As people across the United States gather together to celebrate Independence Day, it seems fitting that we take some time to think about how children experience independence and what adults can do to create an environment in which children can develop this vital characteristic.
Children who are independent have learned, over time, that they are capable of accomplishing tasks and taking care of themselves. They feel confident in their abilities and in their capacity to succeed in the face of challenges.
When thinking about an environment that promotes independence, there are a number of features and practices you can put in place:
Trust children – Create a safe environment that includes opportunities for practicing self-help skills, exploration, and risk taking. To learn more, consider completing the CCEI course: GUI105: The Role of Risk in Early Childhood
Reflect on the direct and indirect messages that you are sending to children with your verbal and nonverbal communication. Are you telling children that they are capable and trustworthy? Or are your messages letting children know that they are inadequate and unable? To improve the messages you are sending children, be sure to acknowledge even the smallest successes. Confirm for children that tasks are challenging, but with hard work and effort, they will learn the skills they need to be successful.
Challenge children appropriately – Getting to know each child as an individual will allow you to identify tasks and activities that challenge children without being overly frustrating (too difficult) or under-stimulating (too easy). Offer a wide variety of materials and chances to explore materials freely. Set up provocations using familiar materials to encourage children to think of new ways to use materials. If you see signs of frustration, remind the child that you are available to help, but do not step in and automatically fix the situation.
The goal is for the children to experience challenges and learn strategies to manage the frustration and accomplish the task. Provide suggestions, ideas, or clues, and allow the child to work through the problem. Talk about the situation afterward. Acknowledge the child for the efforts that they made to address the challenge, regardless of whether they were 100% successful.
To learn more about how to acknowledge children’s efforts, consider taking the CCEI course called CUR121: Establishing Growth Mindset Practices in Early Learning Environments.
Provide opportunities to make choices – Whenever it is reasonable and safe, allow children to practice making choices. Children become good decision makers when they have opportunities to think about their options and make choices.
It is important to follow up afterward to process the outcome of each decision. Help children make connections between their choices, the outcome, and what they might do the same or differently the next time they are faced with a similar choice.
This step can help children understand how to be accountable or responsible for their actions, when things turn out well and when things do not go as planned.
What are your favorite methods for helping children develop independence? Please share your ideas in the comments section.