As we wrap up our Fourth of July celebrations this weekend, I am always reminded of how important independence is in all aspects of our lives. I remember back in my days as a classroom teacher, when most of my students had severe disabilities that precluded them from a regular curriculum, testing, etc. Then, it was very clear that our number one objective was to build independence in each student so that they could always fend for themselves. But although this was such an important outcome of everything we did back then, it was not and it is not exclusive to the special education sphere. In my work as an educator and consultant, I constantly get asked about ways to teach toddlers or children so that they can learn more at home, to maximize carry over. The answer is simple. Build independence.
We all envision and want children that can make good decisions, think independently, and eventually grow to need us less and less, but this objective has been somehow diluted in this day and age with such an emphasis on “getting good grades” to “get into a good school.” We forgot how and why this all began. Independence is one of the unspoken benefits of education, and one that in the age of over-testing has quietly been forgotten. Creating independence is one of the hallmarks of learning.
Parents can implement strategies at home so that their child can learn. It is all about building blocks to becoming independent later in life. It is never too early to get your child started on this path. What can you do at home to facilitate learning? Here are three ways to do it:
- Let your child be creative with toys. Sometimes we get caught up in the way things must be done (big to small, matching by shape or color, etc.) that we forget our creative capacity. We all need space to be creative and children are no exception. I am not suggesting that we should not teach toddlers to abide by rules. What I am suggesting is that each child needs his/her own space to experiment and create what they find valuable. So what if they want to group triangles with squares? Perhaps they realize that two triangles can make one square, and what if they want to build a train with blocks, instead of a house? Perhaps they see more value in what moves rather than what is static.
- Let your child problem solve. Many parents experience the parental pull to solve problems for their children. I have seen parents tell their toddlers “not this one, that one,” effectively telling their children how to resolve a puzzle, stacker, and so on. Problem solving is like a workout for the mind, and once we solve something on our own, we are less likely to forget it. Have you ever noticed that if you are mindlessly driving, following GPS directions, you are less likely to remember how to get to a place? Have you noticed how not using a GPS makes you more likely to remember the roads and how to get there? It is the same principle. Force the mind to stretch its boundaries, build some cognitive discomfort, and you have a mind workout. Does your child get frustrated? Offer help, and teach them to ask for help, but be mindful of not doing the task for them.
- Let them do things on their own. Have you ever asked your toddler to do something and you ended up doing it yourself? Young children need time and space to be able to do things on their own. They may make mistakes or not do things exactly as you requested. This is why we guide them and we model behavior, but what we don’t need to do, is to do things for them. Try asking your toddler to bring you an item, or to perform an action (“please bring your shoe,” or “please close the door”). Create a sense of self-efficacy by allowing your child to complete simple tasks.
Of course, it is also important to remember that just as we all need some type of reinforcement for a job well done, so do children and toddlers. They will be waiting for you to praise them, hug them, kiss them, clap for them as they become more creative, problem solve, and do things on their own. Show them how you are there at every turn to back them up and catch them if they fall. Be their biggest fan.
Do you need help or guidance implementing these strategies yourself? Drop me a note.
Looking forward to hearing from you!