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I Can Do It!!! Helping Preschoolers Learn Self-Help Skills

Preschool children grow and learn at an amazing pace. They can't wait to feel busy, successful, grown-up, and independent. They begin practicing self-help skills at age two during the "me do it myself" stage. Even though this is annoying to adults at times, it paves the way for their development of essential skills for school success.

What are Self-Help Skills?

Self-Help skills are those skills that help a child gain control over his/her body over time. They include:

  • Performing simple two and three step tasks (put your things in your cubby and come sit down)
  • Taking care of personal bathroom needs (wearing easily maneuvered clothes)
  • Cleaning up after snack and play
  • Dressing oneself with limited help from adults (putting on coat, tying shoes)
  • Learning to concentrate in a group setting for fifteen to twenty minutes

Learning and reciting personal information such as name, address, phone number, birthday,and names of parents

Adults need to take the time to teach preschoolers how to do a job or task. Children will take more responsibility over time as they practice these skills. Eventually, adults will supervise and help only when needed.

Tips for fostering self-help skills:

  • Watch for signs of readiness to learn a new task. Have your children watch you do a task. Then, allow them to help you complete it.
  • Switch roles and help your child with the task.For example, give children child-sized pitchers, cups, and plates with which they can use to practice pouring and serving themselves.
  • Provide many opportunities to practice the new skill. Give occasional reminders. Soon the child will do the task on his/her own. Occasional reminders may still be needed.
  • Resist the urge to redo a task once a child has done it. If necessary, return to a "re-teaching" stage to demonstrate and improve skills.
  • Play the game, "What Can I Do By Myself?"Ask your child three things that he wants you to do for him. Then ask her to pick one thing she can do herself. Be available to help if needed, but urge your child to do the task alone. Tasks may be anything from pouring their own cereal and milk to putting a movie into the TV. Make a game out of it and see how easily your child cooperates with you. Chances are this will cut down on your doing things for your child that he can do for himself.

From Nibbles: Ideas for Families, Fall 2006, University of Illinois Extension.