During the first month of college my freshman year, my mom sent me this poem by Erma Bombeck. I can remember finding it inside of a letter she had written to me.
Children Are Like Kites
by Erma Bombeck
You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground.
You run with them until you are both breathless.
They hit the rooftop.
You patch and comfort, adjust, and teach.
You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday,
they will fly.
Finally, they are airborne;
They need more string and you keep letting it out;
But with each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with joy.
The kite grows more distant and you know it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you two together, and will soar, free and alone.
Only then do you know that you did your job.
Later I pinned her handwritten copy of the poem above my desk in my dorm. It gave me comfort reading it every so often. But now that I am a mom, I imagine it gave her even more comfort knowing she had shared her feelings of pride and joy through the words of the poem.
I've taught primary children for many years, and I often think of this poem as the school year begins. It is a reminder of the scaffolding I think about during the first few months of school and the joy of independence I witness in my students at the end of the year. In the fall I provide support for students to learn the many new routines of the classroom. As the days and weeks go by, I step aside and allow the students to take on the work they once needed help to complete.
One of my goals for this year is to help parents begin to embrace this scaffolding or gradual letting go of some of the tasks we often do for our kids. One routine my youngest son seemed to need help with was getting up for school. I would need to leave early for childcare, and I would often wake him up and find that he was still in bed when it was time to leave. I forgot about all the help I gave the older two when they were his age and assumed he would just be ready. So we began to put out his clothes for the next morning each night. I started to hug him awake, giving him time to open his eyes, and walking him through getting dressed. Slowly, I let go of the hug, talking him through getting dressed while I was in the room.
After talking with my friend Maureen, a kindergarten teacher in my school, we brainstormed some questions that parents can use for a discussion about building independence at home as well as in the classroom. We thought we would start by giving them some questions they could use to begin a discussion about building independence with routines. Then, we would suggest some ideas for building routines at home that would support the routines we build in the classroom. Finally, we wanted to describe some of the independent self-care type behaviors their children will be learning at school.
We plan to use this guide with our parents during curriculum night. The questions and routines in these lists are possibilities you can consider or build from depending on what your child needs.
Questions to help build independence at home:
What can you do all by yourself here at home?
What would you like to learn to do by yourself?
What could you do to make sure you take care of your school bag and books?
Where will you put your book bag when you come home?
When will we be together to check the contents of your book bag?
What should we do with things that need to be returned to school?
Ideas to support independent school routines:
Set up a coat hook or closet area that your child can reach and access on his/her own.
Set a routine time to read and look through folder allowing the child to take the lead.
Help your child remember to finish the routine by placing folder and books back into his/her backpack.
Use a calendar together (marking school routines and needs like library day for returning books/or P.E. day when kids need to wear sneakers).
Ideas for independent home routines:
Have the whole family help with the dishes by having each family member helps out with a small task like carrying plates to sink or wiping the table.
Include children in packing their lunch by asking them to add items to lunchbox.
Check the weather together and set out clothing the night before school.
Set up a routine for the clean up of toys at the end of the day (or weekly) which you work together to accomplish.
Set up a bedtime routine for brushing teeth, reading, and lights out — and be sure to give your child enough time to complete it before their bedtime.
With these routines in mind for practice at home, here is a look at the questions and routines we will set up in the classroom.
Questions we will be asking our students:
What can you do all by yourself?
What would you like to learn to do this year all by yourself?
What will you do if you get stuck?
How can you help someone else?
How do you know if you can do something all by yourself? How do you feel?
Routines we will teach, practice, and revisit often:
Hanging up backpack and coat.
Placing take home folder in their mailbox.
Returning then choose a book for nightly reading.
Placing papers in folder.
Placing folder in backpack.
Zipping or buttoning coat and putting on hat and gloves when needed.
We added a note for parents: We know all these routines will not be accomplished perfectly all the time. At first your child will need guidance and support to consistently follow these new routines. As parents and teachers, we gradually turn control over to children as they demonstrate competence with the task. There will be nights that you're busy and a routine might be skipped. There are days when your child will forget his or her lunch or forget his/her library book. Let natural consequences happen. It is okay to wait to check out a book or for a student to rely on the school lunch for a day. These consequences are realistic and teach children to be resilient. These routines build confidence and comfort into a child’s day. They don’t have to be rewarded for taking care of themselves. The student's feeling of accomplishment will be reward enough!