Incorporating Independent Living Skills in the Home for Your Preschool/Early Elementary Student

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A lot of these ideas were prompted by watching and interacting with my own daughter at home during the days of COVID. With us all at home under one roof for months on end, she was always asking to “help”. So, naturally I looked for ways that she could learn some real life skills while being as independent as she could considering her age. These activities can be modified to meet the needs of your own child to build their confidence while also contributing to the family in their own way.

Picking out clothes, and what to do with them at the end of the day.

This can be done before bedtime for the following day and placed out in the same place each day. This way when the child is ready to dress themselves more independently, they know where to locate the outfit to do so.

Actually “picking” their own clothes is an exciting time. My 4 year old LOVES to do this, and although 90% of the time she picks items I would never put together, she is happy! This is a skill that can be developed by first orienting your child to their dresser. This is as simple as touching and counting the number of drawers, or as advanced as adding pictures or braille labels to the outside of the drawers.

Once pajamas or day clothes are taken off, they should have a designated place to go instead of a pile in the middle of whatever room they are in. Have a small clothes hamper or even a corner of their room designated for this purpose. This will get your child into the habit of when something is dirty it needs to go to the laundry. My role in getting it to the laundry is putting in this place.

Getting themselves dressed.

This can be difficult with figuring out front and back of some clothing items as some clothes now do not have traditional tags on them. Starting with orientation of the dresser can be helpful. This skill is different than getting themselves “dressed”, but will be a good piece of knowledge to have to build on other skills later on.

Starting with one article of clothing such as socks or shoes that Velcro may motivate your child to want to do more on their own. Modeling how to put on a coat or sweatshirt or using this cool technique may be helpful. My children loved this and were putting on their coats at 18 months by themselves. Putting on coat independently

Preparing breakfast or lunch.

Helping to press labeled buttons on the toaster or spreading peanut butter or butter on toast is an easy way to get your child involved in the breakfast routine. As your child’s skills evolve, practice cutting bananas with a plastic fork and knife, or invest in a small strawberry or egg slicer which are super cool gadgets for little hands to help with preparing meals.

There are smaller sized pitchers on the market that you can purchase one example with a quick search is child’s pitcher. Slow pouring with a small amount of liquid is a great way to work on this skill.

There are also some cereal holders that sit on your counter or in your pantry that a child can just turn a knob and the cereal is released. There are a few options and fancy features to choose from, but this one was basic cereal dispenser. Pretty cool stuff!

Preparing toothbrush and brushing teeth.

This is an easy task for your children to try on their own. I myself loathe seeing bright blue streaks of toothpaste on the counter after my three children rush out of the bathroom in the morning ready to get their day started, but it makes me happy that they are doing this on their own and are also helping their little sister by putting toothpaste on her toothbrush too.

If you do not have two older siblings to help your toddler, I found these cool things online that are automatic toothpaste dispensers that can attach by suction cup on the bathroom wall. Hands free toothpaste dispenser.

I let my children start by brushing themselves and will “supervise” the younger one much more than her two older brothers. After her timer goes off, I get to take my turn to help make the germs go away. This teaches the simple skill of turn taking as well as working together to accomplish the goal of clean teeth, or fangs as we refer to them, before bed.

Setting table or cleaning up the table after a meal.

Just asking your child to bring their plate/bowl to the counter after eating or placing their cup in the sink is a great place to start. If this is too advanced, maybe just throwing away their napkin after a meal is an acceptable goal.

As your child gets older, they can then clear their plate in the trash, place their plate in the sink or dishwasher, or help to put things away from the table such as ketchup, salt and pepper.

Setting the table can start as just placing napkins at each seat, and as they get older they can then place forks and spoons. They can also place salad dressings, etc. and remove them at the end of the meal.

Putting away toys.

This sounds glorious doesn’t it? Having your child put their own toys away instead of you on your hands and knees grabbing at any item in your arm’s reach as you shuffle along to the next pile.

Having different shaped bins or textured bins/baskets to help your child identify what goes where can be a good strategy. Cars and trucks go in a plastic square bins, stuffed animals in a cloth bin, etc.

