According to the charitable organisation Youth Communications, during the 1980s the U.S. government attempted to develop programs to prevent foster children from becoming homeless after exiting the foster care program. Still in operation as of 2011, many of these programs teach independent living skills to young adults. While many methods exist for teaching independent living skills, several specific lessons have proven more effective and have thus become more widespread than the rest.
Financial lessons in independent living classes focus on teaching budgeting and money-saving skills to young adults. One effective example of a financial lesson occurs when the teacher gives the class a budget and then takes the students to a shopping mall or grocery store. Students must purchase useful items from multiple stores, all while adhering to the strict budget. After the shopping trip, a group discussion with the students allows them to assess which strategies for budgeting worked and which strategies failed. Ask the students to come up with reasons budgeting is important, along with the necessities they think they must purchase in the future. These exercises allow students to experience real-life situations but with the support necessary to reinforce positive behaviour and decrease negative results. Other examples of financial lessons include balancing a checkbook, making a financial schedule with bill due dates, and learning about savings accounts and responsible investing.
Personal Hygiene Lessons
Personal hygiene covers a wide amount of ground including, but not limited to, laundry, the ability to keep a clean residence and safe cleaning techniques for living spaces. Young adults living in foster care often have chores to do but rarely have the full responsibility to clean clothes, dishes or entire houses. Lessons for personal hygiene skills focus on the regular dos and don'ts of household cleanliness. One example of a lesson involves taking students to a laundromat and having them practice washing old clothing. Purposefully use bleach on a round of coloured clothes, or put a red towel with white socks in one machine. Use these mistakes as examples of what not to do at the laundromat. Other examples of personal hygiene lessons include the effective use of a dishwasher, with an example of what regular dish soap does when put in a wash cycle; and how to dust a room, with examples of how dust and allergens can harm humans. Provide a checklist of regular household chores, such as one from Oregon's website (see link in Resources section), to be completed daily for practice.
School-based lessons on nutrition are growing in national coverage in the United States. Nutritional lesson plans focus on teaching the basics of cooking healthy food, the ability to determine whether food is bad to eat and effective food storage. According to the Indiana Department of Education, "nearly one-half of the deaths in the United States are due to unhealthy behaviours or lifestyles." Effective lesson plans on nutrition are critical for young adults to attend. One example of a lesson on nutrition involves a trip to a grocery store. Give students a checklist of healthy foods they must purchase, then give them simple recipes to follow based on those ingredients, such as sautéed spinach and lemon-roasted chicken breasts. Tell students to research simple recipes and healthy ingredients, and bring in some of their cooked results. Share the recipes with the class, and allow each student to try each food sample. Exposing students to easy, quick and healthy cooking will increase their likelihood of eating responsibly in the future.
Common Traits in Successful Lessons
Successful lessons for independent living classes have several traits in common. According to a federally funded study carried out at Eastern Michigan University, all successful independent living skills lessons start with basic interpersonal skills practice before moving on to more to the more specific parts of the lesson. Teachers who supported students with tools, autonomy, the ability to explore ideas and validation of those ideas had the most successful lessons in the study.
- Youth Communications: Are Independent Living Classes Enough?
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Competency based training for CW practitioners working with youth transitioning out of foster care : developed in partnership with youth and practitioners : final report (pgs. 1-3, 22-25)
- Indiana Department of Education: Nutritional Lesson Plans
- Food Network: Sauteed Spinach and Classic Lemon Roast Chicken Recipe
- National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center: Laundry Checklist