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Learning Independence

Reading along with the free range kid movement, I frequently see question about how to teach kids to be independent.  Here’s what we’ve done in broad strokes:
  • We included the gang here in as much of our day to day lives as we possibly can.  One of the best ways to learn anything is to watch someone else doing it.
  • We respect their autonomy, even with eating, even with their personal space, even when they were little.
  • We taught the gang how to move autonomously with us, walking when we walk, running when we run. Our trips were slowed a bit as each kid came up to speed, but now they’re responsible for getting themselves places, not us
  • We taught them to follow directions from afar.  Part of independence is responsibility.  We taught the gang to listen to our instructions… even if they’re a block away.
  • We taught them not to be afraid of strangers.  It’s hard to be independent if you see danger lurking around every corner.
Practice makes Perfect
A big chunk of being independent is practicing independence.  The gang is almost always out and about either with us, or with a nanny.  In either case, they’re watching someone be independent out in the world, as well as being encouraged to be independent themselves.  As we wander about talking to people, introducing the kids to everyone we meet,  they learn other people are no big deal.  They learn to interact.  They get to practice being independent where they’ll ultimately put their skills to use, the real world

The kids controlled their own food from very early on.  As infants, they were breastfed, but as they developed interest in our food, they were allowed to have as much as they wanted.  They tried whatever they liked, and had more of what they really liked.  We never had baby food, the gang just ate more and more of our food until they got a plate of their own—a seat at the table so to speak. 

Walking autonomously
The kids are responsible for getting places on their own. We never once used a stroller.  We don’t own one.  As soon as they could walk, each kid was down on the ground walking along with everyone else.  It meant our trips took a little longer at first, in the end though, we make it through a crowded town easily as a group of autonomous individuals who can all hold their own.

Following directions
When we’re headed somewhere specific even though we move independently, we still all have to travel as a group.  Sometimes I need to reel the gang back in, you know, for safety.  For both things, the kids and I worked on following directions—literal directions like ‘hard left’, ‘U-turn’, and ‘stop’—from afar.  We started working on this in grocery stores because they were nice contained spaces we happened to be in anyway.  Ultimately, we took our game to the streets, er sidewalks.

Not fearing strangers
Another part of independence is feeling safe in your environment.  We’ve tried to never instill fear of the outside world in the kids.  Strangers are people we haven’t met yet, that’s all.  The kids are around a wide variety of people every day.  They’re used to it, and not afraid of it.

That sums it up.  There are a lot of everyday independence builders I’ve left out, but this covers the basics.  I really believe that for kids to be independent, they have to allowed and encouraged to be independent in every aspect of their lives—that’s been the easiest path for us.  The gang here doesn’t consider being independent as novel or new, it’s a part of their everyday lives, and always has been.


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