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9 September 2010

Passing on what we know

We all use different clocks. Ours at home is more a seasonal time-frame, or one that revolves around meals and sleep patterns, whereas the business clock is run to the financial year and revolves around nine-to-five and the weekend - that great payoff for putting in time during the week. We have different holidays too. In the business world, time is set aside for employees to have annual leave/vacation. There is a complete break away from the normal day to day tasks of the work place. Time is spent recovering from the past year and getting ready for the year ahead. At home, it's a different story. There are no weekends, no after hours, no over time, no vacation or annual leave. Oh, and did I mention, no pay either.

I am a trained nurse and used to work in theatre and emergency. Then I got a degree in journalism, literature and communication and became a writer. I worked as a journalist and technical writer during the 20 years before I 'retired'. I firmly believe that training is required for all work, particularly those vocations that require judicious decision making, consistently good outcomes and high standards. We would never expect a doctor to perform surgery without training and practice, and we don't want accountants without training advising banks and businesses. Yet we seem to be fine expecting our younger generations to be raised by people who aren't trained. That training was once done on the job by mothers and older women, now, on the larger scale, that has disappeared. We expect consistently good outcomes and high standards from each successive generation, but we are failing now, more than ever, to support the work of those young mothers and fathers who stay at home to raise our future citizens. Oh, and did I mention, we don't pay them either.

I don't expect to be paid to stay at home and I think it's a silly notion to believe that a country can support such community welfare payments for SAHM and Ds. It would send most countries broke. But I do expect a certain amount of training to be available to those women and men who decide against a paid career and seek instead to stay at home, teach their children, shop for bargains, mend and sew, and generally do anything to scrape the money together to do it. There used to be a subject at taught at schools called 'home economics'. It was a training in cooking and home management with a little child care thrown in. That was offered in the times when mothers still passed on that information to their daughters. Now, when the motherly teaching of the art of homemaking has all but vanished completely, and when it's needed more than ever, home economics is no where to be seen. A prime example of if we don't talk about it, it doesn't exist.

Well, there is an elephant in this room, ladies and gentlemen. It's the generations of children being raised without knowing how to cook or clean, let alone make a budget or bake a loaf of bread. When they leave school and have their own money, instead of saving money for a home, they have to spend most of it buying already made food to eat and chemical cleaners that poison the air all of us breathe. They don't know that soap or vinegar or bicarb could clean almost everything. They think they have to spend money to buy everything they need to live. It is not their fault, but all of us, ALL of us, suffer because of it.

Where are the responsible governments who even though they insist on training for all manner of jobs, turn their backs on this as if it doesn't mean anything. Many local governments now are teaching water harvesting, organic gardening and how to raise chickens. Why don't they see the need for cooking from scratch classes, mending and sewing, and how to raise children? And where are all the older generations who should have been passing on their knowledge? Those older women and men who would, in the past, mentor, guide and teach? Where are our role models? All we have now are vacuous celebrities who seem to be even more useless than the rest of us. I couldn't care less if THE wedding is on or off or if that was really cocaine in her bag, I want real life, I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to know how to live well and I want home economics back in the classrooms.

I want people to care.

At my Frugal Home workshop the other day, the ladies thanked me for sharing my knowledge. I appreciated the thanks but I asked them to step up themselves and talk about what they're doing and teach what they know about. We all have that responsibility, especially those of us who wish for a better world. We are the ones who have to start sharing what we know and being part of a world wide solution. If we want a world full of thriving sustainable communities, we need to help create them. Governments rarely lead, they follow and they do what we demand of them. Demand this.

I have no doubt that learning the skills of simple living can help heal those parts of our world that suffered through the economic crisis. Slowing down, living within our means, being genuine people, living deliberately and sharing whatever it is we can teach is a significant and radical first move for all of us. If you want mothers to pass on knowledge again, if you want fathers to be the kind of role model that children respect and want to emulate, then you need to lead them to it. All of us, not just me or you, but all of us, share this responsibility. We need to share our skills and knowledge with our younger generations and by doing so, hopefully we'll get back to caring, safe, supportive and happy neighbourhoods again.

Do you know of schools that still teach life skills, particularly home economics? I'm very keen to get a conversation going about how we pass on what we know to others. Are you doing it? if so, how? Please share your thoughts on this important subject.


  1. I am 34 and I was taught home economics in middle school (cooking and sewing). Everyone was required to take it as well as wood working, drafting and metal working. I know when I moved to another state that those students had not had these courses but we did have a course on budgeting at that school. I guess it varies region to region. You're right everyone should learn how to cook and basically take care of a household stay at home parent or not.

  2. This post is excellent and I couldn't agree more!

  3. Well, I don't know what the government schools in my area are doing but I homeschool my three children and my 13 year old daughter is taking a sewing course at home with me. She is starting the course this year and will finish it next year as we are planning to count the class as a high school elective. So far she has been working on straight stitching and has made three ski hats. If you would like, you can see a picture of one of her hats towards the bottom of this post:

    In addition, I plan to do a similar class in cooking. She also volunteers at our church in the toddler class so she is getting some good hands-on experience taking care of little ones.

    I plan to do a similar cooking course with my boys when they are older but the sewing course will be much less involved (unless they love it). They definitely should know how to cook, though.

    My husband includes my older son in as many outside tasks and maintenance around the house as possible, teaching him as he goes in a less structured fashion.

    I adore your blog and read it regularly. Thank you for writing.


  4. Please tell me more about your Frugal Home Workshops. Do you delve into more detailed information than what you give on your discussions....or what? I live fairly frugally considering that most Americans "need" to have two incomes to pay for their boats, huge homes, cleaning ladies, etc. I stay home, hang out my laundry, cook from scratch 98% of the time, sew, embroider, make jams and can.....please e mail me on the particulars if you feel so inclined. I love your blog. My e mail address is or you can read my blog at

    Thanks for your consideration

  5. Excellent topic. This is something I have been mindful about with my children. Our local (Ontario, Canada) curriculum includes home economics and lifeskills: everything from budgeting to meal planning and so on. I don't always agree with what is taught so we have some good discussions based on that (for example, many people including their teachers live way beyond their means). I involve my kids in all the domestic management so they feel familiar and comfortable with things like paying bills, budgets, income tax preparation, baking bread, tending the garden from seed to harvest, sewing and mending.... I want them to enter their adult years feeling capable and knowledgeable. And I hope debt-free living is deep in their genes!

