Homeschooling provides an excellent opportunity to produce independent learners because homeschooling allows parents to invest more time in their children’s education.
My husband and I homeschool with the ultimate objective of helping our children to become independent learners. To realize our end goal, I have developed 7 strategic steps. These 7 steps are a natural result of our parenting style.
Because our parenting goals are to help our children become mature independent adults who embrace a life of learning, it is only natural that we encourage the same type of behavior in them as students.
7 Steps to Independent Learning
1. Teach them to take their education seriously.
2. Teach them to love reading.
3. Teach them to honestly complete all the work that is assigned to them.
4. Teach them to work independently.
5. Teach them to embrace struggling.
6. Teach them to prioritize the more difficult work.
7. Teach them to own their education.
Step 1 to Independent Learning
Teach them to take their education seriously.
In order to teach my children to take their education seriously, my husband and I have to take their education seriously. This means that we must lead by example and approach their studies as if we were being paid to do it.
On school days, we are consistent in what we cover. The time in which we cover these lessons, however, may vary.
7 to 8 am Wake and eat breakfast.
8 to 8:30: Dress and brush teeth.
8:30 to 10:30 am: Older children attack the harder subjects
The younger children and I sit and go through their lessons together.
10:30 to 11:30 The older ones move toward their easier work, like writing and literature.
The younger ones and I do the same.
11:30 to 12:30 Break time and lunch.
12:30 to 2:30 Reading history, science, or free reading.
2:30 to 4:30 Those finished with school usually play together. Board games, toys, or outside.
I list our general schedule because I believe consistency is the key to teaching children that a particular behavior is important. If I ignore school, or only take it half-way seriously, then my children will do the same.
I do make exceptions on non-school days, which in my home, to be honest, happen regularly. This means that when we do school, we formally do school. And when we don’t do school—which happens a lot—we don’t do school. I am very clear about the distinction, so that the expectations to perform are clear.
Step 2 to Independent Learning
Teach them to love reading.
To accomplish this objective, I semi-unschool in the early grades. I assign about an hour of work for first grade and about two for second grade. (As I alluded to before, we don’t school every day. On average, we school about three days a week. I aim for four plus co-op, but considering how many days the younger ones skip, it’s more like three plus co-op.)
In addition to the minimum but focused work, I let them read whatever they want for assigned school reading. You would think this would be an easy thing to accomplish. It isn’t.
My daughter was born to read. She loves it. My older two boys have learned to enjoy reading, but they don’t love it like she does. My fourth child and youngest son tolerates reading. According to him, he loves video games. (I could elaborate on how these games are addictive and will ruin your children’s lives, but I won’t. I would be writing as a hypocrite. I think most men and boys love video games. I personally don’t. Be wary of them entering your home. They are a wicked force that you will have to battle and conquer, or they will take root, grow, and multiply. It’s best to just avoid them. If you cannot, at the least completely control them. Enough said.)
Step 3 to Independent Learning
Teach them to honestly complete all the work that is assigned to them.
This one requires a lot of effort on my part. In order to create a habit of excellence when it comes to completing their work, I sit with my little ones during their one to two hours of school. And since most of them haven’t reached this objective by third grade, I keep sitting with them for as many years as it takes to ensure they understand my expectations. Right now I am sitting with my third grader for the more challenging subjects. The easier lessons he does on his own. My fifth grader and I are working together on his subjects, but he doesn’t need me to sit next to him. After I cover the material, he goes off and completes his work alone.
I find that constant reinforcement and immediate correction is the only way I can train them to meet the expectation of taking their work seriously. Sitting with them also allows me to guide them through learning to struggle.
Step 4 to Independent Learning
Teach them to work independently.
A lot of home educating, for me, involves sitting at the kitchen table, watching my children work. By being there I also teach them to work independently. I sit with them until I can trust them to work alone without staring off into space for an hour at a time.
My daughter became independent early at around third grade. My oldest son became semi-independent around fourth or fifth. He became totally independent by seventh.
By independent, I do not mean working without help or assistance. By independent, I mean they can be left alone because number 2 above has been accomplished. It means they attempt to complete their work alone, reading their books and struggling until they’ve exhausted their own resources when it comes to completing their assignments. When they’re lost and spent, they come to me for help. Sometimes I tell them the answers. Sometimes I lead them to the answers. Always I try to remember to cheer them on. (Sometimes I forget to be the cheerleader mom, especially when they keep making the same mistake over and over. When I lose it and forget to encourage them, usually their facial expressions and body language tell me I’m doing a horrible job as a mother and a teacher. I immediately check myself and correct myself. Then I apologize. Then I love on ‘em for a while and ask for forgiveness. My kids get loved on a lot.)
