P.E.I. woman sets up school to teach home economics for adults

After years of watching people struggle with basic life skills, from cooking to cleaning to sewing, retired civil servant Mary Ellen Callaghan saw a business opportunity.

'How many of the skills that used to be so common in our lives are just simply getting lost?'

Mary Ellen Callaghan the recipe for macaroni and cheese to two participants in a free course at the Milton Hall. (Nancy Russell/CBC)
After years of watching people struggle with basic life skills, from cooking to cleaning to sewing, retired civil servant Mary Ellen Callaghan saw a business opportunity.

"It's really getting a bit scary how many of the skills that we took for granted 20 years ago are just disappearing," explained Callaghan, who  launched  the  Home Making Skills Institute  in December 2015.  "People don't know how to do these things."

If we're not careful here, in another 20 years some of those skills will be gone completely—Mary Ellen Callaghan

Through the institute, she teaches baking, cooking and sewing.

"I see what people buy in their shopping carts. I see a lot of fast food and people tend to buy a lot in the frozen food section where as years ago we never did that," she said.

"I see children with the knees out of their pants. People who come to visit who say they don't know how to make biscuits."

Sarah Rodd signed up for the class to learn more basic cooking skills. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

"I think there are a lot of people who have lost the life skills simply because generations of people live far apart right now and quite often the man and the wife are both working and people are busy with their children and there are just a lot of people who need these skills."

'Survival packs'

In what she's calling phase one, Callaghan has created a course catalogue featuring about a dozen topics, including ones on housecleaning, cooking, baking, and money.

For now, the introductory courses are free, but she says will eventually charge $50 for a five hour course, and $100 for a full day.

Callaghan taught Life Skills for the first time at the Bluefield Community School. She's also offering two sessions for free at the Milton Community Hall.

Cuts to home economics in school

"I think a lot of people could benefit from learning basic home making skills," said Shari MacDonald, the secretary of the Milton Community Hall and a home economist. "So many people now are happy to eat out of a box."
Shari MacDonald from the Milton Hall thinks there are lots of people who could use lessons in basic home making skills. She is also a home economist. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

MacDonald said part of the reason these skills are being lost is because home economics courses have been cut from many Island schools. However, she isn't sure whether there is a market for the courses being offered by the Home Making Institute. 

"I hope there is. I think sometimes people aren't willing to pay for things that might benefit them in the long run," she said.

Happy students

Beverly Macdonald-O'Connor was happy to be part of the free cooking workshop at the Milton Hall.

"There's a lot of people that are living alone and they don't know how to use the products that they have in their fridge and to make the food taste good," said Macdonald-O'Connor.

Sarah Rodd is a new mom who attended the free session to learn more basic cooking skills.

"Our generation, like I know a lot of people — I'm not saying people can't cook — but our generation doesn't have the skills even compared to my mother, or some of my cousins or aunts."

The participants in the cooking class get to eat what they're learning to make, including this macaroni and cheese. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Callaghan said her courses are coming just in time.

"If we're not careful here, in another 20 years some of those skills will be gone completely,"  she said. "There won't be any more grey-haired ladies that will teach these things."


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