  6. Hi Rhonda,
    Everything you have been saying really hit home for us this week in the aftermath of the earthquake. Too scared to go anywhere, we've had to make do at home and become frugal and resourceful and content.
    I mentioned you today in my summing up of our earthquake experience because the shops had sold out of bread and I had to make my own. No hardship! We've been doing it for awhile now. :o)

  7. Schools in my area still have a life skills class that is required in the 7th grade (12 - 13 year olds). Not sure how much the kids care at this age or how much good it does if it is not repeated at home. The example needs to start in the home. I see a lot of interest in this on the internet and in homeschool groups in my area. Outside of that group of people, career seems to come first.

    I taught both my son and daughter to cook, clean and mend. They are both married and continue to use these skills and are married to mates that likewise were taught these skills. However, I find many young couples both lack these basic skills. That is why I find it so encouraging to see young people on the internet interested in gardening, cooking, and home crafts.

    Interesting subject.


  8. Agree, agree, agree. And I'll tell you where the older genereations are instead of metoring, they're working full-time until the age of 65. They are the start of feminism, those who decided women should be equal and tget out there and work - but still do the housework and raise the kids! You can guess which side of their lives won out. And yes, I work full-time and have kids, and want to change this!! But truely, Grandparents are all working, I know my kids' grandparents under 60 do!

  9. Oh Rhonda, I do agree with your post. There are so many people who have no idea about home economics - and have never had to. So much of the burden for raising kids is put now upon the teachers to build into their programs.

    The Stephanie Alexander kitchen garden program is truly a wonderful thing, and yet it grew out of a need for children to be aware of where food actually comes from and how to cook it.

    At my school, we often get primary kids up for cooking classes so they can have an 'experience' bless their little hearts.

    I have always found it fun, when teaching my senior classes (regardless of the subject) to finish lessons with my 'uni survival recipe' of the week - a cheap make-at home healthy meal and my experiences on living on the smell of an oil rag.

    I see highschool students do budgeting as part of legal, business, maths, sose, hospitality, but they always have very very healthy budgets to work from.

    I'm so confonted by the non-existent 'financial' literacy of some of the kids and usually those same kids come to school with McDonalds, or softdrinks to finish before first lesson. We've also had to start a program to feed kids breakfast before classes. And this is highschool.

    There really is a strong need for local parenting courses which involve the home budget, cooking & nutrition, maintenance etc.

    If I'm at the shops and I see another parent who can't afford bread and milk but who can spend $12 on a pack of cigarettes, I really would like to slap them. Sorry, little rant to end the comment.

  10. This past year my church offered a class for 8 and 9 year old girls called Future Christian Homemakers. The girls had class one Saturday per month. They learned how to follow a recipe and made several items, most from scratch. Some of the moms asked if they could sit in on the classes so they could learn along with their daughters. The classes were free and the curriculum is offered free at If many of us who love homemaking would reach out with church and community classes, we could revive the fine art of homemaking in our communities.

  11. I did take Home Economics in grade 8; it was mandatory for our grade (in British Columbia, Canada), along with wood working and metal working. We spent only 1/2 semester on each subject though. I think you are doing your part by posting your knowledge here on your blog. I have learned so much online and by "googling" what I don't know about how to fix things and make things from scratch, how to cloth diaper. I'm not convinced it's going to be our governments to save us; I think the answer lies in younger people valuing their elders and taking the time to learn from them and knowledgeable people being willing to offer their skills.

  12. In the high school in Manning, AB. they still offer cooking and wood shop. But the other basic 'knowledge' of running a home is no longer taught.
    Like some of your other readers, I have learned to do things by seeking out the older generation for guidance. I did that a lot in my early twenties. I am now closer to 50 than 40, and I still seek out the knowledge from the elders. I also google looking for answers.
    For my part in passing on my knowledge to the younger generation-I have shown one young lady, she is 29, how to can. I am a firm believer of passing on one's knowledge. I taught myself how to make cheese, three years ago. This past summer I helped a older gentleman to make cheese. Now his sister is making cheese. It does have a 'snowball' affect. Just pass it on.

  13. Would love to see the Frugal Home Workshops as a series of blogposts.

  14. I have noticed a lot of things over the years and I think a lot of our bad behaviour stems from not having any self respect, not being able to look after themselves properly ie how to cook a decent meal. Unfortunately we live in a throw away society where it is easier just to go out and buy a new one rather than fix/mend it!
    We home school our children when they reach high school(we have a nice little school they go to before that, with good morals!) I require my children to do jobs around the house, after all they help make the mess/use it. My home schoolers also help on the farm to pay for their hobbies, (a horse and a motorbike so far) They have to keep a notebook with their expenditure and hours they have worked. And they have to cook a meal once a week, I get them to do laundry and shock horror clean the bathroom! And guess what they are still alive. My son goes to a woodworking class every second Monday and we do plenty of craft, knitting sewing, cardmaking, etc. We want well adjusted and educated children who care about themselves and others.
    Totally agree with this post!!!

  15. I think Australian schools are doing some things but the time is very limited. Subjects that involve life skills are accorded less time and importance than subjects such as Maths and English. In Aussie primary schools the outlook is brighter -- Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Scheme for example. I'm encouaged by the work of people overseas such as Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver. But it's small beer.

    What worries me is that so many of the current generation of older men and women (my own generation) are, on the whole, so unskilled themselves that they don't have the knowledge to pass on.

    I take my responsibility seriously. I have six young people in my life whom I feel some responsibility for in terms of passing on life skills and I do. I talk to people who want to listen and discuss and I speak up when opportunity presents itself.

