How often have we heard young children announce, ‘I can do it!’ or ‘I do it myself!’ as they take control and claim their right to do things by themselves. The feeling of being in control is a powerful drive in young children and when they have opportunities to do things by themselves it can provide satisfaction as well as a sense of empowerment to keep trying and having a go. It can remind us to slow down and give children time and opportunity to stretch their independence skills and become more self-reliant.
Developing the skills for self-help and being more independent are encouraged in early childhood education and care services. Services are guided by the Australian Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the learning outcomes to help children develop a strong sense of identity and support their emerging autonomy and resilience. This important area of child development is also highlighted in the National Quality Standard (NQS) where services are required to offer educational programs, physical environments, and health and safety processes that foster children’s independence, confidence, and wellbeing.
Children have an urge to do grown-up tasks and will often mimic home life and familiar rituals in their play. As they explore, develop and grow, children are ready to take some control and put new skills into practice. Giving children some autonomy to safely help out with everyday tasks at home allows them to experience a sense of control and purpose as they continue to develop their independence. Depending on family schedules, go with the most suitable times where there is some flexibility for children to practice self-help skills. They will want to take their time, to do things ‘right’ and in their own way, so it’s best to avoid times when you are in a hurry or have a fixed schedule. Set aside some suitable time when there is usually a more relaxed structure to the day, such as on weekends and during holidays, for children to practice some tasks independently. This will allow children time to test their skills and problem solve with adult guidance. Depending on children’s age and stage of development, they can assist with many tasks at home, including helping with simple food preparation, setting and clearing the meal table, pouring their own drinks, watering plants, dressing themselves, helping to fold laundry, responsibility for feeding pets, making their bed, packing their own bag, helping with shopping, etc. As children develop their abilities and increase in confidence they can manage extra responsibility and more complex tasks.
Children feel they are trusted and accepted when they have a chance to attempt new things by themselves with the guidance of supportive adults and peers. In early childhood services, teachers encourage children to take responsibility for their own belongings, taking care of looking after their own bags, hats, and water bottles. Self-help stations with mirrors are provided for young children to put on sunscreen by themselves. They learn to follow hygiene routines and become successful with toileting independence. Teachers carefully set up the learning environments to give children choices in where and how they play, and a range of resources to use. As well as offering flexible play options, this purposeful arrangement of learning spaces promotes children’s decision-making, collaboration with others, and independent thinking. Becoming self-sufficient and confidently independent are some of the skills that are important contributors to children’s learning and readiness for school.
Opportunities to make decisions and learn self-help skills support children to develop resilience as they work out ways to cope and try different approaches when things don’t go as planned. They learn to problem-solve and back their own decisions as they tackle new tasks. When children master new skills and experience success with independent work, their confidence grows along with enhanced self-esteem. A positive and strong sense of self-esteem – how we value ourselves – is critical for good mental health and overall wellbeing. Children with an optimistic view of their abilities and a positive mindset are motivated to embrace new learning today and tomorrow.
Article supplied by Story House Early Learning