Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Starting at Infancy: Helping Children be Independent

Helping your child develop physical and mental skills to become independent is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow.

Independence in the Montessori sense of the word means that your child becomes capable human being. He or she will be able to embark upon age-appropriate challenges with confidence because he or she will have the physical and mental skills to give it all a good try. This does not ensure success, but it ensures a good healthy attempt and an attitude that lets your child pick him or herself up and try again.

Montessori focuses on providing the youngest of children with child-sized equipment and furniture so that early skills, both physical and mental, can be nurtured. Infants work with small objects to develop their refined hand movements and hand-eye coordination. In each step after that, children will build upon what they have already learned to develop new skills and soak in the experiences of new challenges.

But what is your child supposed to try to experience and learn at, say, three or five or seven years of age. Let's see. For toddlers, being able to use the toilet independently is a huge accomplishment. At age five, it may be the ability to get up in the morning, select the day's outfit, come downstairs for breakfast, and then choose an activity on his or her own. By the time your child is seven, he or she should be able to schedule his or her play or study activities, look at the clock to know when it's time to put everything away and help with dinner, and then take charge of his or her own bedtime preparation so you two can have a peaceful bedtime story together.

This sort of step-by-step skill building provides children with the ability to act and conduct themselves independently. By creating this foundation of competence, your child will be ready for big steps, such as learning how to drive. He or she will already have good judgement, practical experience riding a bike alone, and other valuable assets.

So, start now. As you read through articles, let your child try the age-appropriate activities and work independently. No little corrections or constant reminders as your child works! Yes, the paint will spill, the beans for pouring exercises will drop, but you have already shown your child how to wipe up spills, so let him or her take charge of it all.

After all, when he or she gets behind the wheel of the car in 10 years, you won't be able to control the environment, so take advantage of the time you have now!

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