  16. I took Home Economics in 6th grade, but my mother had already taught me most of what the school taught. Except for crochet, I learned it then and taught it to my mom. But most of my friends were learning to cook & sew for the first time. Few schools in the US actually teach those skills anymore, fortunately my daughter's school does although it's called something else and is split into several classes. Last year, she learned to sew. I'm not very good at that, so I wasn't able to teach her much but she was at least semi-prepared for the class. This year, she'll take the cooking class although she is already capable of planning meals and then cooking them. I have taught her as my mother taught me, from a young age and I feel like she will be well-equipped to take care of a home and family but I'm not so sure about most of the kids her age. My sister taught her three to take care of themselves much as I've taught my girl but I do feel like society as a whole is going to suffer if people grow up expecting the government or someone else to take care of them and their needs all their life. You make some very good points with this post. I like the idea of workshops or classes, there might be some in my area already.

  17. I agree with craftevangelist that the governments are not going to save us, nor do I want them to. I think that many people have been too dependent on their governments to look after them and that mentality actually inadvertently encourages people not to be self-sufficient. What you are doing, Brenda, on this blog is a far better example of how to go about it.

    I have two daughters, one married and one still at home. They are both trained (or are being trained in the case of the younger one) to cook and clean and manage money. We spent time on sewing, gardening, and knitting as well. It's been a joy to watch my married daughter put into practice in her own home what she has learned and absorbed over the years.

    I don't know what the government schools do here about home economics (we homeschool). I do remember, however, that my one and only home ec class in eighth grade was useless. The schools are already overwhelmed. Let's let them teach the three R's and the rest of us step up to help train the younger generation in life skills.

    I really enjoy your blog. I think this is my first time commenting, but I may be wrong about that. :-)

  18. I took it all through school but I don't think they teach it anymore. It's sad that our young people aren't taught life skills in school anymore! It's important to teach them these things at home.

  19. Rhonda, I studied home economics at college and even though I never used that as a career I believe it enriched my life immensely. My daughters and stepsons all come to me on occasion as they slowly begin to cook more and be more mindful of the slower pace they want back in their world. You are a great example and I see more and more younger people wanting to get back to a simpler way of life. Keep up the good work you do on your blog.

  20. I homeschooled, and both our daughters and son know how to cook and basic home skills.

  21. Where are the role models?

    Right here, Rhonda!

    But I agree with your assessment about home economics being a very necessary part of education at all levels.

    However, when I was taught home economics at school, for a few terms before I went to a selective school where such subjects were deemed to be unnecessary for someone who was going to university, it was an almost completely useless course. We alternated between cooking and sewing each week. In the cooking class we made scones. Plain scones, fruit scones, cheese scones, pumpkin scones, savoury scones, you name it, but nothing else. Not that there's anything wrong with knowing how to make scones per se, but it would have been useful if I'd left home with the ability to make an actual meal. And for the sewing classes we made pretty embroidered table mats with no actual construction sewing involved - just zigzagging on braid. The concept of being able to whip up some curtains, or save money by making a simple skirt, let alone mending or altering skills were just not there. So I think that as well as making waves about the need for home economics classes, we should also be considering what the curriculum for that should be. I think that classes involving budgeting, basic cooking, gardening, sewing, mending, basic woodwork and metal work, home cleaning and maintenance could all be profitably included. Possibly even care for domestic animals such as chooks could be included here rather than in agriculture courses of limited relevance.

    I'm not sure where to start, but I think that with a renewed government emphasis on a national curriculum in Australia, this is a really good time to be putting this forward.

  22. Rhonda, I totally agree with you. My 13 year old daughter goes to a 'technical' high school where they still teach 'technology' subjects of cooking, sewing, woodwork and metalwork. In fact we have just finished selecting her electives for next year (Year 8) and some she has chosen are: Food, Woodwork for Girls and Metalwork. This is from a girl who is in the extention classes of maths and english. They also will be taking a compulsory class called Making It Work which teaches personal financial decision making skills for the future. This is over 2 years then in Year 9 they also have a compulsory class called Community Challenge where small groups are engaged in real-life hands-on learning tasks with real outcomes within their community. Between school and home I hope to teach our children the real-life skills needed. I am a SAHM and my 'job' includes baking, sewing, cooking from scratch, mending, knitting, cleaning, tending to livestock and chooks (this includes milking the cow), vegetable gardening and more. One of my proudest moments was only the other day when my 13 yr old said 'Mum, guess who my role model in life is? You!' That really made it all SO worth it. :D Keep spreading the word Rhonda as it is being heard. Thanks.

  23. Recent reader and first time commenter here...

    My daughter and son's (years 9 & 11) are at State schools in Brisbane and they both teach Home Ec. It is compulsory for year 8...they learn both basic cooking and sewing skills with the cooking emphasis being on preparing a balanced family meal rather than biscuits or cakes. Both of them learned basic sewing skills and constructed garments like PJ pants, sleep shorts & cushion covers as well as learning to hem and sew on buttons.

    Students then have a choice of subjects in the following year but Home Ec. is offered right through to year 12 at my daughter's school.

    However, I see it as my responsibility to pass on the skills I have as far as home keeping goes. At least one night/week they are responsible for the evening meal, right from choosing what to cook, ensuring they have they ingredients and right through to cleaning up after dinner. I am a firm believer that if you are responsible to clearing up your own cooking mess then you will learn to use dishes with economy.

    They are also responsible for their own laundry and ironing, making sure they have their sports uniforms clean and ready and their cleaning their own bathroom & toilet. I will not be doing either of them any favour by doing it all for them and sending them out into the world quite helpless.

    I am so glad I have found your blog...have earmarked it and am really loving reading over your past posts.

