Parents create ‘Common Sense Camp’ to teach their kids basic life skills

June 26, 2020
Education
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With sleep-away and day camps canceled, Los Angeles-based parenting coach and educator Oona Hanson and her husband Paul found themselves facing a long summer sheltering in place with their daughter, Gwendolyn, 17, and son, Harris, 12.

The Hansons had joked for years that their kids could use “Common Sense Camp” to learn some of life’s more basic but necessary skills. So they decided to make it a DIY reality.

“Summer camp has always been this great opportunity for our kids to realize what they could do without us — and for us to realize what they can do without us,” she told TODAY Parents. “There’s so much self-discovery and self-esteem that happens in that space.”

Using author Catherine Newman’s book “How to Be a Person: 65 Hugely Useful, Super-Important Skills to Learn Before You’ve Grown Up” as sort of camp manual, the family planned eight themed weeks, each one focusing on a different set of life skills. Themes include “Kitchen Confidence,” “Safety and Emergency Preparedness,” “Laundry and Cleaning,” and less physical lessons like “Anti-Racism” and “Social Skills.”

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“How to Be a Person” uses short, step-by-step, illustrated instructions to teach everything from how to sort laundry to how to plunge a toilet or how to make an apology.

“I chose to use this book as a guideline because it’s written and illustrated with charm and joy and infused with humor and empathy,” said Hanson. “It’s not an adult talking down to kids; it’s an adult inviting kids into the world and explaining how you function in daily life.”

Although they can’t recreate everything about camp at home, the Hansons realized they could use a camp-like structure to give their kids a similar sense of independence and competency.

At first, her children were a little wary of the concept, said Hanson. “I think they were afraid it would be just more school.” The family structured Common Sense Camp so there is time for an activity in the morning, then another in the afternoon or evening.

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