Raising an Independent Learner

The following is a guest post written by Amy of Raising Arrows.

I am a firm believer in raising children who can think for themselves.  I want my children to show initiative and integrity whether I’m there spurring them on or not.  My goal is to raise children who love to learn so much they naturally do it on their own.

However, I also know I cannot expect my children to become independent learners overnight and of their own volition.  They must first be dependent on me and my ability to teach them the skills they will need to gradually increase their responsibility level from simple tasks to entire subjects.

But how do you accomplish this?  What if you aren’t sure where to start?  What if your children are older and you feel as if you’ve wasted precious time?

It’s not as difficult as you think and you can start at any age!  Here are a few easy to implement suggestions to get your child on a track of independent learning.

1. Believe in your child.

I know from experience how easy it is to expect very little from your child because the character you have seen him display thus far isn’t very noteworthy.  However, if you believe your child can’t or won’t learn and hone the skills needed to be a self-starter then you have given up before you’ve even started.

Believe he can do it.  Children often become what we believe they are.

2. Get your child on board.

Let your child know what your goals are for him.  Tell him how wonderful it is to have the skills needed to search out answers and learn new things.

Tell him you want his input and ideas for additional topics and subjects he could explore during his school day.  Pique his interest in becoming a life-long learner.

3. Integrate your child’s interests into the school day.

My daughter has a love of photography.  It makes perfect sense to bring this interest into our homeschool in a way that teaches her to take initiative.  For instance, we have encouraged her to use her photography to supplement her science.  When we first suggested this to her, we offered her a reward for photographing any animal or insect she found that fit with what she was learning about in her science book.

Next thing we knew she had found other ways to incorporate photography into her school day, no encouragement needed.  The beauty of homeschooling is that we can use the things that naturally spark our children’s interests to set a flame to their hearts for learning.

4. Give your child assignment sheets that progress from teacher-directed to student-managed.

As your children become adept readers, you will want to begin giving them some type of assignment sheet. This teaches them that tasks have a natural progression and must begin at point A and end at point B.  It also helps them realize every task comes to an end, even those less-than-pleasant ones.

Our current form of assigning work is done on 3×5 index cards.

The cards are laminated with a hole punched in the corner of each one and slipped onto a metal ring.  Every week during my planning time, I add each child’s weekly assignments to their cards with a wet erase marker and attach their set of cards to their crates which hold their school books and supplies.

My ten-year-old has many subjects that are marked out Monday through Friday; however, just this year I began adding assignments that look more like this:

Bible Study Book – pages 100-125

Sometime during the week, she needs to finish those 25 pages.  I’ve left it up to her how and when she accomplishes that.

My 13-year-old son’s assignment cards are almost entirely made up of weekly goals and some of his cards have only the subject name at the top so that he is free to create his own weekly goal.

5. Keep increasing the responsibility level, but always inspect the work.

My goal is to work myself out of a job; however, I still have to do my part by keeping tabs on how they are doing and if goals are being met consistently and correctly.  Never assume your child is getting all his work done simply because he hasn’t asked you for help in a while.

Every couple of weeks I check in with my older children to see how each subject is coming along and where I might need to prod a little more or help them plan a little better.

Eventually, they will be fully responsible for every aspect of their day.  Anything I can do now to help facilitate full maturity of that skill is part of my job as mom.  Raising an independent learner means raising a responsible adult.

How do you help to nurture independent learning in your homeschool?


  1. What a great article! As a certified school teacher turned SAHM and future homeschooler, my main gripe with the public school system is the lack of independent learning and critical thinking that is taught in the classroom. Thanks so much for sharing examples from your homeschool. Very helpful and will be filed away for later, when my son is older 🙂
    Sarah’s latest post: HOW TO: Turn Bar Soap into Liquid Hand/Body Soap

  2. As a product of the school system (and they were *good schools*) I hit university as a totally dependent learner. I can see the spark of self directed learning in my three year old, and I hate to think of it being snuffed out. Homeschooling is looking increasingly attractive.
    The Accidental Housewife’s latest post: I’m unschooling my three year old. It’s called "life".

  3. I was homeschooled for 1st through 8th grade and my parent’s encouragement in independent learning helped me immensely throughout high school and college. I would also like to add that helping your child discover how they learn best is a valuable tool for lifelong learning.
    Steph’s latest post: A Theology of Busyness

  4. My children are 1, 3, 4, and 5 so right now the independence we are working toward is mostly just personal care and helping with the household upkeep type stuff. We don’t use curriculum with my 5 year old but he definitely loves to research and learn. I like to brainstorm with him before we start on a project: where should we look for information? what materials will we need? what do you want to know? etc. I am hoping that this will help him be a more independent learner for years to come.
    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds’s latest post: Does it offend you that I homeschool?

  5. Rebecca says:

    Amy, great points…especially the last one….don’t expect smooth sailing just because you can increase anything. Always be there to guide them during a thorough review…and remember…there will be times, you will have to sit by them as they grasp new ideas.

  6. Great post Amy,

    I value independent playing and learning (our daughters are 4, 3 and 1.5 year old) so we are still in the beginning of our homeschooling journey but this post was a encouragement for me!
    Renee’s latest post: A new learning adventure

  7. Some great ideas here, thank you! My question is how to you make sure the work is getting done and encourage your children to do it on their own? One of my children would zip through all the work in a day, while the other one would need some help staying focused. Anyone have thoughts on how to keep him encouraged and on-track?
    Rose’s latest post: Paris, baby, Paris.