When my children are at this step, it doesn’t mean my work is done. Working independently at this point doesn’t make a student an independent learner, yet.
Step 5 to Independent Learning
Teach them to embrace the struggle.
When we don’t let our children struggle, we damage them.
Many people disagree with the idea of struggling because they equate it with suffering. But that is wrong! Or at least it is the wrong way to struggle.
For the youngest kids, sometimes the struggle is just learning to sit down for more than thirty minutes. Once that’s learned, sometimes the struggle is just learning to do what one doesn’t want to do. (Better to learn this as a second grader than as a tenth grader.) Later, again depending on the child, around fourth or fifth grade, the struggle is more challenging schoolwork. (This same struggle occurs when the students reach 9th grade. The additional workload can take a huge adjustment.)
For me, the more challenging curriculum is one that is open-ended, or in other words, non-grade specific. I don’t like subjects by grade, they are too limiting, stifling, and often times filled with fluff and repetition that isn’t necessary. Not always, but often. Even math I approach this way.
Instead, I try to use material that teaches concepts by level not grade. For example, Windows to the World is an introductory literary analysis program. It is for high school students, not 9th graders. The program can be adapted and taught at any grade level.
For the younger years, most curricula are sold by grade levels. I have one solution to making those open-ended. Find material that is serious and twaddle free then simply ignore the grade levels.
Again sitting with them is vital when it comes to adding a little struggle to the school day. The best way that I know to accurately assess each child’s learning level, learning style, and learning rate is to sit with them and watch them. Knowing these things helps to determine what type of learning material to use and to ensure that the material is just difficult enough for my students to struggle.
What may not be obvious with struggling is the joy that comes from it. Accomplishing a difficult goal is rewarding and fun. I think children come into the world knowing this, but somehow we strip it from them as they grow up. Putting a little struggle into our day helps me to teach them how much fun the struggle can be.
When my children conquer a challenging problem or memorize a difficult passage, we celebrate! We do a happy dance! We eat chocolate! We do high fives! We eat more chocolate! Learning is fun! It’s all about the journey. I’m trying to produce learners not knowers. And a little struggle helps them become learners.
Struggling is about teaching children to dig way deep down within themselves to overcome an obstacle, and then rejoicing at their success. It’s about teaching children to lose sometimes, and to be gracious about it. It teaches children to keep trying when learning is difficult or seemingly impossible. It teaches them to keep working at a task even if they’re never going to be the best or even be good at it. Teaching children to struggle also provides children with the chance to celebrate others without being envious of them.
Not struggling is very damaging to a child’s preparation for the real world. When children don’t struggle, they develop a false sense of the way the world works. They also develop a false sense of their own abilities and their own importance. And no matter how intelligent a child is that child needs to struggle in something.
Step 6 to Independent Learning
Teach them to prioritize the difficult work.
To teach my children to avoid avoiding difficult work, I have to make sure they don’t avoid it. So I plan and schedule their work during those early years so that the hardest subjects are tackled first. ALWAYS!!!
Each of my four children does math first thing every morning followed by Latin, science, writing, or grammar. Which subject comes after math depends on the grade level and the child.
At night, I often put off doing the dishes until morning. Those pots and pans, even though they’re still wet, seem so challenging to tackle. But every morning that I do them, I am amazed at how easy and quickly I can get them cleaned and put away even though the food on them is all hard and crusty. Everything is easier first thing in the morning. Even dishes. Even math.
Step 7 to Independent Learning
Teach my children to own their work
To help them foster a sense of ownership for their education, I give the responsibility of getting it done over to them as soon as possible. That’s why they must be somewhat independent as early as possible. It’s their work and theirs alone. I tell them all the time that I already graduated from high school. I have my education. If they want one, they have to do it for themselves. I try to instill within them the idea that they don’t do schoolwork for me; they do it for themselves.
I am sure that my kids are sometimes annoyed by my lectures. I lecture a lot, especially when I am driving them somewhere, and I have a captive audience. In these lectures, I tell them how important they are to the world. What if one of them becomes a doctor? All doctors need to approach their work with precision and attention to details. I expect the same quality of work from children who will one day become doctors. What if they become engineers like me or their father? When engineers don’t do their jobs correctly, bridges collapse, refineries explode, and people get hurt or die.
I emphasize the real world significance of the skills I’m trying to develop in them—precision, carefulness, attention to details and accuracy. People’s lives may depend on them someday which means that how they are studying is just as important as what they are studying.
This page was posted on 01 Nov 2013.
Written by Kimberly D. Garcia
(C) 2013. All rights reserved.