Sooner or later everyone has to spread their wings and fly. It is the conquest of maturity, when a chick begins to be able to feed themselves, to explore the area around the nest, to grow up and become strong. For humans this is a long process that lasts for many years but even our children must start somewhere. How? Well, a very simple way to encourage them to do things on their own is to reward them with a satisfied look: “You did it!!” .
For example. A three-year-old can already help set the table for a family meal. It is not just a question of getting them used to “helping out at home”. Setting the table can, in fact, have an educational purpose and become a fun game. If the idea upsets you (they are too young to be put to work!) you might be surprised to know that they have been doing this in nurseries for a while and it works well. Let’s see why.
Learning to lay the tablecloth and then put other objects on it in a certain precise order is an exercise in logical thinking: you have to understand what should go on the table first and what goes on after, work out the number of plates and diners, remember the order of the courses and how the objects should be laid out for the meal. You therefore have to be focused and attentive. Also, to set the table you use your hands and this is by no means of little importance. Learning to handle objects with care, for example a jug of water, is an exercise in balance and develops motor skills (and patience if the first few times you spill a little water on the table!). Maria Montessori believed that this was an important exercise, not only from a physical point of view, because the development of refined motor skills for her was the basis for all learning: “The hands are man’s own intelligence tools,” she wrote. Finally, and in general, the conquest of independence and the feeling of having participated in the construction of a communal moment makes them more sure of themselves, proud of their capabilities, and proud at having received the trust and respect of mum and dad.
And it is not just setting the table. Forms of “playful learning” can be created in many situations: learning to tie their shoes, dress themselves and water the house plants are exercises that can seem trivial to adults but the child will feel that they have played in a constructive way, and for them it will become one of those games led by adults that ends with a big “well done!” and a lot of satisfaction.
Obviously it is the parents who are more concerned than the children. Because, let’s face it, watching a small child doing things independently is a little frightening and sometimes creates discomfort. It means long waits while they put on their trousers, having some fragile objects occasionally fall, and being unable to help them or take over when they have acquired a taste for doing things by themselves. It is normal, but we get over it, and even the discomfort only lasts a short while, because in time it will result in more freedom for everyone. In fact, I bet that as soon as we stop being afraid and we encourage them to do things alone, to spread their wings and fly, we will not want to stop doing it.