One of my favorite sessions to speak on at homeschool conventions like Teach Them Diligently is this concept of developing independent learners. It’s my favorite because of the way it changes the dynamics of our homeschool. So many families are frazzled and overwhelmed with getting everything done. They can’t see a way out of the hamster wheel until they sit in on this session.
Independent learning changes EVERYTHING.
The Key to Homeschool Success
One of the things that I knew about parenting before I even started was that it was going to take some intentional training if I wanted my kids to grow up motivated to do much of anything in this world. I was able to see my previous students from years in the school system become middle schoolers, high schoolers and even college grads. And one thing was obvious, those kids who could handle a little responsibility fared very well. They learned more, achieved more, and were socially well adjusted.
Teaching our kids to work independently is also the ticket to homeschool success. I firmly believe that. If we want our kids to learn to be responsible adults, it can begin with some intentional training through our homeschools.
If you want to to learn more about getting your own kids to work independently, my video masterclass will give you a step-by-step guide. It’s an abbreviated version of the session that I give at homeschool conventions and will give you the background for the rest of this post.
This video is a part of our Diamond level community membership. Click the image below for more details.
Why would we want independent learners?
Here are four huge benefits to teaching your children to become independent learners:
- Thinking for yourself makes the learning your own. It creates your own moral compass. It’s no longer what mama said, but what the child believes for him/herself. This is crucial for helping your children stay close to God when they leave home. Whether that’s a sleep over with a friend or a college dorm, they won’t heed mama’s words. They will remember God’s truth that has been hidden in their hearts and molded into their character.
- Employers don’t like to babysit…employers need independent thinkers and workers to get the job done. There is nothing more annoying than an employee who is at your desk every 5 minutes with a new problem. Teach your kids to solve those problems, so they will be desirable in the workplace.
- Time is precious. Let’s face it. No one has a bunch of extra time floating around. Why spend your time babysitting menial tasks when you could be enjoying your child? It’s so much more fun to do a science experiment together than to fill your time reading a worksheet to your 4th grader, right? I’d much rather teach them to be independent so that I can use my energy for the things that they really need me for.
- Further learning becomes a natural habit when you teach a child to be an independent learner. After her school “assignments” have been completed, you will often find my 8 year old creating assignments of her own. She knows how to learn something new and pursues her interests even without prompting from me. Of course, this is not a guarantee. Some children are naturally more bent toward certain things. But regardless, I think you will find that your child pursues knowledge as he/she gets older.
Now let’s dive into the questions I get on the topic. No doubt after I give this session, there are half a dozen moms trying to figure out a few details to make this work. I’d like to answer a few of those most asked questions to help you get over any hurdles that are keeping your homeschool from running peacefully.
5 Ways to teach your child to work independently
1. Start young
If it’s not too late, start your kids early. A 5-year-old who can’t button his pants will be a 12-year-old who can’t do his math problems without you holding his hand, unless you do something to change it. So don’t coddle too long.
As your child grows, look for new ways to give them responsibilities they can handle. Teach them to play alone for a short time and build it from there. This will go a long way toward getting that homeschool student to do his math without you sitting right on top of him.’
As you start choosing curriculum, make sure to look for curriculum that doesn’t involve a lot of mom time. I want curriculum that is solid and useful for educating my children, but doesn’t require me to sit and babysit them through the entire process, especially after about 2nd grade.
I want to be a resource and an educator, not a person who spoon feeds them tiny bites. This is especially crucial if you are a homeschooling mom who also works from home. Time is limited and it’s wonderful if you don’t have a needy curriculum pressing down on you.
2. Create an accountability system
Learning to work on your own is something that will take practice. Many children will not naturally want to take the reins. As parents, we will need to teach them to do this. We can’t just toss them in a room with a stack of books and expect good things. We need a plan – one that they can execute on their own.
I go through our plan step-by-step in the video mentioned above and also share some of that in this post on why I don’t use a homeschool planner. But truthfully, you don’t have to use my system. You can use any kind of notebook or planner that tells your student what to do, when to do it, and how they will be held accountable for it. These are crucial steps in the process.
3. Use a timer
Most parents who attend my session have already started homeschooling and they didn’t start training their kids early. If that’s you, don’t worry. We can totally fix this, but it means that we need to back up and create some new habits. You’ll want to go back to the first stage of training and work with your child from there.
Start by giving them a small task and looking away while they complete it. Perhaps check your email or even pretend to engage on Facebook. Do something that makes them think you aren’t watching. Once they complete the task on their own, offer praise and then raise the stakes. Give them a short assignment and walk away. (For example, have the child complete 5 math problems.)
If it works, great. But let’s be real. If you’ve been sitting with your child for years now, this might not work. You are going to need to be more intentional. I suggest the timer method.
Set a time and complete a math page with your child. At the end, announce how long it took to finish. Say something like, “Wow, you did this in just 10 minutes. Tomorrow we are going to play a game and see if you can do it yourself even faster.” Then do just that.
The next day set the timer for twice as long as it took your child to finish with you sitting there. (Just to create an extra buffer.) Then remind them of the game and walk away. Most kids will rise to the occasion and beat the clock. But of course, there are always those who won’t. If that happens, pull out #4.
4. Decide ahead of time on appropriate consequences
If you’ve tried the time/game approach and your child won’t work independently, it’s time to get serious. If you know he/she can do it, tell them that. Then tell them they will have to finish the assignment or face a consequence.
Make this consequence as logical as possible. For example, I might say, “Because I had to sit with you while you finished your work, I will need you to help me fold the laundry today instead of playing with the neighbors.”
The key is to help your child see that if they can work alone, you will be freed up to take care of other duties. If they refuse, you will need them to help you fulfill your duties since you had to help them do theirs. Be careful to make sure you aren’t implying that you won’t help them. That’s different. They can always ask for help if needed. But it doesn’t mean that mom has to sit next to them and do every single problem with them.
5. Follow through on your part
The last thing that trips parents up is making sure they do their part. This is critical. Homeschooling our kids isn’t something we set up once and then put on autopilot. Yes, we want them to work independently, but we need to be checking daily to make sure they are following through with it.
For younger children, check daily. As they get into middle school, you may move to every few days or even weekly. This really depends on how well your student can manage herself. When we let this get away from us, weeks might pass and we may not even know what our child is or isn’t accomplishing in their schoolwork.
Your turn —>
What can you do tomorrow in your homeschool to help your children become more independent? Comment and let us know so we can help hold you accountable, too!
Through practical tools & Bible-based resources, Kim Sorgius is dedicated to helping your family GROW in faith so you can be Not Consumed by life’s struggles. Author of popular kid’s devotional Bible studies and practical homeschooling tools, Kim has a master’s degree in education and curriculum design coupled with over 2 decades of experience working with kids and teens. Above all, her most treasured job is mother and homeschool teacher of four amazing kiddos.