Imagine a world with no play. Now, imagine a world where we couldn’t independently think for ourselves. Believe it or not, the two go hand in hand. Play is instrumental in teaching children how to be independent. As parents, we understand the importance of encouraging children’s independence.
At Kidamento, we are always trying to better understand children’s development and the best way to support it. We took a deeper look at children’s independence, why it’s essential, and how we can encourage it.
Children’s Independence and Why It’s Important
Watch any child beam with pride when they learn to put on their own shoes or use the potty for the first time, and you can’t deny the importance of independence in children. But it goes beyond pride, contributing to the development of their self-esteem and identity.
The moment you give children the opportunity to make their own choices, take on responsibilities, and attempt to do undertakings for themselves, their sense of self grows. But the benefits of independence go beyond their sense of self, independence also:
- Cultivates self-reliance, self-discipline, and encourages self-trust
- Nurtures self-confidence
- Teaches them to become good decision-makers
- Allows them to learn the importance of making mistakes and learning from life lessons
- Aids them in self-awareness, which lends itself to a better understanding of those around them
- Helps them to develop patience and concentration
- Teaches them to learn to cooperate with others
- Cultivates resilience to external challenges and teaches them that they are capable
- Develops a sense of achievement and success in direct relation to their own actions
- Creates happy and healthy children overall
Researchers, parents, and teachers all agree that teaching children independence is an important step in childhood development. But how does one go about building their independence? What are the actions we should take to encourage them?
How to Build Independence in Preschoolers
The Child Mind Institute firmly believes that building independence in children is vital for both children and parents. They offer some great tips on how to begin. First, develop a consistent routine with your children; this lets them anticipate their day and become equipped to take on responsibilities.
For example, mornings are great for routines. They involve picking out clothes, getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast, and more. Children can pick out which top they want to wear, help squeeze the toothpaste from the tube, and even get the cereal from the cupboard.
By doing the same routine each morning, you might be surprised to find that your child starts to do some of the tasks before you even mention them. They are taking on responsibility and learning independence.
Try your best to direct them from afar. As you watch them handle these small tasks, you are showing them two things. First, you trust their capabilities. Second, you will be there for them if they need your help. Through this, they, in turn, develop self-confidence and self-reliance.
But as any parent will tell you, this is often easier said than done because when children begin their journey to independence, they want to have a say in everything and do everything. And since they have yet to master their emotions, frustrated outbursts can become frequent.
As parents, we are often tempted to do two things; give them what they want or take the task away from them. But remember, that doing either will not result in a positive outcome. If you give them what they want, they learn they can get what they want whenever they want it. And if you take it away, they aren’t learning to be independent.
To counter this, always give them a choice. Ask them, for example: “do you want to have a yogurt or apple for your morning snack?” This lets them have a sense of control in their decision, and you don’t feel like you are giving in to them because they insist on a cookie for a morning snack.
Encourage Your Child to Help
We’ve addressed small tasks, but what about the big ones? As a parent, it can be hard to let your children help with these bigger tasks when all you want is to get the job done. Washing the dishes, for example, can be quick and easy, or it can end up with soapy water all over the floor.
The key is finding ways that they can help within their capabilities. Try setting them up with their own helper station where they focus on drying some plastic plates. Doing so can go a long way in showing them that they can help and teaches them cooperation and a sense of achievement.
Kid chores can also work to develop their independence; yes, even in preschoolers. Simple tasks like putting their shoes in the closet when you come in the house or cleaning up (within reason) after a spill allows them to take on responsibility and are building blocks for future tasks.
Remember, children love to be involved in what we do. Regular chores, like making dinner, may seem mundane to us but are exciting to them. So, let them be involved; this is how they learn. They might even act out these chores through their play.
The Importance of Choice in Play
As parents, we all recognize the importance of letting a child play; we even have a post relating to The Genius of Play where we discuss the many benefits and how it relates to their development. But play can further develop children’s independence when we add in the element of choice.
You may not realize it, but play involves making choices. Does your child want to play with blocks, or do they play dress-up with costumes? Either way, they are sure to have fun. But through playing, and with the help of choice, they are also working on their independence; they just don’t know it.
According to the National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program (NQSPLP), they believe that “providing children with a range of materials and resources from which they can freely choose allows
them to exercise their independence and make their own decisions about what they will do.”
Adults make choices every day – what clothes to wear to work, what to have for dinner? And while we may still ask a spouse what they want for dinner, can you imagine what it would be like if we didn’t know how to make our own choices?
The importance of choice is such a crucial factor in developing a child’s sense of identity and wellbeing. It is through the combination of play and choice that they become more independent. And while children must learn to play with others, it is equally important to encourage solitary play.
What is Solitary Play?
According to healthline.com, solitary play also referred to as independent play, begins during infancy, such as when you catch your baby entertaining themself with a rattle. There are many benefits to children having solitary play.
First, they begin to develop their own preference and interests in what they like. Next, as they develop their interests, they learn to focus and concentrate; they are working through a problem. For example, a child sits alone with blocks and is trying to figure out how to build a tower.
Upon completion of their tower, they have also learned other necessary skills, such as how to complete a task, how to be creative, and how to use their imagination. But there is one more. Yes, you guessed it, they are nurturing their independence.
How Do Cameras Fit into Solitary Play?
When we think of solitary play, we often think of a child colouring in a book, making a pretend meal for their stuffy, or acting out a story with their toys, but cameras are also a great way for a child to experience some solitary play.
In one particular study, researchers conducted a two-year educational program. It involved introducing three-year-old children to photography through the use of digital cameras. While the purpose was to focus on visual literacy, other benefits of using a camera in preschool-aged children were also apparent.
Their findings were as follows: “photography gives preschool children the ability to experiment with problem-solving, and develop curiosity and pleasure in learning, as well as independence, confidence, responsibility, empowerment and participatory learning.”
They also argued a very valuable point, one that many parents don’t always think of. Children are often reminded that they can’t do things; it’s for grownups only. The world is right there for the taking, but you aren’t old enough to do any of it.
Yet give them a camera and suddenly they feel as though you have entrusted them “with an expensive camera that is perceived as a working tool for adults and not for children, let alone such young children.” This simple task of taking a picture, and suddenly their confidence soars.
A camera also allows for independent work. They get to be in control of what pictures they take and how they perceive the world. We might tell them to take a picture of nature, but they get to independently choose what speaks to them, the tree in the backyard or the worms in the garden?
A bonus is that through solitary play and the use of a camera, we get to see the unique world our children play in. And while it can be tempting to follow them around, seeing what they capture, we promise you it’s worth letting them do it on their own.
Although research on the use of children using cameras to develop independence is limited, there was one study that did draw our attention. It involved the work of Johanna Einardottier, wherein 2005 she gave children cameras and divided them into two groups.
The first group was accompanied by an adult around the school, while the second group was allowed to take pictures unsupervised. Not surprisingly those who were allowed to use the cameras as part of their solitary play produced more quirky and distinctive subject matter. In other words, they independently chose the pictures they wanted to take.
We, at Kidamento, firmly believe that the partnership of children and cameras is a winning combination. Cameras help them to build their independence and do wonders for their overall development; if you want to know more, be sure to read our post on the 7 Key Benefits of Photography for Children.
As we have discovered, play is instrumental in allowing children to develop their independence. And it is our goal to support you in any means with how you choose to achieve this skill. We are here to encourage your children in any way we can, but our favourite way is through play.