Independence at Home

By Carrie Caffee-Martin, Primary Guide, Lake Oswego Campus: Juniper Room

As the days have gotten shorter and Fall is upon us, we have settled into our school routines and are able to look forward to a year filled with growth and possibility for each child. One topic that came up often during parent/teacher conferences was how parents could best support their child’s growth at home.

As both a parent and a guide for the Primary age group, I can assure you that supporting independence at home is key! The Montessori approach is one that honors the need for each child to be a contributing member of a community, so we provide an environment that supports this greater vision. Our environment is specifically crafted to enhance and support opportunities for independence, but how can a parent replicate or support this great work for their own child at home? This is a big question for Montessori parents.

First, consider the average day-to-day experience of a 3-6 year old child. From his or her point of view, the world around them is adult-friendly, but not so child-friendly at times. Furniture is too large, hooks and shelves are out of reach, and clothes feel impossible to tie or fasten. When they ask to help out at home, they are “too slow”, don’t do it correctly, or someone takes over their job. Additionally, children may also feel that their ideas are not as important, and allow adults or sibling to speak for them.

Certainly most of us understand that the above situation is fairly common for modern children, but what can we do on a very practical level to meet the needs of our children and provide an optimum environment at home? The easiest need to encourage and support independence at home is to take a good look at your physical environment.

Here are some ideas for supporting physical independence at home:

  • Provide stools as needed in your child’s bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Stools should be easy and lightweight so your child can move them around without additional help.
  • Keep a rotating assortment of toys and books on low shelves. Everything should have its own space. If you are finding that things are being left out then there are probably to many for your child to manage on their own.
  • Make your kitchen child friendly, have a small jug of milk or juice available for your child on your lowest refrigerator shelf. Store glasses, napkins etc. on lower shelves…your child would love to set the table!
  • In your child’s bedroom, use rod extenders or lower pegs in the closet space. Sort your child’s close by season so that you may offer appropriate clothing choices. It is very liberating to invite your child to get dressed in the morning and know that they only have acceptable choices that have been pre-sorted by you!
  • Give your child age appropriate chores and honor their need to feel like a contributing member of the family. Remember that each task assigned will need a “lesson” and the necessary tools a child will need to accomplish the goal. For a 3-6 year old chores can be fairly simple: pick up toys, feed pets, weed the garden, fold dishtowels or match and roll socks.

A greater challenge for many parents is how to support their child’s independence on a more social level. When children first enter a Montessori classroom one of the things a Guide may observe for is how confident a child is away from their caregivers. Being able to communicate needs, feelings and ideas, both kindly and respectfully, is an important part of being in a Montessori community, and will later become crucial to our children’s success as adults. Parents love to see the results of this big work at home and parents often comment on the changes they have noticed in how their child communicates at home.

Here are some ideas to support your child’s independence on a social level:

  • Support your child developing the ability to speak for themselves. Most importantly, try not allow yourself, siblings, or other family members to speak for your child. In her article, ”The Importance of Independence for Young Children”, Polli Soholt, a highly regarded AMI Primary Montessori Trainer and consultant, states that, “It becomes clear to the child who is spoken for that it is not necessary to speak up…other people will take care of that.” (p.1)
  • Avoid pressuring your child to speak up. This can be a delicate balance, but parents can sense situations that may be overly challenging, and provide useful vocabulary if a child is at a loss.
  • Provide, and help your child practice, socially acceptable language at home. The ability to communicate in pro-social ways will support your child’s future success in social interactions.

Dr. Montessori believed that children who experienced this level of independence from a very early age would grow into adults that were capable, kind, respectful and socially responsible – a worthy goal that starts at home!

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