Instilling a certain level of independence and critical thinking can contribute towards a well-rounded child who can take on responsibility later in life

Grade R, a critical year to establish the fundamentals of a child’s capacity to become a life-long learner, is essentially a bridging year from pre-school, where children are still considered the ‘little ones’, to formal schooling. It is around this time when a child begins to develop a sense of independence and thus starts taking responsibility for their behavioural outcomes.

According to Fiona Oldacre, HOD for Early Childhood Development and Foundation Phase at Embury Institute for Higher Education (Embury*), “teachers and parents need to encourage children to think and act independently so that they can cope emotionally and socially with the demands that Grade 1 carries.”

While she says she’s not advocating that parents and teachers expect children to behave like grown-ups, she believes that instilling a certain level of independence and critical thinking can contribute towards a well-rounded child who can take on responsibility later on in life. In fact, she says that not being ready socially and emotionally is one of the most frequent reasons children are held back from progressing to Grade 1.

Making choices fosters independence

Intrinsic motivation is when the child wants to do something – the desire comes from within and is a result of acquiring a level of independence. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is where the child does something because of an external factor pushing him or her to do so, such as the threat of punishment.

WIN a R 2,000 Woolworths Voucher

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

Praising children for good behaviour is a great form of positive reinforcement – as long as it’s done sincerely

Other important pointers for growing healthy independence

Oldacre says this is why positive reinforcement is more effective in growing children’s independence than punishment is. “Rewarding good behaviour encourages the child to want to do it again,” she says.

Praising children for good behaviour is a great form of positive reinforcement – as long as it’s done sincerely. It’s also important to understand children and what behaviour can reasonably be expected from them at different ages. For example, expecting Grade R children to sit still and quietly for long periods of time is unreasonable, no matter how motivated they are to behave well. Setting reasonable goals for good behaviour will result in less frustration all round.

Adults can offer children choices by giving them an opportunity to choose between two rewards. For example, a teacher might offer a displeased child the option of either selecting the story that the class will read together, or choosing a friend to partner with in the next activity.

Oldacre suggests offering rewards that are experiential, rather than material goods such as sweets or money. “If you reward behaviour with material goods, it’s easy to get into a cycle of having to up the ante with each new reward,” she says. “Rather focus on quality time and activities that you know the child will enjoy as a reward.”

To find out more about Embury’s Grade R teaching diploma course (NQF level 6), visit www.embury.ac.za.

*Embury Institute for Higher Education (Embury) is owned by Stadio Holdings, Curro Holdings’ higher education business.