In the CLASS® dimension Regard for Student Perspectives, there is an indicator called Support for Autonomy. This means the ability to self-govern or make your own decisions about what, how, and why you do what you do. I recently have had a life lesson in autonomy.
My oldest daughter just turned 7. Since then, she has been asking me a lot lately: “Why do you make all of the decisions?”
After some validation of her questions and emotions (“Yeah, that stinks that you can’t always do what you want when you want”), we had a discussion about adults needing to set boundaries for safety and well-being (complete with an analogy to the backyard fence to help her understand the word boundaries). Then we started brainstorming ways she can have a little more autonomy.
She already has some autonomy such as deciding what to wear, what books to read, when to take a bath, and whether she will actually eat dinner (any other families feel that pain?!). We also encourage overall responsibility, such as contributing to household chores and taking care of her clothes and toys.
Even so, my daughter was expressing her desire to have a little more control over her daily life. I know that developing her autonomy will help her see herself as a competent person and someone who can take on tasks and challenges as they arise.
So here is what we brainstormed:
She was ecstatic about these new choices she could make on her own. Although when she got back from the park, I asked how it felt and she said, “It was weird to not have a grown up there. Weird, but good”.
Before this whole process, I would have said that my daughter had a lot of choices as most of her play is child-led, but now I realize she was seeking more ways to try out her capabilities. As a parent, letting go can be a little scary. What choices will she make? How will those choices affect her and the rest of the family? How will I scaffold her through the consequences (positive and negative) of those choices?
We sometimes see this same issue come up in classrooms, especially with younger children. Children may either not be encouraged to have roles and responsibilities in the classroom, the roles may not be meaningful to children, or they aren’t given the chance to really do the job. For example, a teacher may call on a child to lead calendar time, but tell them where to point or hold the pointer for them.
Just like parents, it can be scary for teachers to find ways for children to have more autonomy in the classroom. Children might make mistakes (or messes), tasks can take more time, and taking care of all the other tasks needed to teach a classroom full of preschoolers can be overwhelming. However, when children are given opportunities based on their abilities and readiness, teachers may be surprised at what children are capable of and how it affects the classroom as a whole.
If you are interested in increasing children’s autonomy in the classroom, here are some questions for your reflection.
It is important to note that there are important cultural differences in how much autonomy is desired, when and how it is appropriate for children to demonstrate a desire for more autonomy, and how to scaffold a child’s growing sense of autonomy. This example is one family from one cultural background and is not meant to be prescriptive. Teachers and parents should guide the children in their care according to their context. However, I hope that this recent lesson in my life can help other parents and teachers to take a step back and think about who makes the decisions, in what way might a child become more involved in the process, and what the overall outcome may be.
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Moving towards a post-pandemic world, early childhood education is still in a fractured state of recovery. Numerous headlines define the inequitable foundation early childhood system is built on that limits educators’ capacity to thrive and impact children’s lives. Yet demand for early learning remains steadfast as families get back to routines in communities everywhere. How do policymakers start to level the playing field for early childhood programs with equitable policies while increasing access for families in need of high-quality care?
Originally published December 22, 2016
Regard for Student Perspectives as defined by CLASS® is“the degree to which the teacher’s interactions with students and classroom activities place an emphasis on students’ interests, motivations, and points of view and encourage student responsibility and autonomy.” This often looks like following children's lead so that you can anticipate their needs during an activity.
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