The following post is written by contributing writer Kris Bales of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.
I‘ll go out on a limb here and say that the majority of parents who’ve homeschooled more than a year or two start thinking about creating independent learners.
Once our kids have mastered the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, we’re ready to start preparing them for learning on their own.
It’s not, I don’t think, that we are eager to get away from our kids. It’s just that, by that point, we’ve spent a lot of time pouring in to them and we’re ready for them to start working on their own a bit.
You know, long enough for us to do a load of laundry, put away the dirty dishes, or make a quick phone call.
Or go to the bathroom alone.
I don’t really expect a lot of independence from my kids until they’re about middle school age, but there are little things that we can start doing to prepare them before then.
Start small with things they can do with confidence
When my kids were younger, we used the Explode the Code series for reading practice. Each of the workbooks is set up in a consistent, predictable pattern. So, once my kids were familiar with the workbooks, that became something they could do with little or no supervision.
I encouraged them to work on their own while I helped a sibling one-on-one or did some quick housework nearby.
Photo by Eunice
Encourage independent reading
Once a child is reading fluently, I expect some silent reading time each day.
We still enjoy reading aloud all the way through high school. However, we also have silent reading time each day, during which each of us chooses a book to read silently until our timer goes off. (This is for-fun reading unless the kids just choose to get ahead on assigned reading.)
The kids also have ability-appropriate assigned reading each day, which offers another opportunity for independent learning. I let them go off to their own quiet places to read. Later in the day, I ask them to tell me about what they’re reading in order to make sure that they’re comprehending the storyline (and really reading!).
Allow kids to work with supervision
Allowing kids to work on their own with supervision is another step toward more independent learning. It encourages kids to stay on track without a parent standing over them.
In our home, this means that maybe I wash dishes or prepare a meal in the kitchen while my kids work at the table nearby. That way, I can direct their attention back to their work, as needed, or answer questions.
Sometimes, it means I work on my laptop (or play Words with Friends!) while they work through a lesson, so that I am visible and available, but not directing or hovering.
After some time at this, they don’t need me to redirect their attention quite as much.
Allow them to check their own work
I had a hard time with this concept for several years, but I’ve finally started letting my kids check some of their own daily work.
We typically do this with Easy Grammar and Daily Grams. The kids will complete the daily assignment on their own, then, we go over the answers together. This allows me to provide feedback for things they don’t understand, gives them another area of independence, and eliminates one of my least favorite parts of homeschooling — correcting daily work.
Model for your kids
No, no — not high-heels and runways.
Show your kids what their assignments should look like.
We use WriteShop for writing and before each writing assignment that the kids do independently, we do a practice assignment together. This gives the kids some practical, hands-on experience with the assignment before they’re expected to tackle it on their own.
They can see how to turn their brainstorming ideas into complete sentences. They can be reminded about using good describing words and strong, interesting verbs. They get to see how everything comes together, with guidance, so that they have to confidence to do the work independently.
This can be done in many subject areas. Doing something new alongside your kids the first time or two builds the foundation for them to take ownership of the task and work on their own.
Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue
Know that some things may always require your guidance
As we’re working on fostering independence in our kids, it’s important to note that some things may always require our guidance.
Going back to writing as an example – even published authors have an editor to help them polish up their final copy. It’s okay to come alongside our kids and make suggestions for improvement or help them work through a difficult task.
In addition, some kids may always struggle with a certain subject. Your daughter may always need you to sit down and work through a couple of practice problems in her algebra assignment. Your son may need you to help him figure out how to set up those chemical equations.
One mistake I made as my oldest went through high school was not providing enough guidance in her areas of struggle. Rather than making her independent, this lack of guidance on my part turned into a lack of confidence on her part.
This is an area that we’re still working at overcoming — and a mistake that I don’t wish to repeat with my younger children.
Creating independent learners should be the goal of every homeschooling parent or school teacher. Keeping these tips in mind and not expecting too much too soon are great steps on the path to independence.
For those of you who have successfully fostered independence in your homeschooled students, what tips would you add to this list?