Seven skills a teenager can learn in one month

Welcome to the Parents' Toolkit

If you have a teenager in the house who is looking bored or could use something different to fill their free time, then why not encourage them to dedicate a month to learning an exciting new skill or hobby?

Here are seven things they should be able to get the hang of, and ways you can help them to get started.

Perfect pasta sauce


Cooking is a great, albeit potentially messy, skill for teens to pick up that will help them establish their independence in later life. There are lots of places to start, but why not ask them to work on their own signature sauce?

They will have the makings of a good sauce with tomatoes (tinned or fresh) and a dash of purée, as well as onions, garlic and oregano. From there you can let their imaginations run free. Let them play around with the measurements and then talk about what they could add – basil, peppers, or chilli powder, for example. Mistakes happen and you might have to smile through a couple of questionable attempts, but they’ll soon find their feet.

Depending on their age, you may have to supervise any chopping, blending or boiling, but it’ll be worth it. Making sauce is also a great way to get them eating more veg - persuading them to do the washing up might not be quite as easy!

Get sketching


You might think that being able to sketch well is a talent that you are simply born with or without, but that just isn’t the case. Anyone can pick up this skill with practice, even in just a few weeks.

Pick up a nice big pad and a pack of pencils, preferably with a different softness grades so your teenager can experiment and learn which are best for drawing and which are best for shading. Pencil grades go from 9H, a very hard pencil that leaves a light mark, to 9B, which is very soft and leaves a dark mark. HB, a grade you may have heard of, is around the middle.

If you have a tablet, you might prefer to download an app for flexibility and ease.

From there it’s simple – sketch, sketch, sketch. If they know what sort of subject they want to start drawing - people, animals, or landscapes, for example - there are plenty of tips and exercises to improve form online.

Superb storytelling


The ability to tell a story well is a skill that will open up all sorts of opportunities for a teenager, and not just for those who see themselves as the next Mary Shelley or F. Scott Fitzgerald.

All sorts of employers need storytellers, whether they’re writing scripts for TV shows or video games, an online campaign for a marketing agency, or the next big story for a newspaper or magazine. Gaining confidence in their writing will also help them to develop further skills for work like writing a CV and drafting emails.

For the time being, however, they just need practice and the best way they can do this is by finding something they are enthusiastic about and writing about it - they could write a short story, design a comic book, or write a film or music review. It’s important to remember that storytelling isn’t limited to fiction!

Like sketching, some people think writing is an inherent ability, but anyone can become a skilled storyteller through practice and plenty of reading!

Play the harmonica


Brass is expensive, everyone plays the guitar, and who has the space for a piano? Harmonicas are the real deal.

In all seriousness, the harmonica is a great, inexpensive way to get into music for a teen who is yet to pick up an instrument, and within a short space of time anyone can get a really good grasp of it.

Diatonic harmonicas are the most common and are often considered the best for beginners. They also sound great in blues, folk, and rock music, which is a great place for your teen to find some inspiration and enthusiasm for the mouth organ!

Get sewing


For the teen who wants a start in fashion, learning to use a sewing machine is important, but there’s nothing like an old fashioned needle and thread to learn the ropes.

Perhaps they can be let loose on some old clothes you have lying around – fixing holes, or adding cool patches to give them a new lease of life – which will improve their dexterity with a needle and tighten that stitch.

After that they can move onto more complex projects - a blanket could be an easy place to start. You could also use an old biscuit tin for storing all of their sewing equipment!

Learn a new way to communicate


If your teenager is thinking of learning something new in their free time, why not take up British Sign Language (BSL)? There are also other forms of communication they could consider. Makaton is a language programme which incorporates signs, speech and symbols. Both have starter resources online and even part-time courses if they want to take it further.

There will always be a demand for sign language in the world of work, but it may also be a new way for your teen to communicate with a friend or family member.

Become a local wildlife expert


If your teen has a keen eye and a love for the outdoors or animals, they might be interested in learning more about some of the wildlife we have here in the UK.

There is always something to see if you look hard enough - squirrels, foxes, and over 600 species of bird to start with – and in the next few weeks your teen can read up about each animal's appearance and behaviour, before going out and spotting them for real. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the luxury of a garden, head to your local park or woods instead.

You could start them off by writing a checklist of animals you might expect to see in your part of the UK, which they could tick off over the month, or try to get pictures of if they’re feeling ambitious. If they’ve been practising their sketching, they could have a go at drawing the wildlife too!

Parents' Toolkit
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How to support your teen as they decide on their future career
Seven ways to get your kids outdoors
Learn to spot garden birds using their songs