July 20, 2015

7 Essential Life Skills Activities for Teenagers

7 Essential Life Skills Activities for Teenagers

Students often graduate high school without knowing even basic life skills like managing their time, sewing a button, or cooking dinner. Schooling For Life is an educational enrichment program that helps students bridge this gap.

SFL provides students, ages 11 – 17, with skills that will allow them to become effective adults. In addition to weekly workshops, SFL holds weekend seminars and week-long classes. SFL’s students have not only studied skills that will be useful when they live on their own—such as cooking and sewing– but have been taught skills that will set them apart in the professional world as well, such as negotiation and public speaking.  By participating in life skills activities geared for teenagers, SFL students are well prepared for life.

1. Culinary Basics

Last summer, the SFL students attended a two-week cooking seminar at the Academy of Culinary Education in Woodland Hills.

The students spent about six hours every day for two weeks under the instruction of Chef Cecelia de Castro (who worked with Wolfgang Puck) and learned skills that most students never learn.

For example, the students were taught how to prepare three different types of omelettes, how to debone a chicken, and how to prepare the five basic types of soup, among other things.

7 Essential Life Skills Activities for Teenagers - Cooking

They also learned about preparing desserts. Each student baked a pear tart, made a souffle, and blow-torched a crème brulee.

All the students have found their new cooking skills useful. Many of the students have continued cooking at home. Last Mother’s Day, some of the students surprised their mother with a home-made dinner.

2. Public Speaking/Dale Carnegie Training

Most people feel uncomfortable speaking in front of groups of any size. This was certainly true of almost all the SFL students until they attended an eight-week Dale Carnegie workshop earlier this year.

The workshop was taught by Seth Sherwood and Brian Barry who are both certified Dale Carnegie instructors.

Every student—even the shy ones—stood in front of the group and spoke about experiences that were important in their lives.

7 Essential Life Skills Activities for Teenagers - Public Speaking

On the first day of the workshop, many of the kids spoke softly and seemed unsure of themselves. But by the last day of the workshop, every student was able to speak with clarity, confidence, and conviction.

Many of the SFL students said that the Dale Carnegie classes were their favorite classes this semester, because not only did they learn to express themselves clearly and confidently, they also gained insight into their classmates’ characters.

3. Rhetoric Seminar

If you’re not excited to learn grammar and rhetoric, that’s because you’ve never met Professor Michael Drout.

In March 2014, Michael D.C. Drout, Professor of English at Wheaton College, taught a weekend seminar which covered the basics of grammar and rhetoric.

Professor Drout is an engaging, entertaining lecturer, and quickly had the kids fascinated by logical fallacies and rhetorical tropes.

7 Essential Life Skills Activities for Teenagers - Grammar

After the seminar, one student said that Professor Drout had taught her more about rhetoric in one weekend than her teacher had in two weeks. Another student was able to score a 5 on the AP English Language and Composition test after taking Professor Drout’s class. (The last sentence has a logical fallacy. Can you identify it?)

4. Instant Influence Seminar

In November of 2014, SFL hosted a weekend seminar taught by Michael Pantalon, an addiction and motivation expert at the Yale School of Medicine.

Dr. Pantalon taught the students the principles of Instant Influence—a technique he developed to help people influence themselves to make the choices that are best for them. Dr. Pantalon’s technique has successfully been used to help smokers quit smoking, to help teenage drivers stop drinking, and to help drug addicts give up drugs.

7 Essential Life Skills Activities for Teenagers - Instant Influence

Instant Influence is different from other motivation techniques, because it allows people to come up with their own reasons for accomplishing their goals.

During the seminar, the students split into groups and practiced influencing each other to accomplish certain goals. For example, one student was influenced by a friend to begin preparing for the SAT. (After the seminar, she really did start preparing.)

Another student came home from the seminar, and her mom announced that she wanted to see if the influence techniques actually worked. So the student used Instant Influence to encourage her mom to go to bed early—and her mom went to bed before 9:00!

5. Negotiation Seminar

Last February, Seth Freeman, ( Professor of Negotiation and Management Conflict at Columbia University, taught a weekend seminar for SFL. Professor Freeman taught the students some principles of negotiation.

“Focus on interests, not positions,” he told them, “and identify creative options.” In other words, don’t be so attached to your initial position that you forget to figure out what’s really best for you.

7 Essential Life Skills Activities for Teenagers - Negotiation

The students enjoyed the interactive nature of the class. Several times during the day, the students paired up and negotiated with each other. (After all, practicing negotiation is the only way to get good at it!)

The students discovered that by focusing on their partner’s interests as well as their own, they could often reach a deal that satisfied both parties.

6. Sewing

Nowadays, many people rely on buying clothes from the store and never learn how to sew clothes for themselves. In the fall of 2013, the SFL students took a three-week sewing workshop at New Moon Textiles in Pasadena.

SFL provided each student with a sewing machine, and by the end of the workshop, each student had sewn his own cape.

7 Essential Life Skills Activities for Teenagers - Sewing

Some students were inspired to continue sewing. One student made a bigger version of the cape modeled after Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak.

Another student is sewing herself a dress for her bat mitzvah.

7. Time Management and Goal Setting

Many students have poor time management skills. They waste large amounts of time, and most of them only have a vague idea of where their time goes. Because of their poor time management, many of them fail to set and reach attainable goals.

Dr. Roger Silk helped the SFL students fix this problem during his three-week workshop on time management and goal-setting. The students were taught to think about how to set a goal, and how to allocate their time each day to reach that goal.

For example, one twelve-year-old girl suggested that she wanted to memorize the complete works of Shakespeare by the time she went to college. By thinking through her idea with the class, she was able to reach the conclusion that memorizing Shakespeare’s complete works would take her at least 90 minutes every day from then until the time she reached college.

Another exercise the students found helpful was filling out time management sheets. By keeping track of their time as they completed certain activities, the students were able to see how much time they spent on different activities. (One boy was surprised to learn that he’d spent 6 hours playing a video game one Sunday.)


By teaching students these skills, SFL ensures that our students enter college not just ready for more learning, but for better living.