After my partner Ben’s recent Covid-19 diagnosis, I issued a rallying cry to the three of our four boys who are stuck at home with us: ‘Right now, life is a ship that we’re sailing in together.’
Ben and I were the captains; they were the crew. ‘This is not a democracy,’ I told them. ‘What everyone on board this boat has to understand is that we all have a role to play in maintaining it.’
I’m sure similar conversations are going on in homes up and down the land, as it slowly dawns on parents, as it did me, that our children are lacking a great many of the everyday life skills, imparted to us in childhood by parents and grandparents, that keep domestic life afloat.
Kirstie said she promised the boys that, once their time stuck at home was over, they could go for cheesy chips in the pub and visit the village shop
Maybe now is a time when we can plug those gaps. Certainly, we have to find ways to stop everyone from going stir-crazy.
At the start of our quarantine, I talked to Hal, 17, Bay, 13, and Oscar, 11, about the things I wanted them to learn: how to iron a shirt, clean the loo, sort a wash.
Yesterday, we emerged from our two weeks of isolation, with Ben recovered, and rejoined a very different world in lockdown.
I had promised the boys that, once their time stuck at home was over, they could go for cheesy chips in the pub and visit the village shop — this wasn’t going to go on for ever.
But, instead, our boat has sailed further out to sea, where there’s no pub, and no shopping for pleasure. The only consolation is that everyone’s in that same boat with us.
And it’s one in which — let’s be brutally honest here — our over-indulged children really must accept they cannot behave as passengers; they have to muck in as crew.
Now, I won’t pretend getting my boys into that mindset has been all plain sailing. It’s often felt more Titanic than QEII. But, little by little, they’ve accepted that, if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it properly. And to be fair, Hal, my beloved stepson, did food tech GCSE and is pretty good at much of this stuff.
This is such a difficult time, and we must search for what positives can come from it. Suddenly, stellar exam results don’t feel like the be-all and end-all. If, as parents and guardians, we can use this enforced time together to teach some lessons that won’t make it on to the curriculum when they eventually return to school, that is surely something we should do.
Here are 25 skills I’ll be passing on to my children, and that you might enjoy teaching yours . . .
1. Identify 20 flowers
On a recent walk, I asked the boys to name 20 flowers. They managed only four.
Learning by photographing, identifying and drawing flowers can become a long-term project.
It’s also a great way to involve older family members, who can help over video calls. If you can’t get out, then find pictures on the internet instead.
The TV presenter said on a recent walk, I asked the boys to name 20 flowers. They managed only four (file image)
2. Dismantle the loo
Let’s not be squeamish — we have bigger germs to worry about right now. Gather round the loo and teach the kids about its workings.
Lift the cistern lid and show them what happens when you flush. Can they work out that it’s the ballcock that stops it overflowing when it refills?
Get them to draw the mechanisms and create step-by-step instructions for giving it a thorough clean.
3. Shrink a jumper
Until you’ve shrunk a top or turned a white wash pink, sorting laundry seems a bit of a faff.
So show, don’t tell. Root out a jumper no one wants and sacrifice it to a hot wash. They’ll discover the damage that friction, soap and heat will cause.
Ask them to measure the jumper before a 60c wash, then again afterwards (you can use the ruined jumper as felt for crafting, too).
Also, show them how to check the drum for stray red socks that will leach colour into the next white load, and how to de-lint the tumble-drier.
Being able to trust them with laundry helps us now — and them when they go to university.
4. Learn countries, capitals and flags
When we were kids, whenever we drove anywhere my dad would test us on capital cities.
It’s the kind of thing that gets lost in the curriculum nowadays, but learning like this is both fun and stimulating.
5. De-scale the kettle
Our grandmothers wouldn’t have dreamt of buying chemicals to clean the kettle — they’d have used a lemon.
Show children the limescale build-up, then ask them to research how it gets there and why an acidic lemon might help to remove it.
Slice a lemon in half, squeeze the juice into your empty kettle, add the two halves and then half-fill with water.
The TV presenter said people should slice a lemon in half, squeeze the juice into your empty kettle, add the two halves and then half-fill with water
Boil and leave overnight. They’ll have learnt a planet-friendly cleaning tip, and had a science lesson.
6. Master the art of sewing buttons
Charity shops and landfill sites are full of clothes chucked out because of a missing button.
My mum’s sewing machine was almost permanently set up in the kitchen when I was younger.
She’d alter clothes and make matching dresses for my dolls and me. Mum taught me how to thread a needle and sew on buttons — if these aren’t in your skill set, learn along with your children on YouTube.
7. Bird watch
The planes might be grounded, but our birds will keep flying.
Watching them out the window, identifying them and learning facts such as their migration patterns will interest children of all ages.
The RSPB website (rspb. org.uk) has great resources and suggestions for how you can help your winged friends while stuck inside
The RSPB website (rspb. org.uk) has great resources and suggestions for how you can help your winged friends while stuck inside — whether you have a garden or a city centre balcony.
8. Vacuum behind the fridge
Up working late, I watched, aghast, as the boldest mouse I’ve ever seen sauntered across the kitchen floor, over to the dog bowl, picked up a piece of kibble and disappeared behind our fridge.
The next day we pulled out the fridge and there was a large stash of dog food.
Pull out any large furniture and encourage children to guess what might be lurking behind them. Hopefully, you’ll just find a pile of dust they can help clean up.
9. Cook up a storm for breakfast
There’s a line in the film Runaway Bride where Richard Gere berates Julia Roberts for not knowing how she likes her eggs cooked. Discover how you — and your children — like yours by making them a different way each morning for a week.
Fried, then poached, scrambled, boiled and as omelettes, followed by French toast and pancakes at the weekend. You can make tally charts — tasty and educational.
