What Does “Independence” Look Like For You?

As many of my blog readers know, over the past 21 years, I’ve taught multiple grades — from kindergarten to grade 6. I’ve spent the most number of years in kindergarten, but my experiences in other grades, has helped me frame a lot of the learning and the choices that I make now. Insights and conversations with my amazing teaching partner, Paula, have also pushed me to reconsider choices of the past and adopt new practices. Paula’s a firm believer in many things, but one of which is independence. Experiences in other grades often had me viewing independence as just the learning skill, Independent Work. I saw independence as the ability to play, create, or problem solve alone, but conversations in the past couple of months, have me wondering if there’s more to independence than that.

This week, I published this Instagram post.

Looking at our classroom environment under the umbrella of independence, had me thinking about not just how we define independence, but about what independence looks like in our kindergarten program. I’ve decided to share below ten examples of independence in action. Many of these examples came about because of conversations that we had together in the past, as Paula pushed me to see “competent and capable” in a new light.

  • Carrying materials outside for our outdoor learning time. This includes really heavy items that might spill, but require some student problem solving to allow for the safe transportation of materials.
There were actually seven small bottles and one large bottle of water in this bucket.
  • Accessing materials that students want, even if the items are heavy to lift or located in different cupboards. This week, a child told me that he needed a bandaid. Before I could even get to the cupboard to get him one, he pulled the step stool over to the correct cupboard, opened the door, grabbed a bandaid, and put it on. He’s four-years-old. We’ve never had a conversation on exactly where these bandaids are located, but he’s seen Paula and I grab them a few times and even get one for a friend recently. This is all it took for him to independently get his own. The same holds true for markers. Our kids love writing us notes for new markers, and going into the cupboard to grab a package. Plus there’s my favourite glue example from years ago that I’ll share in an Instagram post below.
  • Solving problems including ones that we have not considered before. I could probably share many different Instagram post examples here, but the one that comes to mind immediately is one from a few days ago. A child was distracted by some students in our kindergarten pen that kept coming to the window near his table space. Instead of telling us about the problem, he decided to write a note to attempt to solve this problem. Then a conversation led to some more note writing options.
  • Making the right choice, even when there’s no adult there to directly oversee it. I’m thinking back to this O’Canada example from last year. We were outside, and a child wanted to go in to get some tape. When she was inside, O’Canada started to play. With no adult there to tell her to stop or to oversee her singing, she still stopped, stood, and sang before coming back outside.
  • Taking the key to go inside, accessing materials that they need, and returning to us with the key. I remember when Paula first gave her pass key to a student to go inside to get something that he needed from the classroom. I seriously wondered if this was too much responsibility for a five-year-old. Children rise to the challenge though, and they meet expectations that we set for them. They love having this responsibility, and they are all able to take the key card, get items that they require, and bring the card back out to us. Giving our key card over to kids communicates to them how much we trust them and how capable we know that they are.
  • Controlling the SMART Board. We often freeze an image on the SMART Board in the morning after the meeting time to inspire some creations and discussions. As time goes on, students want to see other images that we looked at as a class. We used to control the SMART Board for kids, but now they do the switching and freezing of images on their own.
  • Documenting or capturing learning independently, particularly when there might not be an adult available to assist. The greatest example of this is one from when Paula was away and there was no supply. A child really wanted me to reply to her note and record the conversation, but I was trying to do a million things at the same time and knew that I couldn’t do this recording. She offered to do it instead, and by just passing over the iPad, she did the rest. Students can make some wonderful teachers too! πŸ™‚
  • Packing up and getting yourself ready for home, but also supporting others that might need some help. I wrote a whole blog post on this topic, but I think that it also deserves some special mention here. The fact that the children coordinate this support on their own, also speaks to their independence.
  • Supporting each other with reading, when an adult might not be available. The example below is one that I shared in another blog post, but it’s a favourite example of mine. When Paula couldn’t be there to help with this reading, children figured out how to help each other. Independence allows for this collaboration to happen.
  • Redesigning the classroom to work for them. This doesn’t mean rearranging the entire classroom, but it does mean that groupings are formed and spaces are reorganized by the kids to meet their needs throughout the day. From pulling up chairs to different tables to carving out areas on the floor, students have really owned classroom organization this year.
You can see different ways that students created and used the classroom environment in this post, even though this might not be the focus of the post itself.

They do a similar thing outside, as they look at how to use different areas in our playground space. Deciding on materials to use and how to organize each area, all speak to their independence.

I realize that kindergarten varies from other grades, but choosing these ten points to include really forced me to think more about independence and what that actually looks and sounds like in our indoor and outdoor classrooms. What does independence look like in your classroom or home, and what might be the benefits of supporting this independence? Maybe by sharing ideas, we can consider new ways to further develop this important skill in all of our kids.

Aviva

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