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What is Autonomy in Early Childhood Education?

What is Autonomy in Early Childhood Education?

January 23, 2018 | Amanda Munday
Autonomy in relation to early childhood education means letting children know that they have control over themselves and the choices that they make.

From the activities they participate in, to how they play and interact with peers, autonomy plays a role in everything a child does in the classroom. Learning how to be independent is a critical skill for preschoolers to develop, as it teaches them how to conduct themselves later in life as they take on greater responsibilities.

Why Should Autonomy Be Encouraged?

As children become more independent, they explore the world on their own and discover how to express themselves. They also begin to understand how their choices and actions influence outcomes, and learn what they do and do not have control over. Autonomy must be encouraged in early childhood education to help children develop a sense of self. The following are a few of the most important ways that autonomy can impact a child:

    Feeling in Control
  • Though children cannot be expected to be in total control of all aspects of their lives, they do need to feel that they have ownership over certain parts to build confidence.

  • Boosting Self-Esteem
  • When a child feels they are in control and can make their own choices, this builds up their self-esteem. Being able to do something on one’s own fosters a sense of achievement.

  • Cognitive Growth
  • When a child makes his or her own choices, they are problem solving. Making meaningful choices is an essential part of their cognitive development, which grows as they think through choices that are presented to them.

How to Encourage Autonomy

Encouraging autonomy in early childhood education is essential to a child’s growth and personal confidence. As educators and parents provide more independence, children are able to learn from their actions, struggles and successes. Here are just a few ways you can start encouraging autonomy in the classroom:

    Offer Choices
  • Allowing children to make their own choices is the first step to encouraging autonomy. When possible, set up an environment where many choices are available. For example, let children decide which activity they want to participate in, and whether they want to do it with a group or play independently.

  • Respect Opinions
  • By listening to children’s ideas and opinions, we can help them develop their sense of autonomy. Respecting the opinions of preschoolers demonstrates to them that they do matter have input on the world around them. It also helps them understand that adults recognize and respect their abilities.

  • Give Responsibility
  • Offer children real responsibilities that matter. Tasks should be somewhat challenging to help preschoolers develop perseverance. Experiences like cooking from a recipe, organizing files or gardening are excellent tasks to assign to children to help them feel like they are performing an “adult” responsibility.

By embracing children’s opinions and allowing them to make independent decisions, educators can help them develop a sense of autonomy, boost self-esteem and encourage cognitive development. Building this independence ultimately helps children take a more active role in the learning process.

How do you encourage autonomy and independence in your preschool? Join us on Facebook to continue the conversation.

Photo credit: Joris Louwes on Flicker / CC Attribution 2.0
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