Developing Independent Kindergarteners- Part 1
4 Jun, 2015. 4 Comments. . Posted By: Kristen Smith

fostering independence in kindergarteners.001

Let me begin this post with two words:



Two words that often are not put together in August. In fact, now, in June, having just completed another year of teaching kinders, I smile at the thought of my kindergarteners in August.

They come in so young… so sweet… and let’s just say it… babies  needing lots of help.

However, I am here to tell you (especially if you have just been transferred to kindergarten from an upper grade) that independent kindergarteners are absolutely possible. In fact, kindergarteners are wonderful little people. They are FULL of life and have an innate JOY in learning. They are eager to learn new things and are excited by the slightest things. Kindergarteners are amazing people. They love without question, they laugh without reservation, they offer up the best hugs in the world, and are without a doubt, one of my favorite grades to teach.

There is a theory in education that states that there are sensitive periods of learning in every child. For all of you kindergarten teachers out there, we get children at SUCH an important time period in their young lives. Once a child surpasses a sensitive period, they will NEVER enter it again. What does that mean? It means that during the sensitive period, children EASILY and naturally learn that skill. Does it mean that it can never be taught again? No. However, it does mean that it will be much more difficult.

The following are a list of some of the sensitive periods from birth to age 6. I’ve bolded the ones specific to kindergarten.

1. Movement -Random movements become coordinated and controlled: grasping, touching, turning, balancing, crawling, walking. (birth — one)

2. Language- Use of words to communicate: a progression from babble to words to phrases to sentences, with a continuously expanding vocabulary and comprehension. (birth — six)

3. Small Objects- A fixation on small objects and tiny details. (one — four)

4. Order Characterized by a desire for consistency and repetition and a passionate love for established routines. Children can become deeply disturbed by disorder. The environment must be carefully ordered with a place for everything and with carefully established ground rules. (two — four)

5. Music- Spontaneous interest in and the development of pitch, rhythm, and melody. (two — six)

6. Grace & Courtesy- Imitation of polite and considerate behavior leading to an internalization of these qualities into the personality. (two — six)

7. Refinement of the Senses- Fascination with sensorial experiences (taste, sound, touch, weight, smell) resulting with children learning to observe and with making increasingly refined sensorial discriminations. (two — six)

8. Writing -Fascination with the attempt to reproduce letters and numbers with pencil or pen and paper. Montessori discovered that writing precedes reading. (three — four)

9. Reading -Spontaneous interest in the symbolic representations of the sounds of each letter and in the formation of words. (three — five)

10. Spatial Relationships- Forming cognitive impressions about relationships in space, including the layout of familiar places. Children become more able to find their way around their neighborhoods, and they are increasingly able to work complex puzzles. (four — six)

11. Mathematics -Formation of the concepts of quantity and operations from the uses of concrete material aids. (four — six)

*SOURCE: http://www.rocklinmontessori.com/documents/Sensitive%20Periods%20Chart.pdf

Students come to us as sponges ready to soak up music, numbers, language, manners, courtesy, and language. They are ready to learn and WANT to learn. In fact, we are getting children during their sensitive period for ALL of these skills. Therefore, fostering independence is ABSOLUTELY doable.

But how?

How do you take a group of children (and some of you have class sizes of 20-30 children!) and get them to ALL be independent. After 13 years of teaching (and all but 3 of those years being in kindergarten and first grade) I have learned some tips that I would love to pass on to you.

1. Begin with the end in mind.

Think of your sweet kindergarteners as flowers. They start the year as a tiny seed. Throughout the year you water them, till the soil around them, pluck the weeds, make sure they are getting enough sunlight, and suddenly, what seems to be overnight, after much tender love and care has been poured into them, they blossom to become marvelous flowers. Remember at the beginning of the year, that you are tending to the seeds and giving them everything they need because…

By the end of kindergarten, they are writers.

December Activities for Kindergarteners_-9They are mathematicians.Arctic activities for kindergarteners.035They are readers.Students working hard in kindergarten-24

They are hard workers.

pictures for my blog-edits .001

They are friends who care about one another and have learned to work together.

A Day In First Grade-57

They know how to put things back where they belong and take care of our classroom things.

pictures for my blog-edits .107

In fact, as a teacher, you begin to see all of these things happen by early October if you are consistent and train your students well. Treat your students like writers, readers, mathematicians, good friends, kind souls, and sweet children. They are all of these things. Think to yourself, if my students need to read at a level D by the end of kindergarten, what do I need to do in August to get them there? If your students need to decompose numbers to 10 fluently in June, how can you build number sense in August to help them get there? Your students will grow exponentially academically as the year progresses, but they begin the year with the inept ability to become all of those nouns by June. (Remember, we get them during their sensitive period for ALL of those skills!!) Which brings me to my next point.

2. Set up routines and structures.

Your students will reach whatever bar you set for them. I have a blog post on setting up procedures in your classroom with a HUGE freebie in it. If you are interested in reading more about setting up your classroom routine, click here.

A guide to teaching procedures.001

By setting up procedures and expectations in your classroom, you are setting your students up for every success.

3. Model, model, model.

Specifically teach your students the way that YOU want them to do something. This means for EVERYTHING. If you want them to use only one pump of soap after washing their hands, show them how to do this. If you want them to put their centers back on the correct shelf, show them how to do this. Take the time to teach your students all of the little things… because they add up to the BIG things when they are not doing them correctly.