    • Some children have more trouble staying motivated than others. The work that does not capture their attention will be harder to keep on track. I’m not above using rewards. 😉 And remember, they are individuals and even though you must require some subjects they are not the least bit passionate about, you will find as they grow there are other things they are passionate about that your can capitalize on. Slow and steady wins the race. 🙂
      Amy @ Raising Arrows’s latest post: Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent Gets an Upgrade

  8. Having been homeschooled myself and now starting the journey with my oldest, I so appreciated this post! Such practical advice about how to actually move toward that independence… I find that often independent learning is spoken of fondly, without much application advice. This is great, thank you!

  9. As children grow up there is a natural progression and desire for independence. My 12-year-old was clearly ready for increasing independence in her schooling. It meant that I would have to change my curriculum and approach. I gently guided her through her new weekly schedule and she is happy to move at her own pace and even “get ahead” – which she loves! Ticking off a box is a great reward!
    Some subjects and skills are better suited to independent work and we started with those first, e.g.: maths and language arts, reading and narrations.
    But even with arts and crafts and other creative activities, if I first lay out some simple “ground rules”, show how to work correctly with the materials, and have a clear organized space to work, clean up and pack away, my kids can pretty much do anything own their own.
    I think we all like the idea of working ourselves out of a job, but transitions are sometimes a little more tricky than we imagined. We all need grace to encourage our children take responsibility and even allow them to struggle until they succeed.

  10. Sometimes when I am out of the home, people ask me what my kids are doing. They are 15, 13, 9, and 6. When I tell them that they are at home doing their school work, people are amazed. They say, “I wish my kids were that responsible. They would never do their work if I wasn’t right on top of them.” I think it is important to start early with a little bit of responsibility and a big reward in terms of appreciation. I tell my kids over and over how much it means to me to come home to find work well done. Even the little ones can do many things by themselves if told specifically what is expected beforehand. I always review their work, even calling home to check that they are need any help if I am gone any length of time. I want my kids to grow up to be hard working young adults, and I think the increasing responsibility for themselves is the key to this success.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Kids in the Kitchen: Pineapple Cheese Sandwiches

  11. Amy, thanks for the great post. I really like that my kids can begin doing some work individually as I train them to do that. I like the assignment card idea and I’ve incorporated it into my lesson planning in a slightly different way, that works better for me with 2nd and 1st graders. I printed out a sheet with all their subjects listed on it for the year and laminated it. Then I hung them on the wall in our school room and each week I use a dry erase marker to write the assignments down. Now we can all see quickly what needs to be accomplished on what days. I erase it as we complete it. I can completely see switching to cards as they get a little older. Thanks for the great idea.
    Suanna’s latest post: Shape-n-Race 2012

  12. I have to work part time so it’s essential for me that my kid’s are independent learners. Also, I really don’t like “teaching,” so it’s a win win if they can get through their assignments on their own! When I’m at work, they’re doing math and science and reading…and they’re only 10 and 11. It was really hard at first to get them to be self starters, but it was worth it. They know I’m not their cruise director or entertainer!
    melyssa’s latest post: Blarney

  13. This was very helpful to me. Thank you!

  14. Loved this encouragement. Yes, it is possible. But #5 – checking the work – is CRITICAL! You might go back months later and find out everything was done wrong (and this would be so important in subjects that build on previous knowledge like math), or only done half way, or not done at all. We all need accountability. That’s no less true (more true!) for our young ones. I let my 10yo daughter check her brothers’ math work. She enjoys that.
    Barb S.’s latest post: Homeschool Mom-In-Training

  15. Chezianne says:

    Hi Amy! It is not easy to raise kids and be a teacher to them especially when you are not used to it and if it is the first time you teach kids…I am sure this can help…
    Chezianne’s latest post: How To Overcome Anxiety

  16. I am homeschooling my 4-year old right now and it has been tough specially when you have tons to do yourself. It just amazes and I can’t stop asking, “How do you do it?” I am a Type A personality so patience is really a challenge for me. But I am learning to be more patient and I am learning a few tricks too. Ah the sweet life of mothers. Well, ladies, happy international women’s day to us all!
    Reese’s latest post: Student Guide to Credit Cards

  17. I love this! My daughter is in second grade and is becoming more and more independent (thankfully!) I’m curious what your general expectations would be for this age? How would you organize her cards? (I realize you don’t know her and a lot of this depends on the child, just wondering about generalizations.) Thanks!

  18. I think this is among the top homeschooling benefits. In a public school setting, there is no time to encourage this level of independence. Thank you for this, I will be sharing with my readers.
    Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies’s latest post: St. Patrick’s Day Books for Families

  19. This article inspires hope and has reignited passion for training with this goal in mind. Thank you!

  20. I use Homeschool Planet to plan out my lessons. It allows me to auto- connect to my Google calendar, so anything on my phone calendar is added to the day. WHAT I LOVE is that my older kids (middle & high school age) all get an email with their daily “to-do” automatically generated by the program. That way they know exactly what they need to work on. (they can come to me for help). I also get less questions about “Are we going anywhere today?” because of the Google calendar interface they get the any calendar events on their email in the time slot it is happening in.

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