Tips for creating routines and teaching independence:
- Break it down...Think about each step in the routine or task you want your child to do. Teach one step at a time. By the time you get to the last step, they should be able to do it independently.
- Keep it simple. If you want your child to be successful with much, start with little. Start with putting just the forks away. Then the spoons, etc. Keep just a few things in their room for them to put away and keep organized.
- Reward progress. Start with big rewards for little progress then slowly start increasing the expectation and decreasing the reward. Eventually, it will be a habit.
- Give it time. All the steps should not always be taught at one time. This can be frustrating, overwhelming, and create more dependence than independence. You may have to teach Step 1 of a process multiple times until it is mastered; then go to Step 2.
- Use a checklist or visual. (Pictures work great for kids that are not yet reading!) Follow the checklist with your child, whether you are completing the tasks or they are. This helps builds the routine and the process for them. When your child becomes more independent, you can have them check the schedule/routine themselves to see what is next. Be sure to keep your checklists visible. When you walk around my house, you see checklists everywhere—in the bathroom, on the doors (reminders to knock), for schoolwork, for Morning and Bedtime Routines, and much more.
- Life Skills are Homeschool Skills. We include therapy and life skills such as putting laundry away and other “jobs” as part of our homeschool day.
- Sheet Protectors are Your Friend. As our kids grow and change, so do their schedules and routines. I use smooth sheet protectors and a wet erase marker (Crayola also makes dry erase crayons) to mark off our schedule as we complete tasks. Laminating works too. Whichever works best for your family is the key.
Recently, I needed my 7-year-old who has Autism to be more independent. I needed him to take on some of the responsibilities of helping put laundry and dishes away. I needed him to become more independent at getting dressed in the morning and getting to bed at night. Within each of these responsibilities lies a list of smaller skills that have to be taught to him because he does not just “pick them up.
For example, when putting away laundry, I first helped him sort his clothes into the different types of clothes (underwear, socks, shirts, shorts, etc). I put labels on his drawers to help him know where things went. Now, I hand him the pile and he puts them away by himself. He can even put away his brother’s clothes, but I do still have to sort them by person.
For morning and evening routines, I created “checklists” of things he needs to do. Sometimes he follows the checklist in the exact order I have listed. Once he mastered each step in the process (some of these we have introduced individually over time), I work on switching the order at times to build flexibility in his thinking and routine. I even created a thermometer to help him know what type of clothes are appropriate for the weather, and have him check the weather each day.
Now I am beginning to work with my 3-year-old. I know that the time I put in now will pay off later. I sort his clothes and he puts them in the drawers. He is slowly learning to sort silverware too. (Score one for math skills!) The key is to start where your child is at developmentally, one step at a time, and then slowly increase. Before you know it, your child will be doing it independently!