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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Promoting Autonomy

As many of you know who have studied early childhood or child development (especially at The Ohio State University), autonomy is a major factor in teaching young children. One reason for this is to teach children problem solving skills that they will use their whole life, not only academically, but socially as well.

But how do we begin promoting autonomy as early as possible? Today, as I was feeding baby food to my baby with a spoon, it dawned on me that it is never too early to start. Even if it's just modeling the behavior, that is a good first step. Allowing the baby to watch what you do as you explain what you are doing is beneficial even if the child does not fully understand what you are saying. Children absorb a lot.

The next step would be allowing the child to get at least some hands on experience with the task. In preschool, we do "hand over hand" with the children when we are first teaching them how to pour their milk at breakfast and lunch. (We do family-style meals in which our goal is for the children to become completely self-sufficient at serving their own meal). Basically with the "hand over hand" technique, we are at first doing almost all the work of actually balancing and lifting the milk carton to pour the milk, but the child is holding onto the carton alongside us. Gradually, we give the child more control in allowing them to do it by themselves. You would be surprised how quickly they learn with this type of hands-on experience and scaffolding.

So, I decided to begin this process with the baby eating the baby food. I let him grab onto the spoon as I helped guide it to his mouth. As you can imagine, this type of teaching can be very messy, but children actually love doing things themselves and get that much more gratification from achieving a goal because they were active participants.

I think this is sometimes where we get caught up as parents or teachers by saying, oh it will be easier/faster/etc if I just do it myself. We must be very careful about doing this. I have seen too many 3 and 4 year olds walk into a preschool classroom who were not able to (or didn't think they should have to) do the simplest tasks on their own because mom and dad have always done it for them at home. It is a real eye-opener for those children coming to Head Start. But with the help of the other children and modeling from the teachers, they catch on quickly.