Kindergarten teachers consistently rate self-help skills as an essential foundation for school readiness. Self-help skills refer to the ability to independently take care of everyday tasks, such as getting dressed, eating and drinking, brushing teeth, and retrieving toys and materials for play. These skills require attention, self-control, and fine motor control and are usually learned in the home environment through active participation in authentic, everyday situations.
To help facilitate learning basic self-help skills, try this method with preparing a snack! (We’ve suggested a PB&J sandwich, but feel free to substitute a different snack if you have any allergy concerns.)
Age: 3 years and older
Time: 10 minutes
Materials: peanut butter and jelly; bread; plates; napkins; a child-safe knife
1. Tell your child that you’re going to make food for each other.
At your child’s normal snack time, get out all the materials you’ll need to model making a sandwich. It takes a lot of attention and memory for young learners to keep track of the numerous small tasks needed to perform one large one, so help your learner by breaking the task down into smaller steps. (If your child already knows how to make a snack, try this exercise with a different task, or simply observe how this purposeful and reflective approach changes the experience.)
2. Take your turn to make the snack first.
Instruct your child to watch how you make the snack. Narrate out loud all of the steps you’re taking. For example: “Now I’m holding the knife, and I put the knife in the jar to scoop out the peanut butter.” Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or be messy…just think out loud with whatever happens! Periodically praise your child for watching carefully and for paying attention.
3. Instruct your child to make another sandwich, just like yours.
Try to use an “increasing assistance” approach, where you allow your child to do as many steps as they can without assistance or verbal prompting. If necessary, give a verbal cue to keep them on track. For example, “Now undo the fastener on the bread bag…” You might notice that the assistance goes in a wave pattern. It often starts with none, goes up to verbal cues when needed, up to physical assistance when needed, then falls to the less intrusive level after the step has been completed.
4. Enjoy your snack together!
Once the sandwiches are done, give your child some positive feedback, such as “that looks delicious!” Repeat this exercise for the next few snack times during your day.
You can also use the modeling and “increasing assistance” approach for other self-help activities, such as getting dressed and brushing teeth. Your child’s learning will be most effective if it is authentic to the everyday experiences they have with you. That means if one of your steps while making a sandwich is licking the peanut butter knife, include that in the lesson!
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