How To: Teach Independence in the School Year

How To: Teach Independence in the School Year

Tips for setting up you and your students for success this school year

design your own planner

With two out of three of my kids now in elementary school, I feel like I’m officially part of “the club.” No, not the college club where I danced to 80s music every Thursday, but the school-age parent club. We’re in the thick of balancing pickups and drop offs, nap time with my youngest, lunch-packing and errands, and managing a household. Admittedly, I haven’t always done the best at fostering independence with my kids as far as household duties and tasks go. I know that I can do things quicker and often don’t have the patience to have them “do it themselves.” But, I am trying to implement some small changes to our household that takes a bit off my list and puts some ownership in their hands. I know this is ultimately what they need to be successful little humans, so I’ve created a list of small, manageable ideas for teaching independence and hopefully reducing stress this school year!

 kids chore chart

Before and After School Routines 

  1. Gradual Release of Responsibility

This is a term I learned in my Education program in College. You can’t expect anyone to be successful when doing something that hasn’t been shown to them, and without giving them support as they learn a new skill. If you’re a teacher, you may remember “I Do, We Do, You Do” being hammered in your head. Well, this idea translates great to routines and tasks at home. Think about what skills your kids are ready for, and how you can support them in taking it on. Maybe it’s packing their lunch, getting dressed, making breakfast, etc. (A lot of my examples are for younger kids since that’s the season I’m in, but this can easily be adapted to older kids). Spend a few minutes each day showing them what you’re doing or pointing out key parts of the job (“We Do”) then set a goal for them to take it over (“You Do”) and empower them!

  1. Chore Charts

If you’ve got visual kids, consider making a Chore Chart of sorts that can help them with before/after school routines. What needs to be done each day? This can foster independence as you’re not nagging them for their lunch box or reminding them to hang up their jacket

  1. Drop Stations

Speaking of STUFF, if clutter stresses you out like it does me consider how you can reduce the mess! What is an EASY, realistic spot that your kids can come home and drop their backpack, shoes, and jackets (and other gear)? For example, my kids (and husband) do best with a shoe BASKET, because opening a drawer or walking them to another area of the house is too much of a fight. We have hooks by the door for their backpack and jacket, and they can take their lunch to the kitchen after. That way I’m not dealing with stuff everywhere! It’s taking practice, but I’ve been setting up that expectation for the school year!

  1. Lunch Packing

We’re not here for the school year YET, but my kids were doing pretty well in the summer with getting their lunch bento boxes filled each day. I’ve shown this over on Instagram, but I have the bottom meat drawer of our fridge dedicated to snack/lunch items (because they can reach this AND I can easily see what we’re running low on). I also have a dedicated kid drawer in the kitchen with other food items. They know they always need to include a fruit in one hole of the bento box, they can put fruit snacks or chocolate chips in the smallest hole, etc. And I don’t have to reach or open anything for them! Can you implement something like this in your home?

 design your own planner

Organizing School Work

  1. Planners and/or Checklist

Is your child old enough to keep a school planner or calendar? If they’re at the age with homework, this is something to consider. Or, creating a routine where they come home and you both go over what needs done that day (make a checklist, because we love checking things off!)

  1. School Work Drop Station

Do you have a place in your house for paperwork you need to fill out, school art projects they want to keep, etc? Think about how you can manage the all the papers that come home so they don’[t take over your dining table!

 daily gratitude journal 

Quality Time

  1. Dinner or bedtime conversation

It’s so easy to get caught up in all the other routines. Are you making sure you are finding a time to connect with your kids? With this pandemic and school shutdowns, we’ve been together A LOT over the last 1.5 years, and while I’m excited for them to be back in school I don’t want to lose the connection we had. Maybe you can all talk about your high/low/buffalo at the dinner table? For us, my husband is often not home for dinner so we try to take time at bedtime instead to wrap up the day. Whatever works for you!

  1. Prioritizing free time

There’s so much pressure to fill your kids’ days and weekends with extracurricular activities, and while this is usually well-intentioned to give your kids hobbies and experiences, I encourage you to pick your activities with caution. If you know me personally or you’ve read previous blog posts, you know that I am strongly against the glorification of busy that our society pushes. As a teacher I saw so many kids unnecessarily booked up. They didn’t have time to just *chill* and be a kid. Are you prioritizing family time and down time for your kiddos? (Psst – having less activities on the calendar can also help with your stress)


Give yourself and your kids grace, and adjust as needed. Some days will still be a total mess and you’ll have to accept it, let them watch extra TV, and order takeout. What ways do you try to set your family up for success?

mom organization, school year organization

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