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The Essential Experiences Every Kid Needs

One of the most formative experiences of my life was studying abroad during my Junior year in college. There was a girl I was in love with who merely mentioned the idea of taking a class in Italy, so I made it my life’s singular goal to get it set up and arranged for us both to go. With an itinerary in hand and a giant backpack on my shoulders, I hopped on a flight and met her and a couple of other friends 6,219 miles east. I’ll never forget that first night when we rendezvoused at the steps of the Duomo in Florence and sat at a table on the adjacent piazza while it rained. We shared such tremendous joy as we laughed and let it settle in that we were entirely on our own for six weeks (and it wasn’t just from the bottle of vino rosso cheap wine). 

Over the next month and a half, we had amazing adventures, countless debacles while traveling, and ultimately a glimpse into the future as independent adults. When I got back home, life felt different. I felt different. I had grown up. 

Every kid needs to have their own version of formative experiences. But the question is, which ones? What are the essential experiences every kid needs? Here’s a starting point:

  • Failure: every kid ought to have failed as they grow up so they can understand their own limits, how to process guilt or shame or humiliation, and find a deeper resolve to keep persisting. I wrote about failure in other places, too, in case you want to do a deeper dive (here and here). 
  • Success: every kid needs to experience success at an adult level. Everyone yearns to add value. It's a core longing we all share. Every kid wants to know that what they do (and are capable of doing) has real value to another human. For further thinking, here’s an episode where we dive in. 
  • Adventure: similar to my experiences studying abroad, every kid needs adventure in their life. Adventure makes us come alive, feel free, experience joy, and have stories to tell. Some kids will create adventures for themselves, whether you like it or not, but many will need our support and encouragement to blaze their own trail and discover what brings them joy. 
  • Independence: ultimately, childhood is preparation for adulthood, marked by taking responsibility for yourself. That’s why it’s so important that kids get the training they need to manage their own affairs and learn about self-sufficiency. As parents and educators, we need to curate experiences for kids that put them in situations where they are making choices for themselves. 
  • Crossing Cultures: some kids are born and raised in a diverse environment, but many kids are born and raised in a relatively homogenous context. Regardless, every kid needs to have experiences in other cultures to gain perspective, appreciation, and empathy. Being displaced in another culture can be uncomfortable and stressful, but it can also be a tremendous growth opportunity if done with an open mind and a safe place to debrief, ask questions, and learn. 
  • Service: most want their kids to become kindhearted, servant-oriented adults. But how will they, unless they learn those lessons by experience over time? Every kid needs to be deliberately led (okay, forced) to serve others many times throughout their growing-up years for them to make service a regular part of their lives. 
  • Work: over the past two decades, we’ve seen a significant decline in the number of kids with jobs. Some don’t work because they’re overworked at school if they’re on the university track. Some don’t work because of their athletic obligations. Others don’t work because they don’t have transportation (more and more kids delay getting their driver's licenses). But all kids will work when they become adults. How will that go if their first jobs are after they graduate from college? 

Oh yeah—remember that girl that I chased across the globe? Two years later, we were married, and twenty years later, we’re now starting to talk about encouraging our three kids to pursue their own adventures when the time comes. 

What do you think? What formative experiences have you had that shaped your life for the better? What am I missing from my list above?

All for the sake of kids,

Scott Schimmel
President & Chief Guide | The YouSchool
949.291.9061 |

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For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.  

They're uncommon sense ideas, really.

Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).

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