The important school readiness skill of responsibility can be easily taught to preschoolers

Preschool children learn responsibility through everyday observation, practice and daily routine.

Pre-school children are gaining developmental skills and can practice responsible actions every day. Photo credit: Pixabay.
Pre-school children are gaining developmental skills and can practice responsible actions every day. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Responsibility is one of six pillars of character education that include; trustworthiness, respect, fairness, caring and citizenship. Responsibility can be taught through everyday interactions within a family or caregiving unit and can begin as early as infancy.

With babies, caregivers can encourage them to “try something” new when it’s offered at the dinner table.  Babies quickly learn that trying new things and doing things for themselves pleases those around them who often squeal with delight, “Did you see her pick up her own Cheerio?”

To feel capable, toddlers need to be included in family routines and chores.  Make certain that chores for very young preschoolers are developmentally appropriate. A toddler may not be able to respond to an order to “pick up your bedroom” but would enjoy taking part in a game of finding his coat or shoes, picking up all the toys before the timer goes off or putting all the books back on the shelf before their favorite song is over. Don’t exclude toddlers from family tasks because you think the child is too small. Building success into everyday occurrences is one way to assist very young children as they learn responsibility. Provide  “child-sized” tools for eating, household tasks and personal care. Find one small piece of a task that a toddler can do and let them join in the fun.  When children are very young, they don’t see that helping is a “chore.”  They just enjoy being able to help and to spend time pleasing you and other family members.

Pre-school children are gaining developmental skills and can practice responsible actions every day.  Include pre-school children in the family meal-time routine: setting the table, tearing lettuce for a salad or clearing plates after the meal. Preschoolers can be great helpers with household chores that can include picking up after themselves, taking paper to the recycle bin or feeding pets.  Children will not learn responsibility if they are never given an opportunity to be responsible.

Teaching responsibility to preschoolers is also accomplished through everyday interactions with adults who model responsibility.  Be certain that your bed is made if you expect your child to make his.  Pick up after yourself if you expect your child to put away his own belongings.  Include self-talk when modeling responsibility, “If I put my gloves in the sleeve of my coat, I’ll know right where they are when I need them.”  Point out people who are being responsible as you watch a movie or television show.

Children learn best by example and through repetition.  Establish routines for everyday occurrences.  Preschool children can help determine what to do first, second and third when getting ready for school or bed.  Have children make a chart of all the things that have to be done before a daily task and find magazine pictures that correspond.  The child can cut out the pictures and glue stick them on a piece of cardboard and the adult can add the words to the image. Children will learn responsibility while getting to make some choices. 

Teach the meaning of responsibility. Read stories where the characters are responsible.  Your local library will have many children’s books were responsibility is a main theme.  Choose books to share with your child and discuss the word and who showed responsibility in the story.  Your librarian can suggest children’s books that are appropriate for preschool children. Three titles you may want to explore are:  “Arthur’s Pet Business” by Marc Brown, “Clean Your Room Harvey Moon”by Pat Cummings, and “The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Chores” by Sam Berenstain.

Raising responsible children is worth the effort. A little extra time spent teaching and modeling the “how” and “why” of responsibility will add to a firm foundation that includes all six of the pillars of character education.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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