4. Allow your students to practice tasks with you before they have to do it by themselves.

Along with modeling structures, routines, procedures and processes in your classroom, give your students the time to practice these skills. One way to do this is with guided discoveries and open ended centers. (be on the look out for an in-depth blog post on these two things!)

pictures for my blog-edits .003

5. Never help a child do something that they can do independently.

Never is a very strong word; however, it is quite true. Children like to know that they can do things “all by themselves.” Unfortunately, sometimes we prevent them from doing these tasks because it will be “quicker” or “easier” if we do them.

pictures for my blog-edits .001

Let me tell you, working in Boston, having 36 kindergarteners, and getting them out the door with their snow suits, gloves, scarves, hats, boots, and ear muffs on would have NEVER happened if we didn’t foster independence in our students in August. Students need to learn that yes, they CAN do things. Let your students practice these tasks so that they get faster at them and don’t be afraid to make that their center for the day if they struggle with that task! It will only help them and you!! The same concept is true with cleaning up spills, sweeping the floor, walking with a chair, and cleaning up a center. They can do ALL of these things without help! (As long as they have been taught how to!)

6. Make learning hands-on.

I’ve said it before and I will continuously stress this point. Young children learn by DOING. They need to experience something in order to help it stick. As they are doing things, they are building muscle memory that then creates synapses in their brains so that they can recall how to do something.

Make your classroom interactive. Let your students make messes. Let your students explore different art mediums. They will not only love you for it, but you will develop independent kindergartners who LOVE to learn in your classroom. (As an aside: young students can do MUCH more than we sometimes give them credit for. In my last class of 4 year olds, they were carrying glass pitchers, transferring water, getting out watercolors and emptying dirty water without a single spill. Your kindergartners can do all of these things… you just have to trust them to do it.)

A Day In First Grade-34

7. Teach to your students’ interests.

I know that this doesn’t necessarily foster independence in a clear cut way but in actuality it does. When I theme out my classroom to study the ocean because my students are interested in it, they are 100% engaged.

If I put Ocean books on my bookshelves it engages my students. (and they read them independently)

By putting shells out as a writing provocation, my students are enthusiastic to independently write about and draw them.

A Day In First Grade-42

They can’t wait to explore the items in the classroom!

A Day In First Grade-63

By adding these little touches in your classroom, your student’s engagement (and independence) sky rockets!!

8. Place things at your student’s level.

A Day In First Grade-131

If you want your students to be independent, make sure that they CAN be independent. I make sure that I keep all my supplies, centers, pocket charts, and even my classroom alphabet at my average student’s eye level. This ensures that my students can get everything they need without my help.

9. (Just remember) Be ever forgiving, ever loving, ever patient, and gracious.

We all make mistakes. Take on an ever forgiving attitude towards your students. Expect greatness but forgive mistakes.

10. Allow CHOICE in your classroom.

I’ll be honest, nearly everything in my classroom is free choice. So many teachers blog about having an “I’m finished” jar or a “what do you do when you are done” anchor chart but I personally skip all that. In my classroom, during Daily 5, literacy centers, math centers, etc. my students get to choose what they do.


When a child is interested in something, he is engaged. When a child has chosen something, it is not me telling them to do something, they picked it! Of course it is choice within reason (because I pick what is on the shelves) but I start the year off by teaching my students how to make choices in the classroom. I never hear, “What do I do now?” because they know the answer starting off day one, make another choice! This is a HUGE way that I foster independence in my classroom!!

Capacity lesson in kindergarten

Exploring capacity with cranberry bogs in our sensory table.

spider week-5 spider week-17

11. Keep the sensitive periods in mind. 

Why did I start my blog post off with the sensitive periods? I did this because this is a key to my success. I know that my young learners are highly capable and that they WANT to learn. If something is not catching their attention, I look back at the sensitive period they are in and tweak my lesson plans to engage that learner. Maybe it means bringing in music or art or order but in doing so (and carefully observing what your students need) they can be highly independent in your classroom.

Want to read more ideas about teaching kindergarten? Click on any of the images below to read more!

  1. Shelley -


  2. This is probably one of the most succinct and beautifully written posts about the real-life teaching of kindergarten I’ve ever seen. Any teacher, veteran or newbie would do well to take each point to heart. I am a huge advocate of advocating and fostering independence in my students, and you’ve articulated this need in a fabulous way.

  3. Hi Ms. Smith! My name is Jennifer Ashford and I am Jake’s mom. He was in Mrs. Ellis’ class last year. She told us wonderful things about you! We hope he will be in your class this fall!

    • Hi!! I SO hope that Jake is in my class next year!! He is such a wonderful boy!! Thanks for commenting on my blog! 🙂


  • Shelley -


  • This is probably one of the most succinct and beautifully written posts about the real-life teaching of kindergarten I’ve ever seen. Any teacher, veteran or newbie would do well to take each point to heart. I am a huge advocate of advocating and fostering independence in my students, and you’ve articulated this need in a fabulous way.

  • Hi Ms. Smith! My name is Jennifer Ashford and I am Jake’s mom. He was in Mrs. Ellis’ class last year. She told us wonderful things about you! We hope he will be in your class this fall!

    • Hi!! I SO hope that Jake is in my class next year!! He is such a wonderful boy!! Thanks for commenting on my blog! 🙂

  • Leave a Comment