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7 Life Skills to Teach in the Special Ed Classroom

Life skills are essential for students as they transition from childhood to adulthood. While many life skills are taught at home, oftentimes students come to us with specific goals for them written into their IEPs… and honestly, we – as special ed teachers – should be writing more functional goals into the IEPs we are writing too.

But what are the life skills students need to know and how can you teach them?

Teaching Life Skills in the Special Ed Classroom

Life Skills to Teach in the Classroom

Below is a list of some of the top life skills for students in special education to learn. Students can work on these goals at school, home, and during leisure time.

Personal Hygiene

Student needs to know how to take care of themselves and their clothes. To teach students personal hygiene, give them a list of things they can do at school or home:

  • Wash hands with soap and water before eating anything
  • Brush teeth twice daily with toothpaste
  • Get dressed in day clothing after waking up
  • Brush hair

Students should also be instructed to wash their hands after going to the bathroom or touching something messy. They will need reminders for following through on these tasks throughout the school day; use a rewards system if necessary.

Teaching Helper: Dental Health Sorting Mats

Reading a Schedule

Teach your students how to read a schedule and a calendar. This is best accomplished by making a chart with the daily schedule so that it’s easy for students to understand.

Sometimes the schedule is a personal one and sometimes it’s one that’s shared by the entire class. Either way, it should accurately display the order and sequence of the day’s events.

The schedule should be in a format that is easy for the student to understand. It’s important for students with dyslexia or other reading difficulties to know what they are expected to do at school and how this relates back to their goals; use pictures, symbols, words, and colors when appropriate.

Teaching Helper: Visual Schedule for Special Education

Telling Time

Students need to know how to tell the time. This can be done by using a clock or watch with analog hands and a digital readout. Not only does it help with knowing how to read and understand a schedule, but it also helps to make the student responsible for managing their time.

Teaching Helper: Telling Time + Elapsed Time Digital Activities

Emotional Control and Recognizing Emotions in Themselves and Others

Understanding how to control their emotional reactions is a huge life skill for any student to learn. Realizing that everyone has emotions plays a big part in that. Teach students about the different feelings people may have, how these can change with time, and what will happen if they don’t express them in a positive way–such as yelling or screaming at someone.

Role-play or watch a video about different emotional reactions and the consequences of each. Hands-on activities, like sorting mats and centers, can also help students practice this life skill on their own.

Teaching Helper: Emotions Sorting Mats

Time Management (Prioritizing Tasks)

Learning how to prioritize tasks and manage their time is an important piece of a child’s life skills development. This is best achieved by using a “to-do” list or chart that has the time of day on one side and prioritized items in columns for each hour. Think of it as a daily schedule, but for smaller tasks and smaller amounts of time. Instead of mapping out the entire day, map out the hour or the morning only.

For instance, in the morning, a student would complete their academic work in order to be ready for recess at morning break. If they don’t get their work done because they are playing or distracted and not focusing, they will learn that there is a consequence to their actions and choices.

Teaching Helper: Editable First Then Schedule Boards

Basic Cooking Skills and How to Read a Recipe

Students need to know how to cook and read a recipe. They can be taught these skills in school or through home instruction. If you’re working on them at school, simple visual recipes are a huge help. They give students the picture steps as well as the written directions so that they can be accessed by students of all abilities and levels.

Cooking is great for helping students develop a good work ethic, time management skills, math, and literacy (reading recipes).

Teaching Helper: No-Bake Visual Recipes


While not all life skills can be or should be taught in the classroom, there are many that are appropriate for classroom instruction. Teaching your students how to be successful in and out of the classroom ensures they will have the skills they need to transition after they’ve completed high school.

What life skills do you work on in your classroom? Tell us in the comments below!

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I'm a special education teacher, presenter, curriculum writer, and educational blogger behind Mrs. D's Corner.
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