Becoming Independent 

Health and Self-Care form an important part of the Early Years Foundation Stage Statutory Framework and the idea of allowing children to gain the necessary skills to increase independence, runs through many educational philosophies. Maria Montessori is particularly recognised for the importance she placed on self care, valuing it equal to academic progress for the benefits it brings not only in terms of self esteem and awareness but for the neurological foundations that it lays down that will help future development.

EYFS Statutory Framework 2017

ELG05 – Health and self-care

Children know the importance for good health of physical exercise, and a healthy diet, and talk about ways to keep healthy and safe. They manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully, including dressing and going to the toilet independently.

Although we are not a Montessori setting, preferring to blend educational philosophies to give the children the best experience we can, we do fully engage with the idea that children should be given every chance possible to carry out tasks for themselves.

‘Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.’

Maria Montessori

So here we will share some ways in which we facilitate opportunities for independence of self care in an outdoor environment and look at the benefits that these opportunities have on a child’s mental wellbeing and development.

Hand washing.

Our hand washing station is made from a cable reel drum with a bowl inset into the top that we can remove to empty. We use a drink dispenser with a tap as a water source. We bring the cold water with us and then add some hot water before use that we have either brought in a thermos or heated on a fire.

To minimise environmental impact we use an ecologically friendly hand soap in a dispenser which we refill as required. We then have squares of muslin for hand drying, one per child, which we launder after every session.

What Can Children Gain from Hand Washing:

Fine motor skills– using the pump  on the soap and the tap on water dispenser both help to strengthen hands and improve dexterity

Cause and effect – that turning the tap on and off has an effect as does pumping the soap

Investigating –  discovering what happens when you lather the soap in your hands and seeing how much water is needed to wash off the bubbles

Learning – that water can be transferred from wet hands to dry towel.

Installing good hygiene practice -by learning how to wash hands properly

But what is really important, is that the satisfaction and self esteem that a child gets from completing a task for themselves, independently.

Snack Preparation

There is much debate about how snack time should be organised with young children. A rolling snack when the children help themselves as they are hungry,  or for all to come together and share snacks at the same time.

Positives of Rolling Snack

Gives children freedom of choice

Allows development of self awareness

Children start to self regulate their food intake

Does not interrupt play and stop the flow of learning that may be occurring

Gives children independence and raises their self esteem

Preparing own snack, pouring own drink helps develop fine motor skills and bilateral coordination

Positives of single snack time

Encourages a healthy eating routine rather than grazing

Patience, turn taking and sharing with others

Social interaction with peers and adults

Preparing own snack, pouring own drink helps develop fine motor skills and bilateral coordination

Our Rational

At our groups we have used both ideas. When we have our parent and child group, Tree Tots, we decided that we would encourage a single snack time. Our rational for this was that the children could still choose not to partake and continue playing if they wished. The independent hand washing before the snack gave children time to ‘finish’ what they were doing before joining the queue to wash, naturally regulating their own play. For us, in this situation, we also think about the wellbeing of the parents who attend the group and decided that coming together for a snack time was important to allow parents to build relationships with each other. Modelling conversation to the children inadvertently and also having a break themselves. As we are an outside setting, the children have many, many opportunities to develop independence and self esteem through other activities and so we felt that the benefits for a communal snack, outweighed the negatives. We also use this time to share a story and singing, again optional but helping to build a sense of belonging and community to those that attend.

With our Forest School Groups, we tend to have a rolling snack time. This allows everyone to continue with their play or activities and naturally staggers the session around the children’s needs. It also allows the Forest School leaders to continue to interact if helping children without having to move away to organise a group snack. We are very much of the opinion that we have a good rational behind our choices with the children and parents wellbeing of paramount importance to this decision process.

Washing Up

After having a snack, children are encouraged to take responsibility for washing up their own bowl and cup. We have a similar set up to hand washing but with a larger bowl full of hot, soapy water. Children empty food waste into the recycling bag, wash their bowls and cups and place them in a bucket to drain. On a hygiene note, we do rewash everything once the children have left the site, but this is for our peace of mind and not something the children are aware of so it doesn’t detract from the feeling of self sufficiency we are aiming to develop for them.

Let Them Try…

‘It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.’

Ann Landers

It can be incredibly hard as a parent, teacher or adult not to automatically complete all of a child’s self care needs. Sometimes this is because we do not  credit children with the ability that they actually possess; sometimes time restraints mean we try and rush through all these small everyday tasks and maybe, because the practising of these essential skills often results in spills and mess, we find it easier to do it ourselves. One of the things that I love about leading learning outside is that these reasons matter less. In a forest we have the time, the natural pace of life seems to be slowed down by nature as we step away from the everyday pressures. Those spills, splashes, and mishaps that are bound to happen when mastering a new task, are far less significant in the great outdoors. Added to this, the freedom that children have to explore the woodland environment show us just how capable these tiny beings are at managing themselves, we just need to trust them and give them a chance.