Encouraging independence in young children has a wide array benefits for both the child as well as the family dynamic. It can help to develop their fine motor skills, build their planning and organizational skills, aid in a growing sense of pride, accomplishment and a feeling being a contributing member of the family. As parents, having children care for some of their own needs as well as taking on chores or other responsibilities, can help to lighten our load as we manage to get through each day. My older son’s abilities have also helped to strengthen the bond he has with his younger brother as he often serves as another person in our household that can help him to open, reach, fix and find.
As a teacher, I always encouraged self care and independence in even the youngest classes. Babies learned how to put away their shoes and then retrieve them when it was time to leave the classroom. Toddlers were active participants in storing their lunch items in the refrigerator and filling their cups from a water dispenser. Preschoolers prepared snack, organized the classroom and ran errands (to other areas of the building) for the class.
As a mom, it was instinctual to include these routines with my own children. The new challenge I had was setting up our house in such a way that these practices were feasible and realistic. In the process of encouraging independence, both in my classrooms and in our home, there are many items that I have found to be essential to the success of this journey.
Here are some of my recommendations and tips:
1. Step stools
We have no less then six step stools in our house that our boys use for everything from washing their hands to reaching the counter to help cook dinner. They move them around the house freely so that is why I prefer the light weight plastic stools but if you prefer to have a stool remain in one room, the heavier wooden ones are very nice.
My Oldest is in charge of pouring water for himself and his brother throughout the day. A small tray on their little table holds a pitcher and two small glasses. This particular pitcher is a heavy glass so little hands will not pick it up too fast which reduces spills. From a very young age, children are able to learn to pour from cups and pitchers when modeled and guided with hand over hand by an adult.
I also like small pitchers for pouring milk into cereal or syrup onto pancakes.
Helping with chopping and slicing are “very important” jobs in our house and has always been a way for children in my classes to build fine motor skills while participating in cooking. Using a small cutting board on the table in a seat that provides appropriate support and heigh, kids can easily and happily cut foods like strawberries, tomatoes, bananas, melons and so many more.
Spreading is another way children can gain some independence and build fine motor skills. A small butter or cheese knife is a great tool to give alongside a bowl of cream cheese or peanut butter to spread onto crackers or a bagel.
Trays are great for so many things both at home and in the classroom. We use trays to contain art projects and make them easily removable from the table. If something needs to dry we just leave it on the tray and put it aside when it’s time to eat and not worry about the paint dripping on the floor or another part of the house while moving it around. Trays are great for serving family style snacks; a bowl with fruit, some tongs and little dishes put on a child’s table is inviting, organized and easy for them to manipulate.
5. Lazy Susan
These turntables are great for art supplies. I have two of them on a corner shelf that hold our jars of crayons, pencils, markers and other supplies. They make it easy for the kids to access all the different materials rather then reaching over or having to move things around. They would also work well in a cabinet.
This product I’d seen online a few times and thought it was ridiculous until I got one in a Citrus Lane box few months ago. My Little one is very small for his age so he has the ability and desire to do things like wash his hands on his own but not the height. This faucet extender has been a dream come true for him. He no longer needs to be lifted up to reach the water and feels very proud of himself for being able to do this on his own like his big brother.
Low hanging hooks are truly a staple. We have a low coat rack with five hooks that my boys use for hanging up their jackets and backpacks. They both know where their belongings are and where to put them when we get home. We also have low hooks in our Oldest’s bedroom where he hangs all his sweatshirts when they come out of the laundry and where he can easily grab one when he’s cold. Hooks are also helpful in the bathroom to hang bath towels.
8. Cereal Dispenser
I always had one of these in my classrooms for children to serve themselves cereal. Two turns and they have a perfect serving size. It helps build fine motor skills, math skills and portion control.
9. Water dispenser
This was another staple in my classrooms. Easy access for children to pour themselves a cup of water. Children as young as two years old learned how to flip the spigot for a 1-2-3- count to get just enough for a few sips.
I hope that some of these items are helpful for you and your family or your classroom. I am sure there are many more tricks and items that have helped you and I’d love to hear about them.