As homeschoolers, the idea of having children who can complete school lessons, projects, and assignments on their own can be enticing. Mom, who usually bears the burden of the homeschool planning and teaching, gets a break, and children take responsibility for their own education. Sounds like a win for both parties, right? Yes, but let's delve into this idea of independent learning more deeply:
- How do you know when your child is ready to learn on his own?
- How much should you push your children towards working solo?
- Exactly how do you train your kids to learn independently?
- Is independent learning even possible?
Is It Really Possible for Children to Learn Independently?
Does independent learning really exist? The answer depends on how you define the term. All of us need to learn from someone or some kind of starting point of reference, so it’s not realistic to expect our kids to learn without any guidance at all. For example, the cornerstone of the BookShark curriculum is parent and child, learning together over great books. Sure, older kids can do their assignments and reading alone, but they would miss the insights from their parents that come from discussing the History and Literature. So consider what you and your kids lose when they learn on their own.
With that said, it is possible and wonderful to teach our children to take ownership of their education. In our family, the kids complete some of their homeschool assignments on their own, which—in my mind—qualifies as independent learning. For example, my oldest daughter does most of her lessons and quizzes herself while I help her review and prepare for testing. For our younger children, independent learning might include Read-Aloud sessions, worksheets, and simple crafts while the bulk of the learning is done alongside a parent.
When Can A Child Start to Learn on His Own?
Some early education methods, such as Montessori, encourage teaching children self-reliance at a young age. Others, such as unschooling, promote allowing a child time to develop his or her own educational interests.
Since children mature at different rates, there is no specific age when parents should begin to teach kids to work on their own. As parents, we know our children best. We know when they’re ready to move on to more advanced concepts, and we know what they’re capable of doing.
While it would be unrealistic to expect a very young child (grades K - 3) to learn solo, it could also stunt your child if you continue to hover when he's ready for greater autonomy. In each family, parents have to assess their children’s abilities and skills to determine when they are ready to complete schoolwork on an independent basis. Trust your gut on this decision. You will know when the time is right and how much liberty to allow your kids. If you are unsure, ask them! They often know exactly what they need and can tell you how much support and direction to offer.
How to Help Kids Learn Independently
Children, like adults, need very little guidance or encouragement to do the things they like. Naturally, if our children enjoy what they are learning in school, they will develop the self-motivation to complete many of their assignments without much prodding or direction.
A good way to help kids become self-motivated is to allow them to have a say in their education. Let them choose a few of the books on the reading list this year. Or allow them to choose a few animals, places, or historical events to study.
For example, at the beginning of our school year, we make a list of all the things our kids would like to learn about. Then we try our best to work those topics into our lessons. When I announce that we’ll be covering one of those topics, the kids are so excited that they’re willing to do whatever assignment they’re given—even independently.
Another way to help kids learn to complete their schoolwork independently is to teach them to manage their time. Upper elementary and middle school grades are a wonderful time to start working on this skill. Start by giving kids to to lists to check off. Then give them blank weekly planners to fill in on their own and check off completed work.
As an example, our middle schooler, who has ADHD, is learning to create a weekly schedule for herself. She tries to complete all of her schoolwork in four days, so she can have an “off” day each week. Setting up her own routine has helped her develop the drive to get her assignments done on her own and on time.
As homeschoolers, we can make independent learning fit into our family’s educational goals, abilities, and grade levels. By giving our children a say in their education and helping them learn to manage their time, we can help them become independent learners for life.
About the Author
Selena is a homeschooling graduate and a veteran homeschooling mother of four, including three with ADHD. She and her husband, Jay, use an eclectic homeschooling approach to encourage their children to learn throughout their lives. Selena blogs about her family's homeschooling adventures every week at Look! We're Learning!