Within every Little School newsletter, Nursery Manager Mrs Julie Swords highlights and advises families on a specific area of childcare; allowing parents to maintain a cohesive approach between home and nursery. In the most recent edition, we explore the importance of developing a child's independence.
The Statutory Frameworks state:
Children should be supported to manage emotions, develop a positive sense of self, set themselves simple goals, have confidence in their own abilities, to persist and wait for what they want and direct attention as necessary. Through adult modelling and guidance, they will learn how to look after their bodies, including healthy eating, and manage personal needs independently.
This is our aim at Little School. We promote children’s personal independence at every opportunity: from taking off their shoes to putting on their own coat and zipping it up.
Independence starts with emotional resilience. Children between the age of 8-12 months develop “object permanence”, i.e. they learn that things exist even when they are out of sight; they develop awareness when parents are absent and cry to be reunited or comforted. This is the primary function of a Key Person when children start in a new setting – developing a bond or “attachment” is crucial to a child’s security and ultimate happiness. If they feel safe, secure and cherished they will be able to enjoy exploring independently, needing less and less support and ultimately learning through play.
Children are encouraged to feed and experiment by first holding a spoon whilst they are being spoon-fed by an adult, and even use their hands if they prefer. Using hands is vitally important from a sensory perspective and shouldn’t be entirely discouraged. We all use our senses when we eat – sight, smell, taste and touch and children should be encouraged to investigate as much as possible without being told it’s too messy or dirty. Little School staff are used to cleaning up mess after meals which is not for the faint-hearted as it most often resembles a war zone! As the saying goes, “You can’t make an omelette without first breaking eggs.”
By the time children finish Early Years, they should be confident to try new activities and show independence, resilience and perseverance in the face of challenge. They should also be able to manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs, including dressing, going to the toilet and understanding the importance of healthy food choices. This does not happen overnight – it takes years of practice and patience!
Please encourage your children to develop independence. As a parent myself, I know how easy and time-saving it is to get them dressed, help them feed and button their coats, especially if you’re in a rush, or they simply don’t want to do it themselves. Start small – allow infants to take off their socks, encourage toddlers to undo the Velcro on their shoes, and support young children to pull up the zip on their jacket. Developing and supporting their independence also nurtures their sense of self-esteem - so rejoice in the little steps they take to independent self-care, and they will become encouraged to practice and persevere when they are praised.
Encourage toddlers and older children to help put their toys away, tidy their bedrooms or set the table at meal times. Young children relish responsibility and will cooperate happily when they receive praise and rewards. Rewards need not cost money, but can be things money can’t buy, e.g. read a favourite book, play a game together or go to the park.
Never help a child with a task at which he feels he might succeed.
- Maria Montessori
We all want our children to grow into independent adults, able to manage their emotions, enjoy meaningful relationships and contribute to society. Children need to develop skills that will help them to be independent and this takes years of practice, fine-tuning, and of course support and encouragement.