  24. I'm 65 and learned all these things at school. My mother didn't like to teach, but she had excellent skills in cooking, baking, sewing, and handwork. I was able to be a stay at home mother myself, but my daughters did not really learn home ec in school. They learned to cook from me. They read. They network with friends....They have the internet. And they do a wonderful job and love it. One is a stay at home mother though trained as an engineer, the other is a post doc in ecology and she and her husband (who is German and a great cook and baker) manage very well. Everyone (except me) is an engineer of some sort or other, or scientist, and all are very hands on and confident that they can figure out how to do/manage anything they have to. Their Dad was a university professor, but also our carpenter and car mechanic. He grew up in Hungary after WWII and knew a great lack of material goods growing up, but had a wonderful sense of what is important in life.

    Many aspects of our particular lives were rather atypical.

    I think we do need to make life management and skills available to young people, but first we need to persuade/inspire people that the values of a simple life are worthwhile, and then, often with the internet, they can find out what they need to learn. I find videos for all sorts of skills free online. I do think we need to teach our students that these skills are important and where to learn them and how free they will be when they understand how to manage their own lives.

    There is a growing hunger for this knowledge. The people who are less intelligent need perhaps more help in understanding, and perhaps more examples and hands on training.

    Sorry to be so all-over-the-map with these random thoughts!

  25. I totally agree with your post. I live in Japan and have two children. One of the things I find most frustrating about the Japanese system is the huge emphasis on "education". This means academic study and often children won't get home from school until after 8pm and then are expected to do homework or go to a cram school. It is believed that school comes first, family second. My children are still in primary school so we have a litte more time. We also live in the countryside so they don't have the chance to go to the cram schools etc. A lot of people question my ability to give them a "good education" in the countryside. I always come back with the question "What is a good education?". In my view educating people in the skills that you are talking about and interpersonal skills is far more important than cramming their heads with academic knowledge that in reality they are not going to use a lot. What is the point of being able to get 100% on an exam if you are unable to have a conversation with a random person in the street or make your own dinner.
    Japanese people used to always live with many generations under the same roof, but now most couples choose to build a new home for themselves. The basic household skills are not being passed on to the new generation - because of the lack of time in the house as well as the lack of people to teach them.
    Sorry, this is longer than I intended - but I think your post is a really valid one all over the world.
    Please keep up the wonderful blogs - they are great thought for me each day!

  26. Very good post...I am 49 and took home economics from 7th grade to 12th grade,,and I am ashamed at the subjects the schools have drop,,I learned how to sew,cook,crochet,child care,and it has helped me out alot..the private schools are the only ones that I know of that still some of the classes..I totally agree with you..

  27. Thank you for this post, it has given me much to think about, I had home ec in middle school but the only thing I remember making was Orange Julius, which I can't say I have ever had to make again, so while I agree that it is important to teach students how to care for a home, we have to make sure it is the kind of home they will be proud of.

  28. Interesting post, Rhonda.

    A few thoughts on "Where are all the senior mentors gone...". AS Kirsty said some are indeed "working full-time until the age of 65"...and beyond. I would add, some may do so in order to afford their annual overseas holidays, daily lattes at their local cafe, weekly restaurant 'treats',wine, 'entertainment', 4 wheel drive, etc etc...

    I must stress this would not apply to everyone & I know many are struggling with post divorce financial recovery, ill health etc. However, the pressure to achieve and demonstrate a self indulgent retirement lifestyle are very significant (= success!) and peer pressure is not just for teenagers.

    Some may feel there is no longer any need for those skills. Others may be very busy pursuing personal interests, hobbies, volunteer jobs - 'always busy' is considered to be virtuous in our society.

    Many never had these skills to pass on in the first place. Those who do and want to pass skills on find their target audience is neither available, nor interested.

    This leaves our education system to 'pick up the pieces'. Unfortunately the 'pieces' many schools are picking up these days are not exactly in the domain of home making skills, but more in the areas of dysfunctional behaviour, abuse, alcoholism etc.

    Is this just too bleak? I had no idea this is where I would end up when I started this comment!!

    OK,here is a positive. I am currently considering taking my 'home' skills to work and offering a few workshops/ discussion sessions...will let you know how this goes. Any advice welcomed.

  29. Oh Rhonda, I so agree with this post. While I realize that people may need help at times, I feel strongly that the US food stamp program is in trouble. I feed my family on far less than what would be given to me for my family size.

    If someone is receiving a certain amount.....and ever do work again, they will not want to lower their food budget. Some even complain that they are not receiving enough.

    We need programs that are teaching people how to use the resources given to them; how to cook real foods; how to shop sales; how to stockpile....and then start weaning them from the program all together.

  30. I couldn't agree more that home ec skills are invaluable. Growing up, my parents modeled "do-it-yourself": My mother cooked most of our meals, my dad helped me on all sorts of projects (even sewing - he had more patience for reading the directions than my mom! - Go Dad!), and when my parents bought the home they live in now, they did most of the work themselves. We all pitched in on cleaning. As a 24-year-old woman preparing for marriage (10 months away!), these values are coming back to me. It's amazing how so many people my age and beyond don't know how to cook, clean, etc. I have a coworker who has never made cookies from scratch! That just makes me sad - cookies from scratch just plain taste better!!

  31. I think it's very much the old analogy - give someone a fish and you feed them for a day, teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.

    I was very lucky to grow up in a household where I was taught growing, cooking, basic sewing and budgeting at a young age. I then went into the Early Education field - there is so much to know about how children grow and develop, I would have been lost if it where not for what I learnt through that and I really don't know how other parents who havn't so much as held a baby before their own and have noone to help them, cope.

    But one other thing that I think this throw-away society needs some big education on though, is how to make relationships and family work. Not happy with your spouse? Fed up with the grind of family life? Throw it away and start again elsewhere! Who cares?

    It's so sad to see the breakdown of relationships and families just because some don't realise that these things take work or because they don't have strategies to help them through when things get a little tough. It's easier to bail out. And with broken relationships and broken families comes a broken society. Simple living goes hand in hand with strong marital relationships and strong family values.

    A brilliant post and very well said, Rhonda. When will you be running for Prime Minister? I'd vote for you.

