Five-year-old Maria goes to the music center, chooses a CD, inserts it into the player, adjusts her headphones, and listens. In the library corner, Will searches for his favorite book. He looks, but the book isn’t in its usual place. Instead of asking an adult for help, he hides his face and cries.
Maria and Will approach tasks in different ways. Maria is an independent learner who finds solutions to her problems. Will, on the other hand, is easily frustrated and unable to solve problems quickly and efficiently. How can teachers promote independence and self-reliance in the classroom? Here are 10 ideas on how teachers and staff can make a difference:
1. Encourage children to do for themselves. Offer support and guidance to children as they solve problems, yet allow them the freedom to make choices and learn from their mistakes.
2. Begin with small tasks. Divide big tasks into smaller ones. As children complete small tasks successfully, move on to larger works. Compliment children when they complete challenging tasks.
3. Plan “free-play” periods throughout the day. Children need time to make their own rules, to pretend, and to establish boundaries. As the children play, teachers should stay on the perimeter of the group and use the time for observation of individual children.
4. Schedule daily chores. Using a chart, make a graph of expected chores for each child. Rotate chores daily or weekly. As the child completes the work, he places a sticker by his name. Include such activities as feeding the fish, watering plants, returning books to the library shelves, keeping the room neat, and other chores appropriate for each age group.
5. Help children manage their own time. Are there children who can’t seem to find anything to do, even when presented with several activities? Help children who struggle with time management by structuring their free play and activities.
6. Provide options and choices when possible. Begin by presenting children with two choices; move to three as the child matures. This develops independent thinkers and learners.
7. Finish what you start. Even small tasks should be completed. Praise children for following directions. Redirect and re-teach when necessary.
8. Return items to their proper place. Label shelves and containers with pictures and words. These cues will help remind children where supplies are stored while promoting language and literacy development.
9. Encourage children to ask for assistance when needed. Does your class have children of more than one age grouped together? If so, appoint older children to serve as mentors to the younger ones; both sets of children will benefit from this interaction.
10. Promote friendships. By making friends children are able to develop positive self-images and to express empathy and caring for others. Assigning a new student a “buddy” helps that child establish a place within the group, which fosters a feeling of success.
Carolyn Ross Tomlin has been a preschool director, taught kindergarten and been associate professor of education at Union University, Jackson, TN. She writes for numerous education publications.
The Preschool Power is a DVD and video set that shows children how to develop practical life skills, using songs, jokes, and learning demos.
www.elainegibson.net is a website that offers practical suggestions for helping young children become self-reliant learners.