Supporting Independence in Preschool Students
Growing independence in preschool is one of the joys of working with young children. It is a pleasure to watch preschool students encounter new frontiers, take new risks, and discover new abilities. This can be hard work. With a little careful thought, we can support children – and their joy – as they navigate this process in their preschool years.
As I think about the independence of young children, I am constantly reminded of their capabilities and complexity. The idea of independence is inherently a conversation about developing skills that children have not yet needed to accomplish themselves up to this point.
Independence happens as children develop familiarity with their environment, their routines, and with themselves. Just this week I was excited to see a group of preschool students take a collection of beads and tissue paper off of the shelf and start to create collages. I had not prompted this experience, and was encouraged that the children knew where the materials were, how to collage independently, and that they were motivated to work with materials in this way without a teacher guiding them. After a couple of minutes I noticed that there was a pile of beads on the table, which were starting to roll. I stepped in and offered a dish to hold them. I believe that this action supported the children’s independent work, while also offering them a tool to be more independent in the future.
How to Encourage Independence in Preschool Students
I try to catch moments like these, and support them without praising too much. The feeling of accomplishment is itself a reward, and I want to acknowledge their independence without making children reliant on my validation.
We can encourage independence even as we help our preschool children. When a child encounters a problem where they need help – think zipping up a jacket – I try to be open to helping them while at the same time supporting their growing skills. As I zip up a child on a cold Moorestown winter morning, I narrate my process: “stick the little side into the big side, hold them together, and pull up.” I am offering the opportunity for independence while at the same time acknowledging where children are in their individual development.
Independence is a process, not done with the flick of a switch. I try to resist the comparison of independence from one preschooler to the next, remembering that each child has different skills in different areas, and that they are all growing. For example, the child who can ably zip her jacket may need more support as she holds scissors; the child who struggles to put on his gloves may excel at cleaning paint brushes. And the examples are endless. Each child is working hard on many things, and we can support our preschool students by recognizing their accomplishments, their struggles, and supporting them as they continue to grow.
Stay tuned next week for some more concepts and strategies from our Moorestown Preschool program.
Beginnings at MFS is the Moorestown Friends School Early Childhood Program (Preschool, Prekindergarten, and Kindergarten). The Beginnings Blog is intended as a helpful tool for parents and guardians of young children, examining important ways in which children find meaning, in their lives and in their education.
Author Garrett McVaugh is the Beginnings at MFS Half-Day Preschool Teacher. Along with his Teaching Assistant Pauline Williams, he guides some of the youngest MFS students through their first year of school. A graduate of Haverford College, Garrett has been an early childhood educator for over a decade. Prior to MFS, he was a teacher at Preschool of the Arts in Madison, WI. Prior to living in Wisconsin, Garrett spent eight years teaching at St. John’s Episcopal Preschool in Washington, DC.
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