Providing choices for children is a fundamental aspect of high-quality early childhood education. The importance of allowing children to lead their learning experiences is becoming a popular subject of discussion, particularly so in the Early Years and this approach to learning is child-focused, rather than teacher-centered. This methodology is referred to as autonomy. Autonomy in relation to early childhood education simply means letting children know that they are in control of themselves, as well as the choices that they make. This begins from the activities that they partake in, to how they play and interact with their friends. Autonomy plays a rowle in everything a child does, and it teaches children independence. Although often undermined, independence is a critical skill for preschoolers, as it lays the foundation for how they should conduct themselves later in life as they take on greater responsibilities.
Autonomy should be encouraged in the Early Years because it helps children feel in control and consequently, boosts their self-esteem. Of course, we cannot expect children to be in control of all aspects of their lives, but they should feel that they have ownership over certain elements in their lives an start to self-regulate their emotions.
Here are a few ways we can start promoting autonomy in an Early Years classroom.
Being able to do something on one’s own fosters a sense of achievement and by allowing children to make their own choices, they are problem solving. They begin to understand that their choices and actions influence outcomes. Making meaningful choices is an essential part of growing up. Allowing children to make their own choices is the first step to encouraging independent decision making. Whenever possible, we should set up an environment where many choices are available. However, choices come with limitations of course. The way we see it as is the adults make the primary choices, while allowing the children to make the secondary choices. For example, a child will not play with the burner controls on the stove while making cookies. But he can help pour in the sugar or crack the eggs for these cookies. When children know they will be given plenty of opportunities to choose for themselves, they are more willing to accept those important “no choice” decisions that we must make for them.
By listening to children’s ideas and opinions, we are helping them develop a sense of identity. Respecting the opinions of preschoolers demonstrates that they do matter and they do, in fact, have an input in the world. It also helps them understand that adults recognize and respect their abilities.
By embracing children’s opinions and allowing them to make independent decisions and building this independence helps them cope with more responsibilities as they grow up.
Offer children real responsibilities that matter. Experiences like following a recipe, or gardening are excellent tasks to assign to children to help them feel like they are performing an “adult” responsibility.
Our primary task as educators and parents is to provide children with appropriate, healthy options and help them to make and accept their choices. By doing so, we are developing confident, independent children who feel in control of themselves. Adults are important role-models and children learn a lot from just watching us and then trying for themselves. It is our responsibility to provide opportunities that allows children to learn new skills, all of which will help them become more and more independent as they grow.
To find out more about Windsor’s approach to the EYFS, nursery and pre-school childcare and education please get in touch we would be happy to support your enquiry and questions.