Use these tips to foster cognitive, social, and emotional independence in children

1 Encourage children to make choices. The groundwork for thinking independently is the ability to make choices. Don't overload children-start with small choices about classroom activities, such as choosing which song to sing or book to read. Involve children in choosing which learning center they want to start the day in. Over time, invite them to help you choose materials to put in the learning centers, too! (Of course, it's important to structure their choices so that all are acceptable to you.)

2 Share your own opinions and ideas. You can model independent thinking by sharing your ideas and opinions about everything from the weather to books to classroom activities.

3 Invite children to share their ideas. At this time of the year, encourage children to share their opinions about what was the "BEST" part of their year together. Discuss everything from their favorite songs and books to learning centers and field trips.

4 Celebrate all answers. Children's opinions are a very personal thing. When you create an environment that asks their opinion, it is essential that you accept all ideas without bias.

5 Be a good listener. Perhaps the best way to encourage children to think and speak for themselves is to really listen to them! Model listening and reflecting back what you hear. This is an excellent way to celebrate the uniqueness of each answer.

6 Be specific with praise. Positively reinforce independent thinking by praising children's efforts to share. You might say, "Lydia is thinking for herself. Who has another idea to share?"

7 Encourage children to say what they REALLY think-not just what they think you expect to hear. Let them know they're in a safe environment for sharing imaginative thoughts.