Children & Independence
How do you support your child’s independence and capabilities?
The biggest way we support our child’s independence is by providing routines that build in time. Our home consists of two working parents and two small children. So, like everyone, we struggle with how to balance providing ample time for our child to practice new skills while fulfilling our jobs, running our home and providing other things our children need. But, it is possible and having established routines that provide time for our children do things independently has made a huge difference in keeping us all happy and growing. And, we continually tweak our routines in small ways as their capabilities grow.
Are there ways that you support your child’s independence now (or in the past) that others might not expect?
I stopped worrying about what other people think and view a few daily messes as positives. I’ve been the one at holiday parties where my child brings a homemade gift with wrapping that is a bit of a work in progress. Letting go of the need to have a perfect presentation in this situation and in others gives my child more room to practice new skills independently.
I still look for ways to help my child understand and respect social norms as I view these skills as helpful. But, I do look actively look for times where I can support a process that appears messy but has payoffs.
What have you changed about your home, your routines, and/or yourselves to foster your child’s independence and capabilities? What might you continue to change?
Our home is lived in and there are absolutely pockets of clutter! But, over time we’ve changed our home to ensure that all our essentials have a place. This applies to adults too. The routine for the next day starts in the afternoons. We’ve added lower hooks and lower shelves to our closets so that our oldest child puts away his coat/shoes/book bag on his own when he gets home. We put lunch containers by the sink so they are washed with evening dishes.
Years ago when purchasing things for our home, I bought what was the most aesthetically appealing for the price. Now, I think about those things but I also think about how the children will use the item. Can they use it independently or will they need help? My son recently needed new bedroom furniture. We opted for an open bookshelf and a longer dresser as opposed to a toy trunk and tall set of drawers. The lower dresser drawers allow him to get and put away his own clothes. The open book shelf allows him to take out and put away his books and toys on his own – and to see what he has done.
For us, having a daily routine that allows time for independence means that one parent is showered and dressed by the time our two children are awake. If one parent is gone for whatever reason, the sacrifice is a bit greater. But after a few epic mornings of tantrums, we faced the reality that this is what works in our home. Having at least one adult model that we are dressed and ready to start the day makes a huge difference for my older son.
Choices play a role in our routines as well. Our son loves to make his own breakfast, wash his own dishes, make his own bed, get himself dressed and brush his teeth and hair. Great, right? Until it’s a rainy Monday and he wants to make pancakes and eggs and then wash dishes before going to get himself dressed for school.
Given he is still young and needs time to do these things independently, breakfast choices during the week are wholesome but simple. We have agreed together that longer cooking endeavors occur on the weekends. And for now, we’ve established a routine to have him help with dinner dishes so he has time to get himself dressed for school during weekday mornings. As his capabilities grow, we’re likely to change pieces of this routine.
What tools are most useful to you in supporting your child’s independence and capabilities?
There are some physical tools we really like at home: step stools, aprons and the Montessori crinkle chopper are all very well-used. The Montessori learning tower/kitchen helper has been our only significant purchase. After searching listservs for used towers with no luck, we finally purchased one new. I like it because it can safely fit two small children and we spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
But, I’ve found that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a home that supports independence. Ikea is great for kitchen items and storage. I sometimes scan blogs (How We Montessori is one of many) for ideas and see if we have materials around to create something similar. A few months ago, I was very close to hanging a laundry bag on the back of a door in my child’s room. I realized he wouldn’t be able to reach it so instead, we moved around some closet items to make room for the laundry basket he uses now. With a total cost of about $3 for the basket, this was a great solution.
Another helpful tool is communication with caregivers. You can’t control everything when children spend time with family or caregivers but it has helped us share major things that our child should do independently so there is a consistent routine.
How do you model self-sufficiency and community responsibility in your home?
For self-sufficiency, we grow vegetables in the summer. I’d really love a garden but this isn’t practical for us right now so we have tomato and pepper plants. Our older child is involved in planting, watering and picking the vegetables. It is an added bonus that having him involved also helps him look forward to eating them.
For community responsibility, we focus on limiting waste, recycling and donating to charity. Our recycling bin is within easy reach for our child and he is involved in putting containers and other recyclables in this bin. For donations, most of the closets in our home have a donation box. When we get new things we try to off-set by giving something away. Or, when the children outgrow things, it goes in our donation box. And, our oldest child goes with us to drop of the items at the charity.
We’ve also started to teach our child about money and have adopted the “save, spend, share” philosophy of asking our child to practice splitting monetary gifts he receives between these three areas.
What outcomes are you working towards with the expectations you have for your child?
The most important outcomes we are working for when it comes to independence is having our child gain confidence and master the skills that are developmentally appropriate for him while being curious about the world around him.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
My biggest surprise in trying to keep providing what my child needs to foster independence is the importance of downtime. Sure, we’ve all heard it but saying “no” to things took a lot of tries for my family. I was worried we’d regret things if we didn’t try to make it here or there or that our relationships with friends or family would suffer.
But, not overbooking our weekends and having downtime in the evenings feels more normal now and gives our child a lot of room to use his imagination and experiment.