Do you remember the exact moment that you learned your work ethic? How about the day that you mastered financial literacy? Was it August 6, 1984? Probably not. There likely isn’t a specific time that most of us can point to where we learned about these important life lessons.

We may be able to recall when we started to learn about these things, however. Like the summer that Dad started giving me $2 to mow the lawn; or the first time Mom brought me to our credit union to deposit a check that Grandma Rose sent in the mail with my birthday card. These memorable events played an important role in developing my understanding of these big concepts.   A way of applied learning that led to knowing that if I wanted something that cost $10, I would have to mow the lawn 5 times in order to get it.

These types of experiences that teach a bigger concept are what are commonly referred to as “teachable moments.” Opportunities for experiential, or applied learning come about all the time. Moms and dads in neighborhoods and backyards across the world can have the opportunity to morph a seemingly simple task and turn it into a fun and easy way to teach a life lesson.

The life of a kid today is pretty busy – just think of the array of things that your kids are learning throughout the course of one year! Academic subjects like Math, Science, Reading and hobbies such as art, sports and music are only some of the areas covered through schooling and extra curricular activities. While each of these areas can be studied, practiced, and mastered, how are your kids learning about ‘soft-skills’ like social graces or communication?

So how can we identify when there is an opportunity for a teachable moment?

The trick is to find some part of your regular family activities that you have done together with your kids and then turn over the reigns for one of your kids to handle. For instance, the next time the family goes out to eat at a restaurant, assign them with the task of organizing everything for this outing. Tell them they’ll be responsible for preparing directions to the destination, speaking with the restaurant host for a table, ordering on their own, calculating the the bill and leaving the tip. Put them in charge of these tasks, but assure them that you’ll explain to them how you do it if they need help. It’s a great opportunity to talk about practical ways to not overspend: how much drinks add up or the price of dessert.

You can add or subtract pieces of this activity as needed for the age of the child. The point is that this is a real opportunity to see your child in real life situations, where you can evaluate skill sets such as social graces, communication, responding to unpredictable events or requests from others, etc. Beware that like mowing the lawn was just a start to understanding work ethic, your kids may not immediately “get it.” There may be a bigger learning curve to some activities, but as long as you are there providing encouragement, and can leave a little room for error now and then these types of experiences can add up to an increased level of confidence and a life-ready kid.

Are you interested in creating real life teachable moments for your kids? Here are some suggestions to get you started:


  • Give them a budget to spend on groceries
  • Have them pick a meal to make. Maybe it’s a family favorite, maybe they want to try something new!
  • Count how many people they will be feeding and have them create a grocery list.
  • Bring them to the grocery store with you and have them navigate where to find the products around the store. They are in charge of paying at the counter and going through the motions of checking out.
  • Additional option here is to have them help you cook in the kitchen, prepare the meal, set the table, etc.


  • Provide them with the addresses of your destination so they can research and prepare the proper maps and directions.
  • Ask them to point out the right signs to follow.
  • There are many tools online or on smart phones and tablets that can assist with directions and navigation. If they are not familiar with these tools, this is a great opportunity to sit down with them and learn!


  • Provide them with the destination address
  • Have them pull directions prior to departure.
  • Set a budget. If they are old enough, have them handle the cash and keep track of how much your family spends as they day goes on. Setting a limit for the cost of the event will help them plan what sorts of goodies they will be allowed to have.

Summer is a great time for projects like this before school starts again. Whether you try one of the examples above, or have done something similar with your kids in the past, we would love to hear your stories! What types of obstacles did your kids run into and what lessons were gained from this experience?

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