How to: Encourage Independence in Pre-School Leavers
When children leave nursery and start primary school, it can be an unsettling time for the children and their parents. The best thing practitioners can do is to prepare the children as much as possible so they are not overwhelmed when it is time to move on.
As well as developing effective communication skills and knowing how to regulate their emotions, one of the most important areas for children to grow in is independence. If a child can do certain things for themselves, they will feel safe and confident in their abilities when they start school.
In nurseries children are usually in small, intimate groups. Depending on their age they might be in a room with only 8 to 16 other children and 3 to 4 adults. When they start school, however, they will be with around 30 other children (sometimes 60 as some reception classes join up for certain times of the day) and perhaps only 2 or 3 adults.
This drastic increase of people in their environment can be daunting and intimidating. By explaining to children what to expect, as well as encouraging parents to attend school visits, children can be better prepared for this big change.
Being around more children and fewer adults also results in children having less support and one-to-one attention with teaching staff. By giving children the tools to look after themselves (in age-appropriate ways) the aim is that they will be enabled to go to the toilet, change their clothes for PE, hang up their bag and coat, eat their lunch, socialise and problem solve independently, and will transition smoothly into school.
Helping children develop independence takes time and patience. Children should never be scrutinised for anything they cannot yet do and should be praised for any small effort they make. Giving them some space to resolve conflicts with other children helps them learn how to problem solve and communicate effectively. Strong communication skills help them build relationships with others, giving them confidence to make new friends in school. Children should also be confident to use a knife and fork when eating, as many children and parents opt for hot school lunches.
From approximately 3 years old, children can be encouraged to try and put on their own coats and shoes, gradually advancing to other items of clothing, as children will need to dress and undress for PE lessons in school. Toileting by themselves, learning how to wipe and pull up their underwear and trousers also supports independent dressing. Once in primary school, children will be expected to use the toilet alone. It is expected for most children to reach these abilities by age 4 or 5 but every child is different and children with SEND may take longer to achieve them.
Of course, teachers and other adults will still help the children when they need assistance, but the reality is that they simply have more children to care for, with fewer adults, meaning they cannot intimately care for and support each child every second of every day. It is not fair to place children in an environment that they are underprepared for, and they will have an easier transition by learning about school life beforehand - growing their independence and feeling that they are capable. Children will ultimately be more open to taking part in learning opportunities if they feel confident in their abilities.