This month, preschoolers at Good Morning Preschool celebrated an important milestone: Preschool Independence Day! Before Independence Day, parents came into the school at drop-off and pick-up times to help their children hang up their coats and backpacks, unpack their belongings at the start of the day and pack up again at the end. A few weeks before Independence Day, preschoolers were encouraged to start finding their own hooks and taking the lead in completing these routines. Finally, just after Thanksgiving, the big day arrived! Now, preschoolers are greeted at the door by their teachers in the morning, then meet their parents at the door when it’s time to go home, having dressed themselves and packed up their belongings (mostly!) independently.
This is a significant milestone for preschoolers because it’s an important step in preparing for kindergarten, and it helps to build confidence and a sense of being capable. At this age, young children love to do things for themselves, but it’s often easier and faster for parents to intervene. This is especially the case in winter when there are snowsuits, boots and mittens to contend with! Here are some tips to help build your preschooler’s independence while keeping frustration to a minimum.
- Build routines: Learning to follow routines helps young children to become more independent. Start by implementing a routine. Coming home from an outing might involve taking off boots, hats, mittens and coat; putting mittens and hats away; hanging up the coat; and washing hands. Once the routine is familiar, let your child do parts of it themselves, like unzipping their coat. Eventually, they’ll be able to do the whole routine on their own.
- Use backwards chaining: When a child is learning a new skill, instead of helping them finish a task, help them to start it and let them complete the last step. When they’re ready, have them complete the last two steps, and so on. For example, instead of zipping up your child’s coat, help them to thread the zipper and then allow them to zip it up the rest of the way. Or if tying their shoes, allow them to complete the final step of pulling the knot tight. This way, your child gets to experience the gratification of successfully completing a task. This increases their motivation to learn the rest of the steps and prevents them from feeling discouraged when they can’t finish a task on their own.
- Give choices: Providing choices can help little kids to feel empowered and safe. This can be especially helpful when children insist on doing something their way! For example, children might want to run down the stairs. Rather than telling them to slow down, it can help to give a choice: do you want to hold onto the railing on the left or on the right?
- Build in extra time: Young kids can take a long time to get ready. The temptation to step in and help can be strongest when we’re running late! Build in extra time to allow kids to get ready on their own and to solve problems that crop up. Instead of correcting children putting their shoes on the wrong feet, wait until they ask for help or notice that something isn’t right. This helps children learn to deal with frustration and persevere through challenges. It also helps them to know that you trust them to attempt challenging tasks, but that you are also available if they need help.
- Make it fun! At Good Morning, kids are taught to put on their coats using the “coat flip” method: they place their coat on the floor in front of them with the hood at their feet, place their hands in the sleeves and flip the coat over their heads. It can help to use a rhyme or a fun phrase: we like “1-2-fliparoo!” Other educators may use the phrase, “tag to the toes, hands in the holes, and FLIP!” Whatever you choose, adding a bit of silliness can help get kids excited about a task!
While it can be frustrating to watch little kids struggle to get ready, giving them the time to explore and develop their capabilities fosters their confidence, builds their communication skills and helps them become problem-solvers and resilient explorers.
Congratulations to this year’s preschoolers on their hard work getting ready for Independence Day!
Katherine Liston is a parent volunteer with Good Morning Creative Arts and Preschool.