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7 Ways to Cultivate Children’s Independence

Encouraging independence is a hallmark of Montessori education and parenting. The best way to teach our children to do things for themselves is to create opportunities where they can succeed independently. Here are seven opportunities you can try at home:

1. Allow your child to dress themselves.

As soon as they are ready, young children should physically dress themselves, even if it means allowing extra time. Even toddlers can begin making choices in regards to their clothing. Start simple: you might ask if they would rather wear their yellow shirt or their pink shirt.

As children get older, it’s okay to give them general guidelines before stepping back and admiring their unique self-expression. Let them know that pants are a must on a cold day, but be sure to respect their desire to pair zebra-print leggings with a plaid dress. Enjoy the adorable moments while empowering their decision-making skills.

2. Teach the skills they show interest in.

Does your child like to watch as you build shelves? Find a simple woodworking project you could do together. The same idea goes for crafts like knitting and sewing, outdoor activities like hiking and geocaching, electronics repair and computer programming, sports, and just about any other activity you can imagine.

Their first interests will be based on what they observe at home, but eventually children will branch out and want to try learning more skills. As adults, all we need to shed our preconceived notions of what young children are capable of; we are often surprised when they achieve much more than we expected!

3. Let them care for a living thing.

The simplest way to do this is to purchase a low-maintenance plant and teach your child how to water it. Some Montessori teachers use a clothespin method; whenever the plant needs watering, the adult places a clothespin on the rim of the pot as a signal to the child that they should water it. As kids get older, we can teach them to feel the soil itself for dryness.

Already have a pet at home? Find age-appropriate ways for your child to help out. They might assist with brushing, feeding, watering, or walking, depending on their age and the particular pet.

4. Include them in household chores.

All children should help out around the house. Participating in family chores gives children a sense of purpose in their home community. If they start young, the concept of chores is not boring or tedious, but a meaningful way to contribute “like a grownup.”

5. Give them opportunities in the kitchen.

Making dinner? Baking for a holiday? Packing lunches for tomorrow? Get your kids involved. If they have already been attending a Montessori school, they may surprise you with their spreading, cutting, and mixing skills, as these are taught and practiced regularly in primary classrooms.

The act of preparing food for our families is an act of love. Teaching children how to do this not only gives them skills they will need to be self-sufficient one day, but allows them to help give back to their family members. The benefits are endless:

  • Kids who cook learn a variety of math skills.
  • A child is more likely to try new foods if they have helped prepare them.
  • Cooking something challenging will impart a sense of pride and self-confidence.
  • Cooking together is quality time spent together.
  • Regular time in the kitchen may create happy memories.

6. Encourage bodily autonomy.

One critical and powerful mantra to repeat to your child early and often: “You are in charge of your body.” Having power of decision over one’s own body is an important lesson, and extends to others as well: while they get to make their own bodily choices, everyone else does too.

7. Offer desirable choices.

Giving children choice doesn’t mean that children get to make all the decisions. It means we provide our children with a range of desirable options they get to pick from. An example: You need to get dressed and brush your teeth. Which would you like to do first? Here are some other examples:

  • Would you like strawberry or grape jelly on your sandwich?
  • Your room needs to be cleaned today. What time will you start?
  • Do you want to walk or skip to the car?

By giving choices within parameters, you can increase the chances of success for both you and your child. This gives kids safe boundaries within which they can practice doing things for themselves.

Still have questions about fostering independence? The best way to understand how independence is encouraged in our classrooms is to make time to observe, so give us a call!