I know my children seem to take their toys all over the house and random items can be found just about all over the place. For a child with a visual impairment, depending on the level of impairment, having designated play areas for toys that go together may be helpful as well from a cleaning up perspective.

I find even with my own children, when they have their mind set on playing with one particular play set they will spend more time looking around the house for a specific character or action figure before they get down to “playing”. Imagine how frustrating it could be for a child with a visual impairment to not have all of the pieces or parts to a game or toy they want to play with in one place. Teaching your children from a young age to put one thing away before taking out another may be a good skill and something they will need more support with as they get older. The introduction of good organizational skills will help for sure.

Cleaning room – making bed and putting away laundry.

After working on one of the skills above regarding getting dressed, this can be a great way to expand on that. You can have your child help to put away clothes away once they know what goes in what drawer.

When I say “make a bed” I am not looking for a tight tuck or being able to bounce a quarter off the mattress. This can simply look however you want, or feel is a good start. This can simply be picking up stuffed animals that may have fallen off the bed in the night and putting them back up on the bed. It could be just pulling the blanket back up and smoothing it out. This is not a skill for perfection as we are talking about young children starting to get involved. Showing responsibility and taking pride in their personal space is a great skill to have.

This can also be something that they “help” you do as you model for them to begin and then give them more independence as they do it more on their own.

Getting bath ready, washing body and hair, putting on pajamas.

This is a pretty easy one and you may already be doing this not even realizing it. I do not recommend having your child turn on the water as this may be a safety issue if the water comes out too hot. Instead, placing toys in the tub at the beginning of the bath time and removing them at the end is helping!

Some children are little fish and will stay in the tub all night if you allow them. You can have them help you set a timer before they get in and then give them a 2 minute warning before you start to drain the tub. Depending on the drain type you have, they can also help by doing this step for you.

While in the tub, teaching your child how to lather and wash body parts while naming them is a great way to build on body awareness and vocabulary for your younger children. I lather my daughter’s hair to make sure it is clean and then hand under hand I have her “help” me wash it more. This gives her a good model of how to wash properly to make sure she gets nice and clean.

We do this with a washcloth as well. We take turns washing her legs, feet, belly, back, arms, etc. I wash first and then I hand over the washcloth and she washes the same spot again.

Putting on pajamas for my little one is like a wrestling match some nights. After a warm tub she is like jello, and because she is entering into that “tired time” of the day she can be quite giggly. She has begun to help by picking out her own pajamas (I give her a choice of 2 otherwise we would never get her to bed). This may not be a time of your day you want to provide choices which I totally get. But she does like to help me brush her hair after a tub which we do hand under hand so that she is gentle and does not hurt herself.

Putting away coats, shoes, backpacks, lunchboxes when entering the house.

This I have ingrained in my children from the day they were big enough to start walking or stripping off their own layers of cloths. The sooner you get into this habit the happier and less stressful you will find specific parts of your day.

When shoes come off, they are either in the garage when they come in or at the front door where we have a shoe rack. Shoes do not go in bedrooms or in common living spaces as they will surely end up in a toy bin, behind or under a bed, or who knows where else. This is critical in getting three children out of the house at any time of the day. Shoes were always the thing that went missing around here.

Designating a specific place for shoes, coats, etc. at home is a good way to teach your child early on an expectation of when they reach school age and it allows them to be more independent when you ask them to get ready to go somewhere.

Having a small coat rack at their eye level or a hook on the wall allows them to place their coat somewhere that they know they can go back to retrieve it when needed

When my older two boys come in from school, they take their lunch boxes out and place them on the counter in the same place each day. In the morning when it is packed, they know where to go to get it to put in their bags for school. Repetition and routine make our mornings run very smooth.

The main takeaway for this is developing routines. Having the items in the same place or asking them to put their items in the same place will allow them to keep track of them and not need to ask where things are 45 times before leaving the house… which in turn can cut down on your stress level as well, which we can all use a little dose of these days!

These are just a few ideas to get your little ones to become more independent around the house. Do you have routines in your home that your children help out with? I would love to hear from you if you do!!

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