Countless times, as caregivers, we can recall seeing those displaced little running shoes, oddly left shoe on the right foot, and right shoe on the left foot. It's a daily occurrence with children who are exploring self help skills and fostering independence. At Islington Village we appreciate those efforts the children present, when dressing themselves. For us, those are meaningful opportunities of learning and exploration.
The children in toddlerhood, for example, are just beginning to explore sense of self.
This self exploration, incidentally, is where the term terrible twos comes from. It refers to the child beginning to grasp the idea of self concept; meaning, "I have a voice", "I can make things happen". A fancy name is autonomy, however, it means independence, by initiating their own activities, setting own goals, persisting and decision making.
So from toddlerhood on, children experiment with independence and achieving goals by putting on their own shoes, or when potty training, putting their pants back on for instance. As educators and caregivers, we try not to discourage this exploration and self discovery that children are going through. The majority of the time, in the beginning stages at least, we leave children with their backwards pants on, because we want to let the children know we respect their efforts and they did a great job on their own. Once they have mastered the skills of actually applying the pants, one leg at a time, every time, that's when we can begin to provide positive remainders to switch their shoes, or try again.
The wording you choose is crucial to the self esteem of fragile toddlers. Try using statements that acknowledge the behaviour and action, but gently include a reminder. For example, “You should be so proud of yourself, I see you put your shoes on all by yourself. Let’s try again, by switching the shoes around”. Statements like this acknowledge the child's efforts, including praise, but allow for caregiver support. That's what our role truly pertains, supporting children in their social, emotional, cognitive and physical learning.