  32. I am going to try to pass these life skills on to my daughter as I bring her up.

    When I was working full time ( before I decided to change my life), I would not have had the time to pass these skills on.

    I also now have time to "upskill" myself in skills I didn't have before, like growing my own veggies, baking bread, making my own laundry powder and so on.

  33. I agree whole heartedly with you! My hubby and I are raising three teenaged daughters. I hope we are giving them the skills and awareness to live a rewarding and happy life. Because, that is what is important. To find rewards in simple things and be happy.
    My girls take turns to cook meals and they do basic chores like putting out washing on the line, dig up some weeds while they are out there, wash up, sweep and fold washing. Simple things, but essential to the smooth running of our household.

  34. This is why I started my blog Seasonality, about common sense and living the good life. I felt that I had knowledge that could help young people heading out on their own to get started off on the right foot. Funny thing though, is how many of my readers ended up being in their 40's and 50's. I guess this failure to pass along knowledge has been going on longer than we realized!

  35. Hello Rhonda

    My 16 year old daughter is currently in Yr 11 and two of her subjects are Child Studies and Hospitality.

    Child Studies has involved planning and preparing appropriate meals for babies and toddlers which are both nutritious and appealing to the age group, basic first-aid, designing and producing a 'quiet-time' book made of fabric with activities in it. They are currently doing a section on child birth. Next year they will be making clothing for toddlers.

    Hospitality involves menu planning including appropriate nutrition and various dietary needs. Eg. They had to plan a picnic lunch for a lactose intolerant pregnant woman and menus for a coeliac and diabetic.

    My daughter is hoping to pursue a career in nursing and midwifery. She is thoroughly enjoying these subjects and I am quite amazed at her talent (and competence) in the kitchen and with a sewing machine. She can whip up a mean pavlova/cake/pudding/pasty/crumbed chicken etc and has made her own pyjama pants other projects. I know she'll never starve!

    Cheers - Joolz

  36. I whole heartedly agree with your post. I am 50 - well nearly, and when I thought about what you said I realised that my mum did not teach me cooking or budgeting or sewing, but my gran did teach me baking and sewing. The rest I have learnt along the way. We now live in France and there are no home economics subjects at all, unless you chosse to do something like that for your BAC. I have 2 boys and have tried to teach them the basics of cooking and a bit about money, but nothing structured which I should have done. I am confident that they can look after themselves when they need to. My eldest has gone to university this year and I filled his storecupboard with pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes, tuna etc and told him how to make a pasta sauce rather than buying one already made and I will be there to help him if he needs anything.

  37. This is such an interesting post Rhonda. It is also very very true. I work with young children. Many parents work enormous hours and they are left in care. Many get picked up at about 5:30pm or 6 and get take away on the way home. It brekas my heart and I refuse to bring my children up like this. They see me and help me plan our meals for our grocery shop and I explain the need to do this to save money, time and reduce food waste. The amount of people I know that are my age [29] spray things like Glen 20 and are obsessed with bleach, domestos, and all of those other cleaners. They are amazed when I tell them I only use vinegar and bicarb and eucaluptus oil. I explain to my kids who are 8 and 5 that we use this to avoid chemicals.
    I don't know everything and am constantly learning how to do new tasks [such as baking bread, sewing etc] but luckily I can afford to work 3 days per week to be home more with my kids and teach them these life skills.
    My Mum was only mentioning to me the other day she would love to start a business that teaches lifeskills like sewing, baking, knitting, cooking from scratch, etc etc. I don't know how it would go though as so many people are willing to choose the easy way instead of learning these skills.
    At my daughters school they just taught the yrs 3,4,5 how to knit. These lovely old ladies came and taught the children but once again it only happened a few times though and not enough. I think home economics was probably replaced by computer studies. Either way I think the govt need to step up and encourage schools to once again teach these important life skills that children do't always get at home.

  38. An interesting post. My father and I were speaking recently about a very similar issue. We decided that all children, in say year 8, should study a compulsory life skills unit which would teach them inter alia basic cooking skills, mending, basic carpentry, how to wash and iron, how to change a light bulb and a fuse. At 26 i learnt none of this at school and am learning on the job now.

  39. Great post and so true! Another here who was taught 'Domestic Science' at school - we learnt how to cook of course, but also basic care for infants, invalids and the elderly including adapting diets, to work within a budget for our recipes, to make beds (the sick room was used for this)and clean, we learnt how to knit, sew and the rules of hygiene.

    We have whole generations now who cannot take care of their own basic needs; on the MoneySavingExpert forum we often have young people asking advice because neither mother or school has taught them, the great thing is that they're eager to learn :)

  40. Sorry I forgot to say that what erins said is so true also, how many these days are taught basic woodworking or metalworking, basics of plumbing, electricity etc. to give them some home maintenance skills as they used to be in my school. In my day though it was strictly domestic science for the girls, and metalwork, woodwork etc for the boys, how much better for girls and boys to do both! I'd have loved to hve done woodwork! :)

  41. Andrea M should read The Two Income Trap by Elizabeth Warren. It is not true that "most" americans work to buy boats, cleaning services, big house etc. This is a sterotype and very misleading.

  42. Wonderful post. I agree completely that many people are starting adult life completely unprepared and with little support on how to manage. With each successive generation it just gets worse. My mother taught me basic sewing and cooking at home, and my grandmother taught me how to sew my own garments, so by the time I got to home ec in 7th grade I was well above the level that the class offered. And even then, a short class in measurements and very very basic cooking and running a square pillowcase through a machine is not useful to a person of that age unless they back it up with good continual practice. When I was younger I sometimes (ok, often) got annoyed with my mom for making me cook meals and clean the house (not every day, but it sure felt like it!), but I know I'm much better off for it because unlike a lot of my friends I knew how to thrive and not only survive. If only my dad had managed to teach me about money...

