6 Little Things to Encourage Big Independence

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I might have mentioned before that my mom was a Montessori teacher and I went to Montessori school as a young child. My older daughter has recently started in Montessori preschool. The school she attends does some amazing parent education nights. I’ve only been able to attend one so far, which focused on Montessori for Practical Life, but I came away with so many helpful tips for creating a bit of the prepared environment in our home. The North American Montessori Teachers’ Association describes this as a “calm, ordered space” where “children work on activities of their own choice at their own pace. They experience a blend of freedom and self-discipline in a place especially designed to meet their developmental needs.”

At home, this translates to making things accessible to children and empowering them to do the things that they can do themselves. The head of the school encouraged us to step back and really let our children be independent when they are completing tasks (take a deep breath, this might take a while). If they ask for help, then help. If they don’t, then don’t, even if it means it takes a few minutes to get a pair of socks on. If they get frustrated, you could do the task with them, instead of doing it for them. I started talking about this when I was freaking out about getting to work on time. I’m doing my best, but it sure is hard sometimes when you just want to get out of the door.

She gave us some homework to help make our children feel that they are contributing members of the family and empower them to help themselves. We were to make as much of our home accessible to our child as possible, minus our own bedroom and anything that’s harmful of course – maybe they don’t need to be able to reach the steak knives. I’ve taken some photos of the small steps we’ve taken that really seem to be helping her feel more in control of her environment.

1. We moved underwear, socks and PJs from the top drawer to the middle drawer. We keep extras in the top drawer and restock the middle and lower drawers as needed.

2. We moved her all of her clothes down to the lower level of her closet so she can hang things up and pick out what she’ll wear (even though I still usually do both of these things). Note that any clothes that you wouldn’t want them to choose should be put away. This includes clothes that don’t fit or are not appropriate for the season. You need to be ok with what they choose to wear, so don’t provide inappropriate options.


3. We installed handles on the front and back screen doors at her level. Don’t worry, they still have locks at our level.

4. We hung hooks at her level inside the coat closet so that she can put away her coat and her backpack by herself.

5. We finally got a decent stool that allows her to help in the kitchen, reach her own snack and wash her hands. It’s heavy so we still have to move it around for her, but it’s much better than the shorter plastic one we had before. (I’ve also seen fold up stools that I really like.)

6. We took the middle piece out of the Swiffer handle to make it shorter and got her a little vacuum cleaner, so she can help out with the cleaning (she wanted to!). I’m also planning to get her a hand broom and dustpan because she loves using that to cleanup messes at school and at my mom’s house in Florida.

It’s been pretty neat to see her so excited to have these little adjustments make tasks easier for her to do on her own. Do you have any other things you’ve done around your house to make it more kid friendly and encourage independence?

15 thoughts on “6 Little Things to Encourage Big Independence

  1. When my daughter (3.5 now) was 18 months we cleared out one of the lower kitchen cabinets to create space for her dishes. On the bottom shelf we keep her plates and bowls and on the top shelf are her glasses (real glass – about the size of a double shot) and a shallow box with a divider down the middle to hold her spoons and forks. She has loved getting her own dishes at meal time to help mommy set the table. She also loves putting her dishes away when the dishwasher is done. I have also cleared out space in other areas of our home’s “family spaces” to put her “work”…puzzles or a basket of musical instruments, etc. …like the bottom shelf of a book shelf. Or a child size chair in the living room with a basket next to it with just a couple books of hers in it. I think it helps to foster her sense of belonging in our family – having her own space within our space.

  2. Love the tips and the pics! We’re just now thinking about reorganizing the refrigerator for them so they can reach the milk and snacks. So far we’ve only moved their juice, and they get their own water. Even them getting their own beverages is huge!

  3. We have done some of these things with our 28 month old and she has been enjoying the independence too. Good to know we are on the right track even though it can be challenging! Haha

  4. This is fantastic! I didn’t realize you when to Montessori as a kid too, I would love to hear your thoughts on that – if you felt like it was beneficial, what you took away from it etc. Perhaps a blog post for another day! But seriously, I enjoyed reading this, it reminds me that I can do better at encouraging my own daughter to be independent.

  5. That pic of the girls fighting over the swiffer is so cute.

    There are a lot of things we’ve tried *only* because our preschool teacher is already doing them – otherwise, I would never have thought of trying it. For example, they have been taught to use scissors to open their packages at school (for snacks and stuff like that). They get dressed on their own (I don’t let them pick but I give them a wide range of options that they select one item from each category), brush their own teeth where they are allowed to pick the cup they use for rinsing (we have disposable animal cups) and the toothpaste (Winnie the Pooh or Dora), and are required to pull their bedsheets up so that it is nominally tidy (which is relative, of course).

    We have not tried independent snacking yet because I’m afraid my son would eat everything in one sitting. We have recently given our kids plastic disposable knives (the ones with dull ends) to cut stuff like soft fruit, cooked veggies and cheese and I have been so surprised at how well they are able to do it. I am just constantly amazed at how quickly these little people can understand and grasp what seems to be a complex concept!

  6. Love this!!! I also love Montessori, and we do many of the same things. My oldest is 5, and we just added:
    -His own cutting board with a safe knife to chop up fruit, veggies and cheese
    -A bin of acceptable “any time snacks” in the pantry so he can get a snack when he chooses to
    -A pitcher of watered down juice in the fridge so he can pour his own drinks

    I am a firm believer in letting kids help (though it can be VERY frustrating!!) and expecting independence on most daily tasks. Great post!! 🙂

    1. Circling back to these now that my kiddo is 5 and a half – I need to get on making the kitchen more accessible.

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