Age 1: You’re new, I get it. Just remember, if it’s hard or shiny, you’re still too tiny. If it bounces or bends, it’s all yours, my friend.
Age 2: Let sleeping dads lie.
Age 3: You’ll learn some of the best lessons when holding a flashlight for dad.
Age 4: Don’t throw away the jelly jar. Army men, nuts and bolts, loose change, fireflies, arrowheads, cuff links. These are just a few things you can put in an empty jelly jar. You wanna save the planet? Don’t just recycle. Reuse.
Age 5: When fishing, a firm grip on the rod is as important as a firm handshake. Move your forearm forward and down with a slight wrist motion, gently sweeping the rod forward. As it passes vertical, release. Be quiet, be patient, and keep in mind that fish don’t have eyelids, so cast into the shade.
Age 6: You can’t learn anything with your hands in your pockets. Grab that screwdriver, bat, or motherboard kit and get to work (or play). There are plenty how-tos on YouTube, but until you get your hands dirty, you’ll have no clue.
Age 7: You can do your homework after you’ve finished playing outside.
Age 8: You can learn a lot about a person by how they coil a hose. Ditto an extension cord, climbing rope, or coaxial cable. If you have ever struggled to unkink a garden hose or unknot a giant ball of Christmas lights, you know that the proper coil is not just about tidiness, it’s an act of courtesy to the next person that uses it. Even if that person is you.
Age 9: The key to building a tree house is making sure to secure the structure without harming the organism that’s holding you up in the air. It’s going to take a lot of work, and you’ll learn that sometimes physics gets in the way of imagination. But when we’re done you’ll have a place of your own—and everyone needs a good hideout.
Age 10: Do your own bike repairs. A bike is a great starter kit for a young mechanic. And like a car, it will probably break down anywhere that is not your driveway. So, learning to wrench your own ride is as much about survival as it is about saving money at the bike shop. Don’t get carried away—there is such a thing as too tight and too much oil.
Age 11: When using a saw, patience, not strength, is needed to make the smoothest cut. It’s not just where you start the cut—it’s where you finish.
Age 12: Follow instructions—you’ll be done in half the time. You have to earn the right to improvise. And remember, sometimes the best tool is a walk around the block. Sometimes it’s a hammer.
Age 13: Build a good reputation, online and off. Keep your word. Be nice to the younger kids. And never post a picture online you wouldn’t show your teacher, the dean of admissions, or your boss.
Age 14: The first thing you need to know about using a compass: Put it away if you can’t read a map. If you don’t have either, look at the sun, which, as you know, rises in the east and sets in the west. If you have a watch, match the hour hand with the direction of the sun. The direction that is midway between the hour hand and 12 is south. Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, then that point is north. If it’s daylight savings, then replace 12 with 1. That reminds me: You should wear a watch.
Age 15: When chopping firewood, aim for the chopping block beneath the log, not the top of the log. Let the ax do the work.
Age 16: Sure, less than 10 percent of new cars sold in the U.S. have manual transmissions, but every kid should still learn to drive a stick. Renting a car overseas? Helping a drunk friend home? Driving a getaway car? Plus, stick shifts make much better sounds when you’re out on a date.
Age 17: Changing your own oil is an introductory course toward learning how your car works. It helps you to understand the mechanics, and to trust your own hand at making repairs. Warm up your vehicle a bit beforehand—it makes the oil flow faster. And it feels better.
Age 18: Make yourself useful on a boat. Unless you’re a Somali pirate, you won’t need to know how to commandeer a large ship. But if you find yourself on someone’s boat—be it a dinghy or a 40-foot Albemarle—it’s best to know what you’re doing so you don’t sit there like you’re riding the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. Learn the cleat hitch to ward off pilings when the captain is docking. And if nothing else, fetch the ice.
Age 19: Learn a second language, preferably math. Sure, French might impress the ladies. And Spanish will come in handy on spring break in Cancún. But math is the only truly international language. Master it and you won’t have trouble finding a job in any country in the world. Even France.
Age 20: If you’re asked for help opening a jar, you damn well better open it. Make sure your hands are dry so you can grip the lid as tightly as possible. For extra traction, wrap the lid in a kitchen glove. If the lid is stubborn, run it under hot water. If you’re truly desperate, fashion a handle out of duct tape. And if you give up (never give up), don’t claim that you loosened it first. Because you didn’t.
Age 21: Real men have green thumbs. A garden can provide more than herbs or flowers for mom. After spending hours staring at a screen, time in the garden gives your mind (and eyes) a chance to reset. Start with a tomato plant. Clear a patch of dirt or build a raised garden bed, and try growing some veggies from seeds. No matter where you go in life or your career, you will seldom get as much pride and joy as you do from a successful harvest.
Age 22: After writing an angry email, read it carefully, then delete it.
Age 23: Take on a woodworking. But never use a chisel for anything but its intended purpose. Or you will soon be out of chisels.
Age 24: Be a regular at your local flea market. You’ll find some of your favorite tools, some of your weirdest neighbors, and inspiration for some of your best DIY projects.
Age 25: Stay young (at heart). Accept a stupid bet. Make things. Break things. Eat something bigger than your head. Jump fences. Go on a spontaneous road trip. Never turn down an invitation to dance. Unplug, on occasion. And lay off Facebook—it’s all old people now.