  43. Great Post... I so agree with you and I'm very thankful I get to be a SAHM to my kids. Just last night my Dd16 wanted to make herself pancakes for dinner (she didnt like what I fixed)so she went looking in the pantry and said "we dont have any box pancake"? I said "No". Then handed her the recipe I used to make our pancakes and told her to just follow that if shes wanted some. Then I smiled and thought to myself... I'm teaching my daughter she doesnt need a box of pancakes to eat, she can make her own!. By the time shes fixed her dinner we all wanted it, her pancakes smelled so good... Thats what we are having for dinner tonight. Also when our kids complain about their chores I just tell them I'm preparing you for when you move out :)

  44. PS... I wish I would have had someone to pass down what they knew when I was growing up. Everything that I know how to do I have taught myself... when I got married at 18 I didnt know anything, dont want my kids to be like that.

  45. This is quite a sad fact in many schools and families.
    When I left home, I didn't know how to do anything except clean, and with a specific commercial cleaner for every different job. DH says the first year we were married, we were poor (though I never realized it). I HAD to learn a different style of living, and that is when I found your blog. I'm a very different person than I was a two years ago- I know so much more, and I am still learning.
    My problem isn't so much that I wasn't taught, but that many older women and women my age are not even open to this sort of discussion. When I want to help or pass on something frugal or fun that I've learned, they look at me as if I am ignorant whenever I bring these things up at all. They downplay it, and chalk me up to be a sort of "dumb" little housewife who stays at home because she actually can't get a "real" job, and so she must depend on a man to give her everything. It's discouraging, and very hurtful. They don't see any point or value in cooking from scratch, baking bread, sewing, knitting, reusing, etc. Gardening- maybe. Making my own cleaners really drew some looks. Many women, and now men as well, see my job as a must for me, that I do it because I'm not smart enough to do anything else, and so I'm treated as such. They don't see that being a home maker is challenging, exciting, struggling, and a new experience every day.
    How do you teach someone that this is a beautiful life, when they already believe you are ignorant, and they see this as degrading? How do you avoid being patronized and sometimes scorned for living this way?
    It gets rather lonely sometimes, because there is no one here who has the same interests at all. It's hard to be close friends with people who want to shop every weekend, spend all their money on the latest trend, keep up with celebrity gossip, etc.
    In short, I'm just wondering how you tell/teach people who simply don't want to know- which is the majority?

  46. I wasn't taught much home ec at school( I am now a young-ish adult). I learnt from my family, but since I became interested in home-making, self sufficiency, frugal living etc I have taught myself So much more through reading books, asking people and trial and error! But I wish I had had someone to really show me true 'life skills' to give me a head start. I am still learning to this day and have so much more to learn, but I really enjoy it, and hope, one day all children will be taught all this valuable skills as I know they once were :)

  47. It's really interesting to me that you chose to write on this today. Over the last year, I've taken a couple of young ladies who are about to go off to college "under my wing" so to speak. I taught them the basics of cooking (how to cut onions and cook them; how to boil pasta - YES REALLY - how to make a decent spaghetti sauce out of fresh or canned tomatoes instead of buying the $4 jar, etc), the basics of cleaning (one girl was shocked that it was as simple as about an hour a day of very easy things), and the basics of managing their money. It made me think of all the young people, boys and girls, who are so unprepared to manage their first home. And most of them are trying to do it while working full time! I just can't imagine. I have been thinking of asking my church to let me corral the women to start teaching the younger generation. Like a mandatory class for our teens before they go to college or something.

  48. You might be interested in seeing this about the history of Home Ec at Cornell University.
    This is the origin of what has become Cornell's College of Human Ecology.

  49. Rhonda, your posts are always wonderful and thought provoking.

    I am 24 and I attended high school in Alberta, Canada. In grade 11 or 12, we had a course called Career and Life Management. This was basically about budgeting with a bit about parenting (we had to carry around teddy bears for a week!) and goal-setting. My high school also had cooking and sewing classes (along with woodworking, small engines, photography, video processing, and enterprise & innovation, where you run your own business under the supervision of a teacher - my business was embroidery, done by computers and special embroidery machines, and I was in the red at the end of the year!). None of these courses were mandatory after grade 10, but we needed to take a certain number of classes to graduate so students often filled the requirements with these. Unfortunately, I did not take cooking or sewing, but I taught myself how to use Mom's sewing machine a few years later and recently purchased a used one at a garage sale that I plan on getting running this weekend. I still don't know how to cook, but I like to bake!


  50. Oh my I am so in agreement with you on this subject. The schools here in the US focus on academics or sports- preparing our children fro life is the last thing on their minds and the children are the ones suffering.
    My husband and I are ministering in one of the poorest towns of Colorado. We have started a food and clothing pantry but I want so much more for these precious folks.
    I hope to teach life skills to young girls, many of them already mothers at 14 or so. I am at a total loss as where to even begin but we don't want to just add to their neediness which becomes a sort of right to so many poor.
    It is a shame to see so many young lives satisfied with poverty meaningless days -

    bee blessed

  51. We were taught knitting, sewing & cooking from the age of 8 to 11 (all girls school in Scotland in the 1970's). We sewed shoe bags for our gym shoes, made our own art overalls and cooked basics like bread, scrambled eggs and cheese and potato pie. "Domestic science" was compulsory, although my mother taught us a lot at home too. As a teenager, I could feed myself, put a new zip in my too-tight jeans and alter clothes that didn't fit. You just need a few basic skills to build on - shame our governments aren't providing the training.

  52. After reading this I checked out the website for my high school (or secondary college).

    It's almost 20 years since I graduated. Back then there was a subject area listed as "Health and Human Relations" which covered PE, Health, Home Economics (cooking) and textiles (sewing). PE (and I think Health) was compulsory the first two years, and one subject of the other two was taught in the first year, and then you could elect to continue with them. After the 2nd year you could choose which subject of the 4 you wanted to do.

    I chose Home Ec, and when I ran out of classes I switched to Textiles. I was in a Year 8 Textiles class in Year 10 and hated it, but preferred it to PE.

