Things every kid should learn

Now that friends of mine are having kids, I thought it would be worthwhile to pass on my wisdom. A draft was brewing in my head this weekend. I call this list Things every kid should learn, and it's arranged in no particular order:

  1. How to type. It's the computer age, and typing is key to being productive. I have a soft spot for artistic penmanship, but I can't in good conscience recommend that anyone worry about perfecting their handwriting. But let your kid lead life as a hunt-and-pecker and you're dooming them to thousands of hours of wasted life. I remember when my mom first sat me down with her old typing drill book and started me typing ASDFJKL; over and over and over. If I had a child today I'd start them on those drills much earlier. They even make videogames on the computer to teach typing so your kids can have fun while they're learning.

  2. How to ride a bike. I'm partial to cycling, but more than my affinity for the sport, cycling was a great way for me to explore the city I grew up in before I had a driver's license. I rode everywhere--to school, to baseball practice, to tennis courts, to the local 7-Eleven. Cycling was freedom. When your kids grow up, they'll be able to preserve their knees while staying in shape.

  3. How to swim. 2/3 the world is covered by water. Like cycling, a joint-preservation form of exercise. Alsi, like cycling, a skill whose absence will subject your kids to much ridicule.

  4. A foreign language. Or two. Or three. They say that languages are easier to learn while you're young, and I believe it. When I was young, I could never fall asleep so I'd lie in bed listening to my mother speak to my grandmother in Cantonese. They spoke to me in Mandarin, but somehow through simply listening I learned to understand Cantonese. I can't really speak it, but I understand it when it's used to refer to concepts I was familiar with as a child. Your kids won't understand why a language is of value until that first summer vacation to Europe, when they meet some fair young European of the opposite sex and realize they know how to say, "You are the most beautiful thing I've ever laid eyes on."

  5. A computer language/how to program. The new foreign language requirement. If French or Spanish will lend your child an air of sophistication, then C# or Java will increase their employability and lifetime earnings potential. Someday, I'm not sure when, more kids in the world will know a computer language than, say, German. We may already have passed that point, I'm not sure if stats are available. You have to at least hedge against the possibility that geeks will inherit the earth. And, while we're on the topic of languages...

  6. How to read music. And the easiest way to learn to read music is to learn...

  7. How to play an instrument. Force your child to take music lessons when they're young. Piano is a pretty good place to start. Keep them at it for a few years, enough to bridge to their school days when they can play with other students, and then hope they can stay interested. Even if they don't, reading music is a skill that never really leaves you, and so is the resulting increase in one's appreciation of music. They may resent the lessons for years, but someday, perhaps long after they've left your nest, they'll understand and look back in appreciation.

  8. Math. Okay, that's the last language on this list, but it's a universal one. No reason to let public schools determine the pace at which your kids learn math, either. My dad schooled me in basic algebra long before they covered it in school, and it made life so much easier further down the road.

  9. How to dance. Best to learn while your kids are shameless. Once they learn the meaning of embarrassment in front of their peers, it's tough to regain one's confidence. Seeing someone dance well without any concern for what spectators are thinking is an amazing thing.

  10. One good toast. One day your child will have occasion to lead a group in a toast, and a classy one will leave the room silent and nodding in appreciation at his/her eloquence and ability to command the moment. I'm tempted to replace this with "How to speak in public."

  11. How to mix one cocktail. Kool-Aid doesn't count, though the basic process is similar.

  12. How to prepare one impressive dish.

  13. One team sport. One's true nature is revealed inside the lines, and a team sport is a great forum for learning teamwork, leadership, performance under pressure, accountability, and a whole host of other valuable life lessons.

  14. How to disagree respectfully. Independence of mind is a wonderful thing. Of course, sometimes they'll disagree with you, and sometime you'll have to explain why they're wrong.

  15. How to criticize another, and how to accept criticism.

  16. Honesty. Parents need to lead by example here or your kids will also learn about hypocrisy. The thing is, the first time your kid owns up to some misbehavior, you'll be tempted to let them off easy to reward their honesty. That just teaches them to be honest when it suits them, robbing them of their integrity. And someday they'll realize it and resent you.

  17. Modesty and confidence. I'm not sure why modesty is important, but it's easier to move from modesty to confidence than in reverse. No one likes a snot.

  18. How to deliver the punchline. Anyone can learn a few jokes. Only a few can deliver them.

  19. The words to one good poem. Why is this essential? It isn't. But this is my list.

Jot down any list like this and inevitably one feels like some things are missing. Any obvious misses? Some addendums may bubble to mind in the coming days.
But it's a good start. I wish I had mastered this list when I was a kid.