How to Set Up Independent Work in Early Childhood - The Autism Helper

How to Set Up Independent Work in Early Childhood

The benefits of independent work are absolutely abundant.  No, it is not “busy work” so if you’re thinking that just go ahead and release that thought!  We all have to learn to work independently at some point.  Finding the right structure and work appropriate for your students is where the hang ups seem to really come from.  While I have not tackled full fledge independent work station rotations in my three-year-old class we have started to try!  Trust me, if little three-year old’s can complete a few tasks, there is a way for all!

Deciding on the structure

First you want to think about how you want to set up your independent work areas.  I have seen an array of work areas and I preach to do what is best for YOUR students.  Maybe they need a divided area with a 3-drawer bin, matching labels, shelves with bins left to right and as much structure as possible.  OR maybe you literally just do not have the space for all 14 of your students to have their own work station.  It’s pretty amazing what expectations students can rise too when we set them. I absolutely love having a central shelf that houses work tasks. Take the time to teach your students what they need to do (and not just for an hour once a week).  Check out some helpful posts here and here!

Here are some ways independent work has been set up in my room!

Deciding on the material!

 Ahhh. So now you have chosen the structure of your independent work area.  “Wait” you might think.  Umm. They are three.  They aren’t writing YET.  They aren’t cutting and using glue completely independently YET.  What in the world do I put in there that’s meaningful? Or maybe you have kiddos that are older that just haven’t experienced working independently yet.  Above all, make it age appropriate.  That doesn’t mean make it beyond difficult and throw in a chapter book but challenge your students! Once they get the hang of what is expected in there, always up your ante bits at a time.  Here are some suggestions:

Early Childhood: Puzzles, put in tasks, matching tasks, errorless learning file folders, coloring pages, hard books to practice flipping through.

Middle & High school:Now I’m completely early childhood and I know there are way more amazing ideas out there but here are some light suggestions.  Step up the level on file folders…so even if they are working on identical matching, have them match functional skills such as signs. Make it cool by matching social media symbols, cell phones and band names (age appropriate!). Even with my previous second and third graders, I used mastered leveled curriculums as worksheets in their task boxes.  I would include the anchor chart that would be helpful along with materials (pencil/crayons). It was so amazing to see them reference an anchor chart and complete work. How incredible is that skill?

Work work work! I mean teach teach teach!

Now just because you understand how it SHOULD work and you have created all of that amazing structure, you MUST take the time to teach your students.  Show your student how to check their schedule, where this new area of work will be and what to do upon arrival.  Then show them how to take the first basket off the shelf or pull open the drawer and take the task out to complete and where to put it when it’s finished.  As you introduce different tasks you may have to reteach and that’s ok!  I sometimes used to purposefully leave materials out of boxes so that the student would have to come and ask, or it would prompt to need help.  You might even see through teaching that your task has too many pieces or that the level could be bumped up.  I still have students that I must sit behind, and you might be thinking “well then that’s not independent work”.  While it isn’t officially independent YET, they can still learn the routine of competing tasks.  Happy building independence!  


  1. Good morning,
    I am wondering where you get your pictures for your activities?

  2. My daughter is 9 years old and on the autism spectrum

    Struggling to work independently at school any suggestions or materials to help her at home to work independently so that it can improve her ability at school

    Thank you in advance

  3. Hi Michelle! Happy to share some suggestions. Shoot an email to Sadie at and share some details about your daughter’s skill set and we will share some ideas!


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