“Help me to help myself.”

One of the most common questions I get from parents of the toddler and young child is how to prepare the home environment to assist their child’s natural tendencies and development.

I tell them first and foremost, in their quest to assist their child, remember one thing, it is independence that he is striving for, and the child must achieve it through his own actions.

Dr. Montessori spoke often of a child who once said to her, “Help me to help myself.” It is with this in mind that we must approach our children. It’s not that the children do not sometimes need help; it is the measure of help that the adult offers that is important. The key is to find a balance between abandoning your child to her own devices and doing things for her that she can do herself.
When a child develops new skills or makes new discoveries he has a great desire to use those skills in everyday life. Repetition and application of new skills are integral to a child’s development.

Having said that, what can you do in the home to assist your child’s path to independence? Simple! Help him to help himself. Try to see your home environment through the eyes of your child.

Make modifications throughout the house that allow him the opportunity to do things without unnecessary adult help and encourage him to be an active participant in the running of the house. (Young children have an innate desire to make a meaningful contribution to the family.)

In the Kitchen

  • Make a room for a child-sized worktable for young cooks.
  • Use a bottom drawer for place settings and utensils.
  • Mount a low shelf on a wall for plates, cups and dishes.
  • Purchase child-sized cooking utensils and allow your child to help with food preparation.
  • Provide a small broom, brush and dustpan for cleaning the floor.
  • Have your child set the table, wash/dry dishes.
  • Have your child help put groceries away.
  • Set aside the bottom shelf in your refrigerator for storing snacks that your child can prepare for himself, e.g. fruit, peanut butter, juice.

In the Bedroom:

In today’s world children often spend more time in their bedrooms than in any other room in the house. Bedrooms are no longer considered a place to sleep at the end of the day; rather, the bedroom has become the “entertainment” center for many young children. While a bedroom should reflect your child’s personality and current interests it should also be organized to make it easy for your child to maintain a sense of order with the maximum degree of independence.

  • Ideally, a young child’s bed should be low to the floor to allow her to get in and out on her own.
  • Mount a coat and hat rack on one wall within your child’s reach.
  • Mount high quality art prints on the wall at your child’s eye level.
  • For the older child mount a clock at eye level. Select one with a large face and clear numbers.
  • Mount a bulletin board at eye level where your child can display artwork or school work. Allow your child to make his own choices on what should be hung.
  • Modify the lighting in the room so your child can turn switches on and off independently. Consider using bedside lamps.
  • Rather than using a toy box, display toys and books on low shelves. Try to arrange items so that each toy has its own space. Use plastic, see-through containers to store toys or puzzles with many pieces. This helps to eliminate clutter while cutting down on “missing” pieces.
  • Provide a small table or some shelf space for a small nature display. Children love to collect and display rocks, seeds, leaves etc.
  • Make sure that your child’s dresser drawers are at a level that he can reach. Assign one drawer for each type of clothing, e.g. underwear only, shorts only, shirts only.
  • Place a clothes bar within reach in the closet so that your child can hang up his clothes independently. Store clothes out of season somewhere else!

Other suggestions:

  • Allow your child to assist in the preparation of her school lunch each day. Give appropriate food choices and allow your child to help prepare and pack the food.
  • Have your child choose his clothing the night before, laying out each item for the next morning.
  • Do not carry your child into school. Allow her to walk independently or hold you hand.
  • Encourage your child to carry his own lunchbox or backpack into the building and again when picked-up at dismissal.