We’re Running a Common Sense Camp for Our Teens

Why we’re focusing on life skills this summer

One of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons features a boy pushing mightily against a door marked PULL at his “School for the Gifted.” This image took on new meaning when I became a parent, as our kids seemed to be, let’s say, heavy on the book smarts.

Common sense t-shirts (via Oona Hanson)

As a former English teacher, I reveled in having precocious readers. Like sitcom bookworms, however, they can be befuddled by the practicalities of daily life, the very things that help young people thrive in the real world, as beautifully argued by Julie Lythcott-Haims in How To Raise an Adult.

We often joked that our kids needed Common Sense Camp

Observing our kids struggling with ordinary tasks, my husband and I have often joked they would benefit from “Common Sense Camp.” So with normal summer options off the table this year, we decided it was time to launch our own Common Sense Camp, made possible by the privilege of having flexible schedules and the ability to work from home.

We developed a life skills camp based on How to be a Person.

With our goals and values in mind — and using Catherine Newman’s latest book, How To Be a Person, as a reference — we developed an eight-week life skills curriculum.

In addition to requiring daily self-care (sleep, physical activity, hygiene, regular meals/snacks) and making space for downtime and fun, we are dedicating each week to a major topic, ranging from quotidian household chores to inner work with community impact.

We will explore the material through a mixture of direct instruction, independent research, and hands-on practice; to reinforce concepts and keep the conversations going, we are gathering a list of on-theme movies for family viewing.

husband and wife
My husband and I are teaching our teens a commons sense curriculum.

Common Sense Camp: Weekly curriculum

Week One: Anti-Racism

Building on recent conversations and leaning heavily on the now-viral list of resources for white families, we will include lessons on a range of topics, such as microaggressions, events from Black History, and practical steps for becoming better allies and activists.

Week Two: Kitchen Confidence

We’ll go over the fundamentals, like reading a recipe, knife skills, and clean-up, and the week will culminate in a dinner-for-four prepared without any adult assistance.

Week Three: DIY

We’ll cover how to use common tools, change a lightbulb, and make small home repairs. To supplement our in-person lessons, we’ll draw on the charming Dad, How Do I? YouTube channel. The final project options: hanging a picture, assembling a piece of Ikea furniture, or painting a wall.

Week Four: Laundry and Cleaning

Because our kids already have some experience, we’re focusing on deep cleaning and raising the standards for daily upkeep, such as taking timely responsibility for their dishes, trash, and the other flotsam and jetsam of adolescent life. They will demonstrate laundry proficiency — from noticing the pile of dirty items (so often right next to the hamper…why?!?) to ensuring clothes that are clean, folded, and put away.

Week Five: Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Living in earthquake and fire country, we are due for a refresher on disaster preparedness and response. In addition, the kids will take online courses in CPR and First Aid, and our teen driver will review roadside safety.

Week Six: Personal Finance

We’ll address the practical things, from the logistics of old-school paper checks to using a banking app. And now that our kids have debit cards, they are ready to dive more deeply into budgeting, saving, investing, and donating — for which Ron Lieber’s The Opposite of Spoiled will be our trusted guide.

Week Seven: City Savvy

While it’s unlikely we’ll be able to venture too far from home, we are eager to equip our kids for future adventures. We’ll review how to get oriented (north/south/east/west), read a physical map, and navigate public transportation. Each child will research and plan a day of activities somewhere new, and we’ll look forward to putting the itineraries into action.

Week Eight: Social Skills

It will be a while before we’re socializing in person — and handshakes might be, sad to say, a thing of the past — but as the summer winds down, we will review basic manners and communication skills. Being a good friend and community member is one of our family’s deepest values. So whether our kids are at a party (someday), walking in the neighborhood, or on a group chat, they will have a deeper understanding of privacy, etiquette, and kindness. And because we want to go beyond just “being polite,” we will practice having difficult conversations, such as apologizing, offering condolences, or responding to an offensive joke.

It may not be regular summer camp but it’ll be close

Incorporating the Camp Spirit

We could never replace the sense of freedom and belonging of an actual sleepaway camp experience, but we’re making an effort to include some tangible aspects, such as camp t-shirts and s’mores. We will carve out space for activities like LARPing, tie-dying, and making lanyards or friendship bracelets.

We’re reserving plenty of room in the daily schedule for rest, play, boredom, creativity, and — yes, because we’re realistic — screen time.

Our Larger Purpose

The specific life skills are important, and our overall goal is even more significant: to develop conscientiousness, confidence, and empathy. So we came up with a Common Sense Camp motto: Be Observant. Be Useful. Be Kind.

Having compassion and a can-do attitude will benefit our children throughout their lives, allowing them to effect positive change in a world that needs it more than ever.

Originally published June 11, 2020 on Medium

More to Read:

100 Things to Teach Your Teen While You’re Stuck at Home

Family Book Club: How We are Talking about Race and Racism

In education for over twenty years, Oona Hanson now works as a parent coach, supporting parents of teens and tweens. Passionate about helping kids develop a healthy relationship with food and their bodies, she runs the Facebook page “Parenting Without Diet Culture” and gives parent education workshops on body image resilience and eating disorder prevention. She has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology and a Master’s degree in English. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children–including a teen daughter. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: “Oona Hanson–Parent Coaching.”

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