So how can we support the child the become independent? Well, I see three main ways:
- Attitude (including the way you see the child and your patience!)
- Environment- does it allow the child to do things for her/himself?
- Toolkit - you need to demonstrate and give the child 'tools' to be able to take a task on and become skilled at completing it.
Some of the effort and thought goes into the environment. Think about how easy it is for the child to be able to do the things that s/he needs to do every day. Consider:
- Child-sized coat pegs.
- Small tables and chairs rather than highchairs for toddlers.
- Small jugs and cups for them to pour their own drinks.
- Step for the toilet.
- Press on wall lights where the switch is too high to reach.
- A sink at child height or a hand-washing station.
- Child-sized gardening tools; watering can, hoe, spade, wheelbarrow.
- Child-sized cleaning equipment; broom, dustpan and brush, spray bottle filled with water and cloths/sponges.
- Toys stored in way that helps children to find what they want and return it after use.
Once these changes are in place, you model how to do things to the child and then allow her/him to try it her/himself, providing a 'toolkit'. The child will make the actions their own and that is great, you are simply introducing them to a way of doing things! S/he will need lots of practice to master each skill and will delight in repeating the actions over and over, refining and perfecting the skill; once achieved it is really important that the child has opportunity to use that skill in everyday life:
- Put out small jug and cups for the children to pour their own drink.
- Put bread, butter and filling son the table and allow the children to make their own sandwich.
- Encourage them to brush teeth and hair, wash faces and hands after meals.
- Keep cleaning equipment in the same place and children can clean up their own spills and messes (within reason!!).
- Chat with parents to make sure that children come in clothes that they can manage themselves, such as trousers that aren't too tight to pull up after using the toilet!!
If you want to read more about Montessori, try Montessori From the Start by Paula Polk-Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen. It isn't rated by all Montessorians but I personally have found it clear and understandable and very readable which is worth a lot if you have ever ploughed through Montessori's original writing translated from Italian!