Encouraging Independence With Self-Help Routines

It is essential that educators allow time in daily routines to both teach children tasks related to self-care and time to practice the skills. Self-help skills like helping clean up toys, taking care of hygiene and learning to dress, undress, and self-feeding build a sense of independence and confidence in developing children. Read Ways to Encourage Self-Help Skills in Children.

Self-Help Routines Encourage Independence

Creating a child-friendly environment encourages independence and builds confidence. Providing items for the routine at a child’s level along with accommodations, allow them to accomplish a task independently. For example, a step stool by the sink allows children to climb up and reach the faucet. Putting out a soap pump the child can operate and towels nearby, they can wash on their own.

Self-help skills become more meaningful to children if they practice them throughout the day as part of their routines. Teach self-help skills by modeling the skills you are teaching and narrating your actions. Model the action and then the child can try. Prompt the child and then wait for the child time to process the directions, recall the steps of the task, and allow for difficulties with language and/or motor processing. 

Helping and Cleaning Up

By inviting children to contribute to keeping the space organized, clean and safe, your environment will support both the health and the wellness of the children.  Research has validated that when children have experiences where they contribute to their community and have opportunities for shared responsibility, they have a much better chance for success, not just in school but throughout life (Henderson & Berla, 1994). Teaching personal responsibility can start early with simple tasks like asking them to put their shoes where they belong or being a helper. Use the Little Helper job chart to teach children the importance and joy of helping with daily chores.


The health and safety of children are our priority each day. Through supervision and care, children can learn about caring for themselves. Developmentally young children do not yet have the motor coordination, reasoning skills and awareness that allow them to complete these tasks on their own but can learn throughout the daily routine as we care for them. Narrate your actions as you change a diaper or help with handwashing. Children also learn self-help skills through play, such as washing dolls or cars. Filling containers and pouring them out is engaging and helps children develop self-regulation skills. 

By following a consistent daily routine, children learn the need to wash their hands after outdoor play, before eating and after art.

READ: How to Teach Children About Germs


Let the child do the part they can do. If he can’t pull a shirt over his head, help with that part and then prompt him to pull it down the rest of the way. Give the child time to try and offer minimal assistance.

Allow older children to put on their shoes or coat but help with the challenging part of tying or zipping. Offer picture cards of what to do first, next and last if necessary (shoes, coat, mittens).

Provide books about getting dressed and dress-up clothing for practice. Toys that teach buttoning, tying, and zipping help children who are ready for these self-help skills time to practice in a playful way.

Many of the daily learning activities from Experience Early Learning focus on developing fine motor skills which build hand strength, eye-hand coordination and small muscle movements.

Feeding Self

Provide a spoon for young children even if they are not able to quite use it on their own yet so they can practice holding it and bringing it to their mouths.

Encourage the child to feed herself by helping hand-over-hand as you scoop. Soon you can let go until she is scooping all by herself.  Encourage your child to practice drinking from a straw and sippy cup. If using an open cup, start with small amounts of liquid. Some spills are to be expected but understanding the effort to develop these skills is important. Infants and toddlers play games that encourage pincher grasps, transferring and scooping. 

Most importantly, slow down and allow time for children to go through these care routines while encouraging independence as they are able. Their daily care routines are an important part of the child’s education and development.

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