    Looking at my school's website there is no mention of Home Ec or Textiles. Their "Technology" section (which would have included woodwork, sheetmetal - both of which I studied - and automotive) has either not been developed yet or is not as important as the other subject areas and will not be developed.

    The lack of mention of any of these subjects saddens me.

    My daughter is 4. She cooks with me regularly, can make her own breakfast and lunch. She knows where food comes from and how to grow it. I can only hope there are plenty of other 4yo's gettin the same oppurtunities.

  53. Hmmm, I was actually taught home economics at school (in the 1980s). What a waste of time that course was. Did they actually teach us anything useful? No! I can recall the lesson where we learned how to put cornflakes in a bowl & add milk to them. I can also remember taking turns stirring the soup in the saucepan. Soup that had come out of giant cans that we learned another valuable lesson from - using a can opener. Sewing - one of my friend's mother sewed professionally. So when we had to bring in fabric to make a top, her mother sent in a length that was large enough for a matching top & skirt, she intended to make the skirt later. Incompetant teacher cut the top out of the centre of the fabric, ruining the rest of the fabric.

    I'm quite relieved to read here that the subject is no longer taught at school. How fantastic that my children won't have to suffer through that waste of time & resources.

    Don't romanticise, not every was better in the good old days! Some things are better off not being taught in schools.

  54. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, because - really - I'm not. But, like all of us, governments have an agenda. In the UK at the moment that agenda is (and has been for a long while, this is not a party political point) to keep all of us as "economically active" as possible. That means buying as much stuff as possible. That means going back to work after you've had a baby as soon as possible; or going to work despite the fact that you may have ill or elderly relatives who need your help. So if you have no confidence in your ability to cook, clean, care for others and raise you children, that's a good thing. That way, you will quickly run from your home back to the work place to earn the money to buy those products, child care services, education for your children, elderly care services, etc. from other people who have been "properly trained" to do it for you. Heaven forfend that you might consider yourself capable of doing any of these things, or that you would be willing to doing them for loved ones without financial remuneration. Where would that leave "the economy"?

  55. Hello Rhonda, my children go to a Rudolf Steiner school (and preschool) in Australia's largest city and they most certainly are taught basic life skills - sewing and finger-knitting, cooking and gardening from the age of 3 at preschool (and watercolour painting and sculpting), progressing through more sewing in kindergarten and some embroidery, on to knitting and weaving in 1st class. I think crochet comes next year. They also learn movement, compassion, more art, music, poetry (since preschool) and group recital, singing, storytelling. I can't tell you how rich their education is - and that of the whole family. This school has a "community education" approach with many workshops for parents on parenting, communication, nutrition etc etc.

    Where are the academic subjects amongst all that art, some ask. It is all beautifully woven in. My 7 year old is truly intrigued with his learning at school. He's really enjoying maths and learning to read and write, and Spanish. I can truly say he's loving his learning and is being nurtured in a most humanistic way every moment that he is there.

    I'm enjoying your blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  56. Toria, I'm not romanticising, I'm focused on a better model than you know about. Have a look at Lea's comment below yours. That is the model I'm talking about and it needs to be standardised in the curriculum, not taught from the experience of teachers clearly not interested in their subject.

    Puffin Hen, I'm aware of the agenda. It's not just in the UK, it's the agenda of most first world countries. Remember when the recession first hit and we were told to keep spending for the economy. Yeah, sure. We need to be aware of what the expectations of us are, but then follow our own paths. There are enough spenders out there to keep the economy ticking over for the time being. Sooner or later our governments will have to realise there is an end point to growth. Never ending growth is not sustainable, nor possible.

  57. I so agree with you Rhonda. I just blogged on this very subject a few weeks ago.After all we spend the bulk of our lives building our homes, and raising our children, and why not do it with pride, joy and knowledge. In this materialistic world, there is too much emphasis on Acedemics, and not enough on the skills of successful and happy living.I saw this gap in life skills education, and was the reason I wrote my course " A look at life" and ran it in schools for teenagers. Not all of it rubbed off on my own children,who sometimes laugh at my thrifting, but I see more emerging as time goes on. They have to find their own way in this modern world, but if the foundation is there, it will emerge. Both opted out of the fast lane, because although they earned a lot of money, they felt they were missing out on too much.If these skills were considered to be most important, we'd have better parenting,respect for the wisdom of elders, much happier,healthier children,a huge reduction in crime, and a young generation who feel they are active productive participents in life. I love this subject.

  58. I have a friend who is a family consumer science high school (home economics)teacher. She does a good job, but the first time she needed to teach hand sewing skills she came to me to teach her first. She knew I had been taking hand quilting classes from a 92 year old woman and could help her out.
    The point is, the teachers need teaching as well.

  59. I am 47 and living in Canada. I took Home Economics, in grade 7 and 8, alternating with Wood Shop. It was compulsory. After that it is offered as an elective only through high school. My children (now teens) have the same agenda, only now they are now calling it Family Studies.
    I have always been interested in this subject but I know many of my peers, even those who elected to stay at home with their children, snickered at the implication of cooking and sewing, etc. for their families.

  60. I had home economics at school (in Queensland), but sadly, it was seen as a bit of a "dossy" subject. And there was only sewing and cooking. I did enjoy it though.

    I agree with the parents teaching the children thing. My mother always refused to teach me how to cook, I left home for uni (away) at 18 not knowing any of these things. However, unlike my peers, I gave it a go anyway and cooked from scratch (earning myself the nickname Delia - after Delia Smith, a popular British tv cook). I don't see what it should have been so unusual to cook.

    Oh, and I bought my three year old a tiny broom, mop and dustpan and brush. She "helps" me with the housework, cooking, baking and gardening. I plan on teaching her how to sew and knit when she's old enough. I wish my mother had wanted to spend the time to teach me these things.

  61. Girls were required to take home ec back in the 1970s in a small town in rural New York state, USA. Even as a young teenager, I was dismayed to realize that the "cooking" unit had nothing to do with actual cooking and a lot to do with using mixes. My mom worked full-time and was taking care of elderly relatives, so I'd been helping her in the kitchen for years.

