Developing Independence in Young Learners: A PAS approach

Developing Independence in Young Learners: A PAS approach

Our recent workshop about developing independence in young learners brought together a group of like-minded parents and educators to learn about how we can work together to support our learners at Pan American School. During the workshop, we were able to engage in a collaborative discussion about where our children are now, where we want them to be, and how we can support them to get there. We looked at research-based developmental continuums and shared practical strategies for nurturing independent skills in ECE learners. 

The importance of developing independence

Developing independence in young learners serves as the foundation for their educational journey and personal development. Here is why we focus on building independence at PAS:

  1. Foundational Skills for Learning: Independence lays the foundation for essential skills, setting the stage for academic success and lifelong learning.
  2. Learner Agency: Encouraging independence empowers children to take charge of their learning and make decisions, nurturing learner agency from a young age.
  3. Challenge and Achievement: Children who are independent learners are more likely to seek and embrace challenges, and they experience a sense of accomplishment and pride when they overcome them.
  4. Intrinsic Motivation: As children tackle tasks independently, they develop intrinsic motivation, which drives them to explore, discover, and learn on their own.
  5. Problem Solving and Persistence: Independence fosters problem-solving skills and persistence, equipping children to tackle increasingly more complex challenges with confidence.

The Developmental Continuum and Our Expectations 

The journey of developing independence in young learners evolves significantly from ages 2 to 6. Research shows that children progress through various stages, each with its own set of developmental milestones, though the stages can be somewhat fluid and vary between children. In the workshop, we discussed some of the expectations that we have at PAS, following the developmental progressions of early learners:

Playkids: In playkids, children are encouraged to carry their own backpacks or some of their belongings and help with cleaning up their toys after playing. At snack and lunch times, teachers will support where necessary, while also guiding children to be increasingly more independent with their eating. 

Pre-Kinder: Pre-Kinder learners should be carrying their own backpacks and putting their belongings into the cubby with their name on it. They are expected to clean up their own toys after playing and help their friends with tidying up the classroom. At snack and lunchtimes, pre-kinder children should be mostly independent with eating, only requiring assistance to open and close containers. They should clean up their area after eating and organize all of their own belongings throughout the day. Pre-Kinder children should be able to clearly communicate their needs to the teachers while developing the skills that they need to solve small problems independently.

Kinder: In Kinder, all children are expected to put on and carry their bags and belongings, without any assistance. They should clean up their toys efficiently and contribute to the organization and tidiness of the classroom, with teacher support. Kinder learners are independent at eating time, only occasionally requiring help with opening and closing containers. They can confidently use eating utensils independently and are expected to tidy their area and lunch things after eating. All kinder children should be able to dress themselves, including taking off and putting on their own shoes - if your child has shoes with laces, please help them learn how to tie them!

Prep: Prep learners should all be able to put on and carry their backpacks & belongings, taking responsibility for all of their things throughout the school day. They apply their own sunblock before going outside to play in the sun, and they should be completely independent in the bathroom. After playing in the classroom, prep children are expected to clean up all of their own toys and contribute to the organization of the classroom spaces by identifying what needs to be done and doing it. At snack and lunch times, prep children are independent when using eating utensils, opening containers and packets, and tidying up their things and spaces after eating. 

Supporting Independence at Home

Families play a crucial role in nurturing independence, and aligning our expectations can help to support our ECE learners. Here are some practical ways to support independence from home:

  1. Containers & bottles: Pack snacks and lunches in containers that children can open independently, promoting self-sufficiency. They should also be able to open and fill their own water bottle. Ensure that the containers fit easily into their lunchbox or their bag - if it is too tight they struggle to pack away their things independently.
  2. Fruit and packaged snacks: Encourage children to peel fruits like oranges and bananas themselves, and leave packets closed so that they can work through the process of figuring out how to open them. This provides a sense of accomplishment and is excellent fine motor skill practice - these motor skills are essential for learning to write. 
  3. Cleaning Up: Expect your child to clean up their toys and personal belongings after playtime. Involving them in some of the household jobs also develops a sense of contributing to the family and collective responsibility for shared spaces. In the classroom, learners have the responsibility for keeping the space clean, not only their own things. 
  4. Choices: Provide opportunities for children to make choices, from selecting their clothes to deciding on activities, empowering them to make decisions. It is also important to let them manage and understand the consequences of their decisions, both positive and negative!
  5. Social: Allow children to try and solve social conflicts without immediate adult intervention. Adults may observe the situation first, then support children by guiding or modeling strategies for negotiation or compromise. 

Developing independence in young learners is a journey filled with challenges, milestones, and rewards. It was clear in the workshop that parents, educators, and caregivers are deeply invested in this journey. By focusing on building independence, we are not only preparing our children for academic success but also equipping them with life skills that will serve them well in the future.

Let us continue to work together to support our young learners as they grow, develop, and proudly embrace their independence.


Nikki Merval (PYP Coordinator & Vice Principal), Jodie Baverstock (Prep Homeroom Teacher), Isabel Chavarría  (Prep Homeroom Teacher) & Daniela Quirós (ECE Coordinator)