Independence is key but it takes work!

I spent time with my 17 year old daughter, Lyddie, today, teaching her how to decorate.  We had a great time together, choosing colours, shopping for what she needed, teaching techniques and giving advice.  She's doing a great job with her room and I have had such fun teaching her.  It's good for her to have the freedom to make choices and mistakes, appreciate the cost of paint and materials, learn new skills and to grasp something that I, as her Mum, have passed on to her.  I think the skills and traditions we learn from our parents are very special gifts.  I remember  learning to make gravy and using the old sewing machine with my Mum and mastering draughts and playing Beethoven with my Dad above anything they ever bought for me.

Giving children the confidence, freedom and skills to become independent, competent young adults is crucial and needs to start at an early age.  Having highly skilled and independent children in a classroom is essential.

The last time I taught a full time Year 2 class was in 1996.  I had 36 children with one part time TA who worked with me 3 or 4 mornings per week.  The rest of the time I was on my own. 10 of the children had special needs, mostly for poor ability and behaviour.  One poor soul seemed to think he was a donkey and spent a lot of time on all fours under tables.  Being young and probably naive, I believed I could do absolutely anything I put my mind to and I wasn't at all phased by this.  It certainly didn't enter my head to complain or even to panic. However I definitely had a more urgent sense of needing to ensure this class was as highly independent as I could possibly make them!

We worked an, 'integrated day' in those days; teaching whole class sessions for about 20 minutes 4 or 5 times per day and the rest of the time we worked with small groups while everyone else was busy choosing in provision.  I spent much of September teaching independence skills - how to use powder paint well and how to clean the easel until it was pristine and set up ready for the next person to use, how to do collage, my expectations for independent art, craft, writing, drawing and so  on.  I told them that the sink should never be left dirty, that everything had a place and it couldn't live anywhere else.  I taught them how to ring out a cloth, how to use a mop bucket, about taking responsibility for their own mess and they all had classroom chores such as sweeping, sharpening pencils, sorting out the coloured fabric trays or sifting sand.

From then on, I became the teacher and checker, not the floundering 'skivvy' I could have turned into.  I was free to work undisturbed with my small groups while the children taught themselves and one another.  Expectations were so consistently high I never had to charge around in an angry frenzy shouting at children to tidy up or to stop wasting time.  The classroom literally worked like clockwork.

After having 6 years being at home with my own children and lecturing undergraduates, I went to teach in a nursery school.  My approach was exactly the same and the results were just as good, even though there was even more mess!