Life skills

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by Kelly Pontsler, Major –

I’ve been convinced for a long time that two of the most important things you can teach a child are how to swim and how to read. I was reminded of the first recently, as I watched two little boys taking lessons in my neighborhood pool. The father was beaming with pride, two swim lanes over!

Last year I taught my toddler nephew, Sam, to drink from a sprinkler. It takes balance and good sense of timing, if you don’t want to get wet (although getting soaked IS part of the fun!) The lesson came with hearty laughter on my part as he squatted down, sucked in huge gulps of air, then stood up to beat on his chest and let out a long “aaaaaaaaah” of satisfaction. He did eventually get some water, and we all let out a big cheer!

My other nephew, Richard, has just started kindergarten but is already at work learning Spanish and sign language. I have no doubt that he will soon be fluent in both and his parents will be pushed to the limit to keep up with this little guy!

Some skills are just lots of fun. Others open up wonderful worlds of adventure and discovery! And all of them can become an element to help a boy or girl learn to maneuver their way through the complexities of life.

I’ve mentioned a few, but there are others: driving a stick shift, ironing a shirt, mowing the lawn, and even ballroom dancing! (No joke!) I’ve just seen Take the Lead which stars Antonio Banderas. The movie is based on the true story of Pierre Dulane, who found himself faced with an opportunity to teach ballroom dancing to a group of New York City high school kids.

The group was made up of classroom offenders who were permanently on after-school “detention.” Hip-hop was their music of choice, and a Viennese waltz was nowhere on their radar. Slowly but surely he won the kids over, but the adults around them were another matter.

Called before a group of parents, Dulane was asked to justify his work. Taking the school principal in his arms to demonstrate, Dulane says this:
“If she allows me to lead, she’s trusting me. And more than that, she’s trusting herself. If your 16-year-old daughter is strong and secure, and trusts herself, how likely is she to let some idiot (get her pregnant)? If your son can learn to touch a girl with respect, how will he treat women throughout his life? I teach dance, and with it a set of rules that will teach your kids about respect, teamwork and dignity. And that will help to give them a vision of the future they could have.”

Important words to reassure the parents of inner city teens! Dulane went on to create an entire classroom curriculum which has spread through the NYC public schools. He teaches more than dance, he teaches lasting life skills. He gives them a sense of direction and a goal, and some of the tools they need to get there.

Perhaps that’s the point of Proverbs 22:6: “Train children how to live right, and when they are old, they will not change”(NCV). Invest yourself in the life of a young person. It will make a difference!

As for me, I can hardly wait for the chance to teach those adorable nephews how to hang a spoon from their nose…and a whole lot more!

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