Five Tips for Increasing Independence – From Preschool to Elementary Years
The difference between a three-year-old’s (preschooler) level of independence and an eleven-year-olds (fifth grader) level of independence is significant. The change doesn’t happen overnight! It does happen through a series of gradual shifts and changes in behavior. Some of these changes happen as a natural part of growing up and internal maturity. Some happen through direct instruction, and for some children, some growth comes through casual observation, or what’s known as incidental learning.
Our children who are blind or low vision usually miss out on a lot of the incidental learning opportunities around them because casual visual observation is not how most of their learning takes place. No worries though; there’s a solution! To make sure our youngsters don’t miss crucial learning opportunities, the grown-ups in their lives (that’s us) need to make sure specific and purposeful, independence-building instruction is offered to them in a variety of settings. What does independence-building instruction look like, you ask? Great question! Let’s dig in a little deeper and look at some specific strategies you can employ to promote your little one’s budding independence.
Five Tips for Increasing Independence in Your Child
1 – Encourage Literacy Development
- As literacy skills blossom, all sorts of other great skills and qualities are fostered as well – school success, the ability to independently learn, everyday communication, and a general sense of confidence.
- For the sighted child, literacy development happens everywhere, all the time, through environmental print. Our kiddos who are blind and low vision need purposefully orchestrated opportunities to build their literacy skills.
- Read books together, and label items in your house and their classroom in their preferred medium.
- Encourage fine motor activities like scribbling (with markers or a brailler), playing with playdoh, cutting, folding, playing with different knobs and buckles, etc. This will build their physical stamina needed for writing, typing, or brailling.
2 – Give Them a Voice
- Simple choices are littered all over our days. Bring your kiddo in on the decision-making process by offering options when choosing clothes for the day, activities to participate in, and available snack options.
- Verbally walk your little one through the process of weighing the pros and cons of these simple, low-risk decisions. This will bolster confidence in future, more weighty decisions as they learn to trust their own discernment and develop preferences.
- Encourage independent thought processes and ask their opinion! Whenever possible, ask your kiddo what they think about a situation. Listen attentively and affirm their thought process.
- Teach them to solicit help when needed and decline it when it’s not, by modeling appropriate verbiage. Role play is a great way to prepare your kiddos for each of these situations.
3 – Increase Ownership of Daily Living Activities
- As parents, there are a zillion things we do for our kids each day without even thinking about it. My challenge to you is: pick one thing a week (or whatever time frame works for you and your child) and start increasing their participation in the activity. Gradually decrease your involvement until the task is eventually transferred to them (as age and developmentally appropriate).
- Don’t do things for them that they can already do on their own! Even if the task at hand is done more clumsily than you’d prefer, let it be.
- Involve them in food preparation skills, and teach them where the food comes from. Let them help make their breakfast and/or snacks at home, pack part of their lunch, plan the dinner menu with you, and shop for items at the store. Go visit a local U-pick farm and enjoy the literal fruits of their labor!
- Give them responsibilities around the house. Chores are not only beneficial because they teach functional skills needed for daily life, but they’re also an invaluable tool for building self-confidence and self-determination in our little people. Plus, it helps keep the house clean. Definitely a win-win situation!
4 – Encourage Them to Help Others
- Involve your child in the care of younger siblings if they have any. This can be as simple as offering a hug to comfort baby brother in a moment of distress, or helping you prepare lunch for the whole family.
- Look for opportunities to model the actions and thought process (by speaking it out loud) behind noticing a need in another, determining if you can help, and choosing to offer assistance.
- Volunteer together! Check out a local food bank, church, or other charity and determine how you can get involved with your child.
- When you hold up an expectation for your child to look outside their own needs and help another person, in addition to fostering a sense of compassion, it communicates that they have valuable skills and abilities to offer the world.
5 – Let Them Fail
- Let them experience natural consequences. If forgetting a homework assignment at home is a usual occurrence, don’t drop what you’re doing to run the assignment up to the school (even if you’re doing nothing at the moment). Let them earn the zero. We’ve all been through experiences and seasons where we needed to learn “the hard way”. Your little one is no different. Let them learn while the stakes are low.
- Allow them to feel disappointment. Sometimes things don’t go our way, and it’s a bummer. Your child may have some big emotions to work through when these disappointments inevitably hit. Don’t immediately swoop in with a distraction. Help them learn to talk out their thoughts and emotions. Provide and model appropriate ways to navigate the frustration, sadness, and anger they feel toward their misfortune.
- When possible, allow your child to resolve their conflicts. In the preschool years, this won’t quite be feasible most of the time, but the more you model and talk through appropriate ways to work through disagreements, the more capable your child will become as they get older. This is another area where role-playing can be a great teaching tool!
Enjoy Watching Them Grow
Some children may only need gentle nudges to encourage the growth of their independence, while others may require much more incremental instruction and modeling to start moving in the right direction. Regardless of their learning styles and preferences, all our kiddos who are blind or low vision will greatly benefit from intentional efforts to guide and encourage their learning processes and developing independence. Have fun introducing your child to the young, increasingly confident, and independent adult they’re slowly (or maybe too quickly) growing into!