How to Set up Your Home to Foster Children’s Independence
By Mary Sauer
As parents, our daily responsibilities are seemingly endless. Raising children is a rewarding yet challenging experience. Many of the small, everyday responsibilities that come with raising children can be summed up in one phrase: It is our job to prepare them to be adults.
Whether you are a mom of toddlers or elementary age kids, adulthood probably seems like a vague point in the distant future for your children. Chances are, none of us plan to ask our kids to move out anytime soon. Still, there are plenty of ways we can start preparing them to be responsible, self-sufficient, educated, and kind adults.
At first, encouraging independence at home may seem like a lot of work, but the truth is, if your home is set up to foster your child’s independence, a lot of this learning will take place naturally. Children love to learn, and with the right tools, they will learn through play and their day-to-day activities.
Make Self-Care and Personal Hygiene Simple and Accessible
Once your children have a basic understanding of how to care for their bodies through routine personal hygiene, they can take over the responsibility of making sure these tasks happen everyday. Still, most homes and bathrooms are not set up to make personal care simple for small bodies. In fact, your bathroom may still be baby-proofed from your earliest days of parenting.
Here are a few ideas for making self-care and personal hygiene simple and accessible. First, in their bedrooms you can make sure dressers are short and their clothes are placed in drawers that are within their reach. That way, children can dress themselves easily and without needing your assistance. Secondly, arrange your bathroom in a way that makes it possible for toddlers and preschoolers to brush their teeth, use the restroom, and wash their hands alone. This will probably mean investing in a brightly colored step stool until they are tall enough to reach on their own. Lastly, add simple reminders of what needs to be done each day—and make sure they’re easily visible. For non-readers, a simple picture-based chart outlining self-care and personal hygiene tasks is the easiest way to remind young children that is is important to care for our bodies every day.
Encourage Plenty of Free Play With Open Ended Toys
As parents, we often feel a lot of pressure to spend plenty of time playing with our children. While quality time is important, so is independent play. Having time to themselves encourages children to solve the problems they face in play on their own, and it also stimulates them to create new games and activities.
Children who are accustomed to playing independently do not need a lot of flashy toys. Instead, give your child access to a small collection of open-ended toys. These are toys that aren’t constrained to a single purpose. Blocks, art supplies, dress-up clothes, objects from nature, and everyday household items like buttons, ribbons, and cups all make perfect toys for open-ended play. When left alone with these items, children are free to play however their imagination leads them.
Create a Child-Friendly Kitchen
For most parents, the idea of toddlers and preschoolers in a kitchen filled with sharp objects and potential for burns seems like a terrible idea. However, even children under the age of three can engage in kitchen tasks with some level independence. For very young children, we suggest setting aside a few child-friendly tools before you begin preparing the meal. Some parents may choose to create a small workstation or a cabinet dedicated to this items so the child can retrieve these items themselves.
Here are a few ideas for how children can help in the kitchen. Most toddlers can begin by helping pour ingredients into a bowl or pot as well as making large cuts, like cutting their sandwich in half, with a blunt knife. As they grow older and their coordination improves, they can move on to more difficult tasks like peeling carrots or grating cheese. As a general rule, set up your kitchen in a way that allows children to clean up after themselves. Include a step stool near your sink so they can wash their hands and make sure they have access to towels so they can clean up their own messes.
At Modernize, we believe a home that fosters independence doesn’t need to requires a lot of changes. In fact, for most families, fostering independence means moving back to the basics by focusing on including children in everyday tasks and stepping back to allow them to navigate play and learning on their own.