Children doing it for themselves!

Children doing it for themselves!

One day, a few months ago, I was walking along a beach. Two little boys ran past me. They were maybe 6 and 4 years old. They came to some rocks and the older boy held out his hand to his little brother or friend. The older one wanted to help the other negotiate the rockpools but I heard the younger boy say “I wanna do it myself!” 

It made me remember that one of my own boy’s favourite phrases was “I want to do it my own self”.

And then I remembered a TV ad that drives me mad each time I see it… a boy, maybe 8 years old, standing passively while his mammy adjusts his coat and scarf. The child in this ad is given no opportunity to do it himself!

Observed situations like these lead us to reflect on our image of the child and how this image we hold of young children influences how we work with them.

Aistear encourages early childhood educators to see children as capable, competent and confident learners. That premise is central to Aistear.


Why does it matter to support children to be independent? Surely it’s easier and safer to do things for children…not to mention faster? Not so!

We all learn from our mistakes. If we don’t give children opportunities to attempt simple everyday things like putting on coats, pouring drinks or using scissors they can’t learn to carry out these tasks. I often say that none of us learn to cook by watching TV programmes… we learn to cook by cooking. Aistear and Siolta value active learning. This means accepting that in supporting children to develop self-help skills and independence, it can take longer to get outside… but that’s OK. It can take longer to have snack or lunch… but that’s OK. And it might be messier… and that’s OK too.

If we trust children and encourage them to take on and off coats, pour drinks, use scissors, climb, run, jump and take risks they will rise to the occasion. And when things go wrong… when the drink spills, or the coat is upside down or when they fall, we must just help them see that this is not the end of the world and they can try again.

At the OMEP Conference in Cork this past weekend, the developers of The Curiosity Approach spoke about plastic. They said that it is practically indestructible and how its constant use limits consequences. It was really interesting to reflect on this. You can throw a plastic cup and nothing happens… you can’t throw a real cup like that. Using attractive real items shows we value children, we trust them and we appreciate their competence. This does require us to slow things down and give more time for exploration and play. This interesting article from 2014 says that less structured activities leads to high executive functioning.

So in real life how do we support children to be independent, to take increasing responsibility and act on curiosity?

  • When dressing/ undressing encourage children… even babies and toddlers to help out. And encourage parents to do the same.
  • When feeding encourage children to help… having a second spoon, using finger foods and having small bowls so that children can spoon out their own portions.
  • Have small jugs rather than big ones so children can pour their own drinks.
  • After meals encourage children to tidy up.
  • Encourage children to be part of documentation… taking photos, drawing pictures, choosing what to add to learning stories and what to say about images used in learning stories.

Please share your ideas with us too!

In a previous Scéalta post, I mentioned meeting a mother of a little girl in playschool. “This mammy had tears in her eyes as she told me how she dreads collecting her little girl from pre-school, as all she hears is about the ‘bad things’ that happened all morning. She finds this upsetting and feels it affects her relationship with her daughter. Going home is not a happy time, with chats about the day, who she played with and what she did.”

We should reflect on this and ensure that children feel good about trying new things and know that their confidence and competence is growing, valued and encouraged.

For more inspiration have a look at these learning stories. They give some lovely examples of confident, competent, independent children in action!

Independent lady learning story

To construct or deconstruct

A letter to Kelly

Building a ladder

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