Ten Ways Early Childhood Educators Build Students' Independence

By Tricia Eickelberg

1. We encourage children to do certain tasks by themselves. Whether it is hanging up their jacket, cleaning up materials, or returning library books we encourage children to do these tasks unassisted but offer guidance and support.

2. We break big jobs into small steps. Clean up time can be daunting if they think they have to do it all. We help them focus on what they are using and to put that away first. Then they can help friends in other areas.

3. We allow choice. Open work time, free play or center time fosters independent thinking. By having to make a choice of where to play, the children are making their own decisions. We help them with suggestions if needed or guidance when choosing is difficult. Ultimately they will learn to do this without our support.

4. We focus on routines. Some of the daily routines help foster independence simply by the nature of the task. Hanging up jackets, delivering messages in school, helping in the library, walking a friend to the nurse or cleaning up the classroom are all examples of routine tasks our students complete successfully. In addition to developing independence, these tasks also strengthen the children’s understanding of their place as members of the classroom community. Everyone has a job and all of them are important.

5. We help children with time management. Some children choose the same center or material to play with and are then disappointed when they did not get to work on the art activity. Others cannot seem to make a choice at all. Both are typical behaviors in any early childhood and kindergarten setting. The teachers guide those who seem to wander and encourage variety when a broader experience is necessary. They do this with gentle guidance and through the activities they plan.

6. We guide them through play options. With the youngest we start with fewer choices and build on that as they develop. Two choices are easier select from than five choices. As the children mature, more choices can be given. This develops independent thinkers and learners.

7. We redirect them to complete tasks. Some children have a hard time finishing tasks. We redirect or guide them so that they begin to understand how to complete things. This will help a great deal later on when they have homework in elementary school.

8. We say, “A place for everything, everything in its place.” Children are taught early that there are specific spots for all materials. Block shelves are labeled for easy clean up. Similar materials are kept together and children are guided to return things where they belong after using them.

9.We also say, "If you need help, ask a friend or teacher." Learning how to ask for guidance and assistance when needed is extremely important in building independence as well as building strong community. Whether solving a dispute or needing help on building a block structure, we talk about the language necessary to get assistance for either event.

10. We promote friendships. Perhaps one of the most challenging independent skills for young children, learning how to make friends can be difficult. They need to develop good language skills and move outside themselves. The shift between the world revolving around them and undestanding their place in the world of their classroom is critical in becoming an independent person. We support this through modeling the language necessary to foster this growth.