Under the prime area of physical development, the EYFS outlines the goal that children “manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully, including dressing and going to the toilet independently.”
As a newborn, babies rely on adults to meet most of their needs – whether it be feeding, winding, bathing or dressing. As these babies grow and become toddlers, they need less help but find that some things still present a challenge, like putting on their shoes.
Children’s confidence grows as they learn how to become independent. As they begin to master new skills, they see themselves as being capable. This belief feeds their confidence and pushes them to try more new things in the future.
In a childcare setting, you can build a child’s independence by supporting them to ‘have a go’ first, rather than taking away the opportunity for them to learn how to do something for themselves.
Here are some of the ways you can help:
- Tell children that making mistakes is okay – the most important thing is to have a go in the first place
- Give children plenty of targeted praise when they attempt something new/challenging
- Set aside time for children to have a go at activities for themselves (like getting changed or putting their coat on a peg)
- Encourage children to go outdoors, where there are lots of challenges and opportunities to build independence
- Work with parents to ensure that your efforts to promote independence with children are continued at home, for example with toilet training
- Be comfortable with things getting messy whilst the child is still mastering how to do something
- Build lots of opportunities for independence throughout the day – for example, leaving a slot free for “children’s choice” or asking children to help pass around cups at drinks time
- Encourage children’s problem solving skills to minor issues by asking if they can come up with a solution on their own. If they’re struggling, give them time to think before offering your ideas
- Provide a running commentary, whilst the child is trying a new task. For example: “I can see you’re trying really hard to wash your hands. Don’t forget to wash in between your fingers and round the back, so that you get rid of all those nasty germs!”
Promoting children’s independence is important, but you must also consider the context. If a child is tired, feeling unwell, stressed out or is having difficulty adjusting to change then it might not be the right time to introduce them to learning something new. Be sensitive to individual circumstances, whilst also trying your utmost to provide plenty of opportunities for children to exercise their independence throughout the day.