School skills: self-care

Can your child dress himself? Can she use the toilet independently? Before children start school, it’s important that they have developed self-care skills.

While it can be faster and less messy for adults to do things for children, it’s crucial that they learn to do things themselves. Learning and practising self-care skills helps children develop their gross-motor (large muscle) skills and fine-motor (small muscle) skills, and encourages them to become more confident in their ability to do things, as well as building pride in their independence. It’s critical that children develop self-care skills before they start school, as these things will not only be expected of them, they’ll also help new entrants to more easily make the transition between home and school. There are four main self-care skills that children need to develop before they go to school: Self-feeding, dressing/grooming, toileting/handwashing, and basic chores. Here’s how you can encourage your child to become independent in each of these areas.


Children who attend school are expected to be able to take themselves to the toilet, pull off and on clothing in order to use the toilet, wipe themselves, flush, and wash their hands properly. This can be a lot for a young child, particularly as children sometimes wait to use the toilet until the need is urgent and then may rush through the proper steps, or have accidents. Encourage your child to use the toilet at regular intervals and practise good hygiene. Talk through the steps of using the toilet at a time when your child is relaxed and not in a hurry, and discuss how important it is to wash hands after using the loo. Other hygiene skills to practise are safe sneezing (into their elbow, not hands), throwing used tissues into the rubbish (not saving them), and toothbrushing.


While feeding your child is far less messy, it is better for their development if they learn to feed themselves and use utensils in an age-appropriate way. From the time your child is a baby starting solid foods, encourage them to feed themselves – first using their fingers, and as they become more adept, using a spoon, fork, and knife. Give children time and the opportunity to practise with utensils – use child-sized bowls and cutlery, cups with handles, and small plates that are easy to manoeuvre while they are small, and gradually transition to larger versions of tableware. Help them learn how to make their own lunch for their lunchbox, and how to open and close their lunchbox and small containers therein, so that when they are at school, they don’t need a teacher’s help to eat their lunch.

Basic chores

Encourage children to become involved in household chores such as tidying up toys and books early on. Children can assist with simple tasks such as setting the table (with non-breakable tableware) and carrying their plate to the sink when they are finished, putting away clean dishes, taking dirty washing to the laundry area, making the bed, putting away clean washing, sweeping, and weeding. Children who start doing basic chores before the age of four tend to be more independent in early adulthood. Plus, when they’re in school, children will be expected to participate in classroom chores.


By the time your child attends school, they should be able to dress and undress themselves, do up their shoes, put on a sun hat, and put things into/take things out of their backpack and pencil case. Start by encouraging younger children to help pull off and put on their socks and shoes, pull up their pants after nappy changes, and help put their head through the neck hole and arms through the sleeves of their shirt. Velcro shoes are a good idea for children who aren’t capable of tying their shoes or doing up sandal buckles yet. Help children to learn to do up buttons and snaps, zip up zippers, pull the toggle on their sun hat tight under their chin, open and close their pencil case and backpack, and wrap their scarf around their neck. Consider buying their school uniform early so you can practise before your child officially begins school.

The secret to success is to give children age-appropriate experiences and provide good encouragement and support to help them to be successful. Remember, adults are important role models. When we model self-care skills ourselves, our children will learn from watching us, and will become confident and capable when given the opportunity to practise these skills. And children who are confident and capable when they enter school will feel more comfortable and confident in their new environment, so it’s worth the time and effort to teach them self-care skills before school starts.

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