Facilitating Independence

Do you ever get to the door of the classroom and realize that you’ve carried a backpack, lunchbox and jacket while your child has skipped into the classroom empty handed? It sometimes seems easier to be the one in charge of carrying everything but in the long run it actually becomes a burden. In order to facilitate independence in young children it is our job to ensure they are responsible for their belongings.

It is important to have a routine in place when leaving for school and returning home. A checklist by the door can be a helpful tool. Have the child look over the list (use pictures for younger children) to see if they have what they need (ex: shoes, lunch, backpack). When you come through the door after school have an expectation that children will put their shoes and backpack in a specific place and take their lunch box to the kitchen.

In my preK/K classroom the children were seen as competent and very capable of managing daily tasks on their own. You would not believe the amount of lost and found items that sit unclaimed in a typical preschool and elementary school. We never had items in the lost and found. The children knew they were responsible for their own belongings and often alerted one another to items on the floor in the cubby area. Before returning to the classroom after recess we checked to make sure that everything we had on our bodies when we headed outside is still on our bodies when we came inside.

During lunch and snack times the children knew that they needed to attempt to open food containers on their own. If they couldn’t open it they needed to ask at least two friends before I will help them. Being self-sufficient and independent at lunch time is a necessary skill, especially when children move to larger school environments. When there are sixty children in a school cafeteria and two adults there is no possible way that the teachers will be able to open containers for every child. When purchasing new lunch containers have your child test them out to see if they can open and close them before you head to the checkout counter. The cutest containers are often the most difficult to open/close.

When we returned from our weekly trips to the creek the children were often cold, wet and tired. The first thing they did when we entered the classroom was to grab their extra clothes bin and line up at the bathroom. The process of changing would have been faster if I helped everyone. Taking off wet clothing is very frustrating, especially when you’re trapped in inside-out tights that are stuck in your pants leg. Working through the process each week helped the children learn strategies to make the process smoother.

During the winter months we cleaned up the classroom five minutes earlier than usual to ensure the children had enough time to put on our coats, hats and gloves independently. While I was happy to provide assistance when necessary my expectation was that each child tried to zip their coat before I helped them. Although they would have much preferred me to do it for them, I was simply not willing to rob them of this skill. One of the children told me that they were really good at putting on their gloves now because I taught them how and then they corrected that phrase and said “because you made me do it by myself everyday!” The best way to learn is by doing!  

Keep an eye out for our next Parent Workshop Series which will focus on self-help and independence.


Check out this great article:

When Children Say “I Can’t”, but They Can, and Adults Know it