10. Work on your Yorkshire Puddings
People often say they feel too intimidated by the idea of making Yorkshire puddings from scratch, so instead play it safe and buy ready-made versions.
I thought the same until Michelinstarred chef James Mackenzie taught me how for a Christmas show.
Kirstie said people often say they feel too intimidated by the idea of making Yorkshire puddings from scratch
It was a revelation. Before this pandemic is over, I’m determined to have my boys fluent in the art of Yorkshire pudding making.
Here’s James’s recipe, which I’ll use: facepublications.com/ news/perfect-yorkshire-puddings.
11. Do Granny and Grandpa’s timeline
My grandparents are long gone, so it’s too late to ask about their lives — which I really regret.
One day this pandemic will be something our children talk to their grandchildren about, so it’s a great starting point for a family tree project with a difference.
Get them to start with their grandparents’ dates of birth, adding details such as when they got married and when their children were born. Then set up video calls where your children can ask about the standout events of their grandparents’ lives.
These can be personal, but also memories of occasions such as the moon landing, when President Kennedy was shot and how they felt when Princess Diana died.
This will bring recent history to life for everyone involved.
12. Cook pasta like a top chef
Supermarket shelves are devoid of the stuff, but most of us have some at home, so here’s how to cook it properly.
Salt it good! Don’t just give a single tap of the shaker — you want at least a tablespoon for six quarts of water. A chef we know uses two tablespoons of salt for six quarts of water. Why? Because it tastes so much better that way.
13. Recycle like a pro
Yes, we’re living through a crisis. But that is no reason not to recycle wherever you can — the planet is still in crisis, too.
Get the whole family to study the council’s recycling brochure, which is available online, and if you don’t compost already, this might be a good time to start.
14. Change a lightbulb!
I know it’s boring when people bang on about how hopeless young folk are, but as a landlord I am sometimes stunned how little is known about home maintenance.
Teach your kids about everyday jobs, such as how the fuse box works. You don’t want them left quite literally in the dark when they eventually move out.
15. Grow your own food
There’s something very comforting about planting a seed, watching the first green sprout push through the soil, and then nurturing it to maturity.
As a child, I loved washing out eggshells, drawing faces on the front and then growing cress seeds in cotton wool for the hair.
When your egg people need a haircut, the children can give them a trim before eating the cuttings in a delicious egg sandwich.
16. Use vinegar on the windows
Did you know you can clean windows with newspaper? First add a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to a gallon of cold water, decant it into a spray bottle and spritz it on to the glass. Then you scrunch up newspaper and rub the window clean.
A recent report revealed two-thirds of Britons aged 25 to 29 can’t work an iron; nearly half admit to struggling to change a duvet cover (file image)
This might be old-fashioned, but it’s another eco-friendly trick.
Get your kids researching other natural cleaning products to make at home. Bake Off winner Nancy Birtwhistle has loads of brilliant tips on her social media channels.
17 . Draw a cartoon character
My late mum and my dad both spent a lot of time drawing and painting — my dad is currently working on a collection of beautiful flower pictures, all done from the safety of his garden.
Research has shown drawing can be good for your mental health. Artist Rob Biddulph, the official World Book Day illustrator, is posting a draw-along video every Tuesday and Thursday at 10am at robbiddulph.com.
People are posting the results with the hashtag #DrawWithRob.
18. Learn how to iron a shirt
A recent report revealed two-thirds of Britons aged 25 to 29 can’t work an iron; nearly half admit to struggling to change a duvet cover.
How on earth would they have coped with sheets and blankets? This is a national embarrassment, and one parents have a duty to resolve.
19. Make the perfect Sunday roast
Sunday roasts have fallen off the public menu in recent years, because of our seven-day-week lifestyles. All that’s on hold for now, so this is a tradition that can hopefully be revived.
20. Mix up some mayonnaise
When I first went to stay with Ben, he made his own mayonnaise. Not coming from a foodie family, I was really impressed.
Mayonnaise is great to make with kids because of the alchemy of it, how it turns from one thing to another. Look for a simple recipe online.
21. Challenge them to a bow-off
Don’t ask me why, but a wonky, twisted bow sets my nerves on edge. A straight bow is easy to accomplish and, once the children have mastered it, you can have ‘bow-offs’, seeing who can tie theirs the fastest.
For each bow you need 38cm of ribbon. Form two large loops, then cross the right loop over the left and bring the left loop under then through. Pull tight, and you’re done.
22. Skip away the blues
We all need to make sure we do something each day that makes our hearts beat faster to stay fit. Skipping is a great way to do this, and if you put the kids in charge of the family’s daily exercise routine — paying them to be our personal trainers — they’re more likely to want to do it.
23. Learn to love your dishwasher
Our children have a tendency to think fairies load the dishwasher — the idea it might need regular servicing would probably blow their minds.
Show them where the salt and rinse aid goes — and get them to unload it while you’re at it!
24. Make elderflower cordial
If the children are still at home in June, there’ll be elderflowers — those flat-topped clusters of tiny, creamy-white flowers — to pick in the woods and hedgerows.
Making your own elderflower cordial is a joy. The flowers are best picked when the buds are freshly open on a warm, sunny day. Shake off any insects and rinse briefly in cold water before using. There are loads of recipes online.
25. Conjure up a meal from scraps
Our own grandmothers would be appalled by how much perfectly good food goes straight into the bin these days.
Empty supermarket shelves have been a salutary reminder that waste is a terrible thing. With that in mind, challenge your kids to come up with their own recipes for leftovers — for example, cold mash can be mixed with tinned fish to make fishcakes.
See how many ideas they can come up with to make a cooked chicken cover several meals.