    I also fought to take wood shop, since I figured it would be useful. Mostly it was a nightmare since I was the first girl to fight my way into the class and I got a lot of flak, but at least I came out knowing what end of a hammer to hold, which is more than I was clear on going in.

  62. So true - and so sad when the elephant in the room has completed 12 years of schooling and is functionally uneducated!

    Living on a remote farm and homeschooling, we strive to give our children every opportunity to become skilled and capable at home and on the field.

    I believe that we need to stop worrying about children's 'self-esteem issues' and let them be a useful and necessary member of the family. This will cure any one's low self-image.

  63. Sadly, schools near us [southern ohio] often do an "experiment" with a robotic baby so that kids can learn what a mess their lives can become if they become teenage mothers--ignoring the high rate of teen mother that is still there in spite of years of the experiment. Instead of teaching skills like this, that would help them cope and fight to stay independent, they instead make sure they know how to sign up for welfare and where to get birth control for "next time." Sad--although I can't say my 7th/8th grade cooking was very useful--canned soup casseroles topped with canned biscuits, anyone?? lol. But, we COOULD cook a meal, COULD sew a wearable garmet, COULD plan meals for a week and did learn to balance a check book!

    In my house I taught my kids what I know about cleaning with a checklist for each room. We use homemade laundry soap, vinegar and homemade "green" soft cleanser. We've learned together to garden although I grew up with a garden [Dad's domain] and I certainly know how to can! My daughter saw a tip in a magazine at the doctor's a age 8 and has never bought "detangler" again--she makes her own! We are starting to compost and do other things too. My goal, with scanty retirement savings due to ill-spent years--is to become less and less dependant on money--grow our own, etc. Your blog is a BIG inspiration!

  64. Alot of homeschoolers teach or place a focus on learning the lifeskills you write about Rhonda. This is one of my prorities for me as a mother. I want my children to have these skills; and for the skills to be so well learnt that keeping a home will be habit. I believe it is so much easier to learn habits as a child than an adult - not saying it can't be done, just not as easy as an adult.
    Onto talking about communicating about what we do. When my children were younger I was using modern cloth nappies (velcro fastenings, polar fleece to keep bottoms drier etc) and telling the wife of my husbands friend has made a HUGE impact on their life! She only told me last week that I started it with telling her about the nappies. Now she reads your blog, has lots of chooks, vege gardens, fruit trees, makes soap and the list goes on and on! She is SO EXCITED about trying new things; and is SO loving the life they have now. Sometimes it doesn't take much to start the ball rolling.
    PS I think it's great that alot of schools have chooks and vege gardens.

  65. I really love this blog.
    I agree with a comment about women not handing down info...due to work. Or its like my family not interested. Than whinge when the younger generation stuff up.
    I am 24 and have chosen to live more simple, and what helped I believe is having very little to do with others. People my age waste there money on alchol or drugs than moan cause people like me have a home. My partner and I busted our behinds to get were we are, yet if encouraging others their not interested.
    And unfortunatly schools are having to do too much for kids because many parents dont care, havent got the time, or just aint interested.
    I love reading these blogs because it shows there are still many people round the world wanting to make a difference. No matter how small.

  66. Both my children have completed their high schooling years within the last 5-10 years in the local public system and they both took home economics. I was appalled by what the course taught. A big fat nothing. Compared to what I learned in the late 70s to early 80s. Whatever my children know about sewing/cooking and other life skills etc has come from my knowledge and my husbands. One particular occasion a friends child was told to take home the zipper for her mother to show her how to insert it into a skirt! It seems to be a lost art and not important enough to teach. It is a crying shame. I believe plenty of children would be interested if they had the right teachers and curriculum. But then the young teachers that are coming through the system are also from this era so how do they teach something they do not know themselves. It is a real problem. At least I know my kids will be okay.

  67. I agree too. I have several friends who hadn't ever held a baby until they birthed their own...

    Your question
    "Do you know of schools that still teach life skills"

    We are at a Steiner school and that is just one of it's many positives. My eldest already out-knits me, having (at age 10) knit herself a pair of matching striped socks and each of the children have made/knitted/sewn several toys, pot holders, cloths, beanies etc. All the children learn to cook, make and sand their own knitting needles, knit, crochet, do woodwork, and many types of craft, help each other, have the chance to wash clean and dye their own wool from scratch, use non-chemical cleaners, recycle, grow veges, worm farms, care for animals and respect and learn from the environment... and that's just a glimpse of what they learn in the 'life skills' department at school - without even beginning to cover the massive learning they do on an academic, personal, self esteem, musical, art etc level.

    So yes (THANKFULLY!) it does still exist in our Steiner School and we do still teach it at home.

    I have family who still live out on a station and up north who completely understand the three Rs and lived by it before it was even trendy. Thankfully in our family we do have these 'life skills' that are being passed on. I am very thankful for that.

    Through our friends and school community we have an amazing array of skills and people willing to take the time to teach those skills to the newer generation coming. It's something very positive and will mean our school-leaves will come out of their final years of school educated - wholly and be ready to begin the next part of their lives.

  68. I took a home economics class in highschool and we didn't learn anything! She just taught us how to turn on an oven and cook premade cookie dough. Oh and boil an egg. It was rather sad really.

  69. Greetings from the U.S. I was raised by an incredible woman who not only worked full time outside the home, but took care of all of the household details and still manage to train my sister and I to cook, clean, sew and create a more beautiful world on next to nothing. I was also able to attend culinary school for a time. My husband and I are the surrogate parents of a group of ever rotating campus students. A few years ago, I discovered that very few of them could cook. That had to change. They didn't even know how to chop an onion. So I started cooking classes. We have a great time and learn how to responsibly feed ourselves and each other. I've even had non campus people express an interest in learning some of what my mother taught me. Oh, by the way, I took home economics in school as well - I already knew what they were teaching. It was a good thing, because I remember well what my mother taught me, but I remember nothing from home economics class.


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