Monday, April 9, 2012

the other lion: fostering independence

We've had a few broken dishes at my house in the past few weeks. My son has reached a new stage called I Do It Myself. Most of us who work with, know, or have small people in our lives are familiar with this year or so of life that makes us simultaneously excited for the future and nauseated over the amount of money we will have to spend on hair dye to cover our new gray patches.

My son's independent streak focuses on two main areas -- using the microwave and dressing himself. He also really, really, really likes making toast. I've had success using picture schedules for routine tasks both at school and at home in the past, so I am going to make this one for him.







It's easy as a parent to want to step in and do it myself because it's faster, or because I'm tired of Punkin's little feet stepping on mine after a long day. But what I've learned as an educator and parent of a child with a disability is that it's more important to teach life skills for the long run.  So how can we incorporate this idea in the classroom?

1. Keep Quiet! Let children interact on their own before intervening. Don't speak for them before allowing them a chance to speak for themselves. This also means that sometimes when our instinct is to yell, "STOP!" because it's too messy or might be slightly dangerous, we need to allow our little ones freedom to act.

2.  Stop Anticipating! This is the easiest trap to fall into. We all see the empty cup at lunch and fill it up without thinking. Meal times are an excellent time to encourage language. When you see an empty cup and you know a child wants more milk, try making eye contact with the child and simply waiting for him to initiate the request. If he doesn't, ask, "What do you want?" and wait. Still no answer? Sign and say "more" by tapping the fingertips of both of your hands together.

If you have a child who is non-verbal or who has limited language, try taking pictures of your menu items and placing them near the child's place setting during meals. Then he can hand you the picture of the item he wants more of during the meal. For example, if you are having a sandwich, carrots, applesauce, and milk for lunch, the student would have a picture of each of those items next to his plate. When he wants more milk, he simply hands you the picture of milk. Then you can work on saying, "more milk."

3. Set Up Supports for Success. Using picture schedules can cut down on the number of verbal reminders required for a child to complete a task and has the added bonus of giving yourself a break from hearing your own voice repeated all day. 

Here's a simple hand washing picture to hang above the sink.
In all seriousness, though, children need to know that it's not only okay to use their voices, but encouraged. Nurturing their sense of independence into lifelong skills is one of the greatest gifts we can provide them.


My name is Erika and I blog over at the other lion. My son has Fragile X Syndrome, which is a leading cause of inherited mental impairment and autism. I have been working as a ParaEducator for over seven years. I currently work in a special education preschool classroom. I am always happy to answer questions about Fragile X.


  1. Great suggestions, Erika! I appreciate those sorts of aids for any preschoolers. I used to have a handwashing chart in the bathroom when I had a Montessori preschool. The children always liked it being there. I just wrote about independence at Living Montessori Now today, too (although dressing independence). I pinned your post to my Special Needs board at

  2. Thanks, Deb! I think every preschool room should be filled with these sorts of pictures. :)

  3. You are completely correct in all you say. Even in elementary school this type of teaching works well. Some children need the support because they have been helped way too much are are surprised at what they are able to do. This is an important post for all parents to read. Thanks, Carolyn


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