Giving Kids The Key: How Do You Support Independence?

I remember the first time that my teaching partner, Paula, handed over her key card to a student. A kindergarten student. A four-year-old. I will admit that I internally questioned her choice. Not only was she allowing this student to go back into the school on his own, but she was giving him the key to do so. This was not the type of student that you might consider your “most mature,” and yet, she completely trusted him. Was Paula being irresponsible? Absolutely not! In fact, before she handed over the key, she made sure that he knew how to use the card reader, that he identified exactly what he needed to get from the classroom — which is actually incredibly close to the door — and that he understood the need to be quick. He knew the rules, he was “competent and capable” enough to follow them, and as Paula expected, he did just that. Watching this process evolve and later talking briefly to Paula about it, I realized that she knew something that I didn’t. Right now, maybe more than ever, “kids need some way to demonstrate independence.”

Paula’s words really resonated with me. With numerous safety precautions and restrictions these days, there’s little that children can do on their own. In previous years, we used to have students …

  • walk down the hallway to pick up and deliver milk,
  • bring the attendance to the office,
  • go to the office to get bandaids or medication,
  • fix the stapler,
  • oversee the pencil sharpener,
  • pour glue,
  • self-serve paint,

and the list goes on. Many of these options are now impossible with COVID. With the sanitizing of the key card and the sanitizing of hands before and afterwards, this independent trip back to the classroom is something that children can do.

I was reminded of this topic of independence a few days ago, when I came across this article on Twitter (I wish now that I remember who tweeted it). While we might not be sending four-year-olds out on their own to the store anymore, is this trip back into the classroom the equivalent? While kids can not only go to collect items that they need, they can also go and grab items for us — be it a garbage bag for litter found on the field or another bottle of hand sanitizer. Have no doubt that every child not only craves this responsibility, but is completely capable of having it! Just listen to these two students discuss their announcement adventures when they went inside to get a few things.

Even with no adult in the room to tell them to stop, these children knew that they needed to stand for O’Canada and listen to the announcements. They might not have remembered all of the details in what the principal shared, but what mattered the most to them was certainly easy to recall.

Our Kindergarten Program Document highlights that all children are “competent and capable,” and if we truly believe this, then how does it impact on our choices as educators and/or as parents? I thought a lot about this home component recently thanks to some wonderful tweets shared by Kimiko Shibata. Kimiko’s highlighting a little of the offline learning that her child is doing at home. (Thanks to her for giving me permission to share these tweets here.)

I appreciate how Kimiko is giving her child the opportunity to engage in risky playwith supervision and support as needed, but also, with growing independence. Online, we can’t hand over a key card to go and collect items from the classroom, but what can we do? What have families done to support this independence at home? Our world has certainly changed in the past couple of years, but the need for independence does not need to go by the wayside. If ever there was a time to work with families to make this independence possible, I think it might be now. What have you tried? I watch a few of our young learners login to Teams on their own, select the right meeting from the calendar to join, participate in the meeting by themselves, and mute and unmute the microphone as needed. Big independence for small children and proof to me that so much is possible! Once again, I’m grateful for a teaching partner who gives me these uncomfortable moments of reflection so that I can be a little more comfortable in letting go.


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