in what men did at a certain period. Of course that changes. A man or woman is still a man or woman despite what period it is and men and women are very different beings. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s not try and equate men with women – they’re different and have different strengths. And there is most definitely such a thing as how to be a man (or a woman) – otherwise we might as well all be robots. Talking emotional intelligence here. There is far too much ‘PC’ and attempts to equate the two genders.

  11. Marc D on 5 April 2018 at 4:58 pm

    Dad was a self-taught intellectual: his interests revolved around books, classical music, history, languages, and his small philatelic collection. From him I didn’t learn to fish, repair my home, fix my cars, or work with wood, yet these are things that I have done, learned, and continue to learn by myself. So, what did I learn from him? That decency, honesty, and integrity do count. Doing the right thing when no one is watching does count. Being a man of honor and word does count. Thank you, Dad. RIP.

  12. Tom on 5 April 2018 at 5:39 pm

    I second the comment about being in the Boy Scouts.
    Friends of ours were up in a ski cabin and their daughter brought her boyfriend along. They had no running water in the cabin and the young “man” couldn’t figure out how to brush his teeth without running water.
    You just can’t make this stuff up.
    My dad used to tell me after I did something rather stupid usually said with some emphasis! (Yelling)
    Probably only 20% of people have critical thinking skills.
    That’s what makes life so interesting, working your way around the knots in life.

  13. Michael Jones on 5 April 2018 at 5:57 pm

    “It’s easier to raise a healthy child than fix a broken man”
    F. Douglas

  14. Larry on 5 April 2018 at 6:55 pm

    Well, anyway, I learn what Conker is.

    When I was a kid playing with horse chestnuts consisted of throwing them at each other.