This is what happens when you use Independent Learning in your homeschool

Are you getting frazzled trying to teach all of your children every homeschool day? I've been there.

Early on in our homeschool career, I realized I could not be all things to all people. Or rather, I could not teach all subjects to all of my children. Especially as I kept adding students on the pre-K end of the scale, and the older children were in the middle-elementary portion of their education. The youngers needed help learning to read and add. The older ones could already read – so why not put that skill to good use? Thus began our use of independent learning.

Independent learning has got to be one of the most valuable life skills there is. Teaching it to your kids will bring lotsa benefits to them AND YOU!

What started as a necessity (for keeping my sanity, if for no other reason, lol) quickly became a very large pillar of our homeschool philosophy. Now when I counsel younger homeschool moms, I make a point to encourage them to start their child on a path of independent learning — even in homes that have only one or two students.

What is Independent Learning?

Having a child learn independently means that the child is reading the lesson in the text (or watching the video), answering the questions (or doing the problems), checking their work, studying for the test, and taking the test – all without any actual teaching from anyone else. Or to put it another way, the child is taking full responsibility for their learning. They ask questions when they don't understand something, but for the most part they are on their own.  Mom grades chapter tests and papers — but not the daily work.

I always started my kids on independent learning with just one subject — usually math — in third or fourth grade.  At first I gave them full responsibility for reading the lesson and doing the work, and I would check their daily work.

After a few weeks, though, when I was certain they were doing OK, I began having them check the daily work.  They would work through the entire chapter, and I would check their chapter review.  Over time even that became their responsibility, and I would only grade the chapter test.

Then I would gradually add more subjects to the list of ones that that student had to do independently, so that by eighth or ninth grade they were doing them all.  My last student, who is going into seventh grade, started doing them all this past year.  That's probably just a function of how we change our parenting from the first child to the last…

Note: For the full, detailed nuts and bolts about teaching independent learning to your child, see How to Teach the Most Valuable Skill Your Child Will Ever Need.

Benefits of Independent Learning — for the mom

1) Obviously there are benefits to mom when this is happening. She doesn't have to sit down with each and every student for each and every subject. She is not stuck in the homeschool room all day (or in my case, to the homeschool dining room table). She can get chores done around the house, nurse the baby, use the restroom (what a concept) – all while school is progressing merrily along.

2) The benefits in a large family are also obvious. Even when you do several subjects as a group, it is still difficult for mom to individually teach every child. No one lady should have to be stretched that thin or have to create that many lesson plans. Large family homeschool dynamics almost force one to embrace independent learning with a vengeance! :-)

But mom isn't the only one who benefits.

Benefits of Independent Learning — for the student

1) The child learns how to read (or listen) for understanding. This is a skill that takes practice, and it is a biggie on standardized tests. When the child is answering questions based on what they have read, it is a way of holding them accountable. They will learn to concentrate as they read, because they will know they are going to need to use the information for their homework.

2) The child learns HOW TO LEARN. When a child has become accustomed to learning independently, they can pick up any book and learn the information in it. This means they can continue a lifestyle of learning throughout the rest of their life. They will never be dependent on someone else to teach them something.

If they become interested in a new subject, they can track down the books and videos about it and set to work learning all about it, all by themselves. This is key for career exploration and advancement, as well as for personal growth.

3) The child has greater freedom to determine their own routine. When mom is not part of the equation for learning a particular subject, the child can schedule that subject any time in their day. This often helps with motivation and effort.

4) The child learns about their own learning style. When mom is in control of their entire day, they don't have the opportunity to experiment with different environments, times of day, or methods of learning. By trying to learn on their own, they become more self-aware, discovering how they like to learn, how they learn best, and how they do not.

5) The child is free to learn at a faster pace. If the child is capable of understanding something well and wants to keep going, he can. He is not held back by mom's lesson planning or availability.

6) The child learns perseverance and self-reliance.  It can be tough to stand by and watch while your child works through a difficult problem.  But when he struggles through to success, he has learned a very valuable lesson.  Some things don't come easily, but by not giving up, success is possible.  And yes,  he does have the ability to get through to the end without outside help, if he will choose not to get frustrated.  This is a BIGGIE in character development, y'all.

7) The child learns initiative.  The responsibility for learning is ON THE CHILD.  He needs to do everything he can to find the answers he needs before asking mom for help.  This may mean going back and reviewing previous material, looking for answers to help solve the current problem or answer the current question.  (This is a good habit and also helps with studying for tests.)  Or it may mean looking for outside sources of assistance — even looking a word up in the dictionary, lol.

My eldest went off to college having been an independent learner for every single subject during high school.  Math, chemistry, physics, literature, foreign language — she did them ALL completely by herself.  All I did was grade her papers and chapter tests.  (Which is true of everyone who has come after her, as well.) When it was time to do her first research paper in college, the idea of independent learning was so ingrained in her that she made an appointment with the college librarian to get a tour of the library and learn how to use its resources.  This was not a requirement for any class — she just did it, as if it was a normal thing for a college freshman to do, because she knew she needed more skills in order to successfully complete the research paper assignment.  Can you say “proud mama moment”? :-)

8) Which brings up the idea that independent learning prepares your child for college.  Because that is what college is.  College students are expected to take responsibility for their own work, grades, completion of assignments, etc.  No college professor is going to hold their hand or even notice if they are struggling, most likely.  The student is expected to do the work, find outside resources, and ask for help when they need it.  If they are used to it being this way at home, then they won't feel like they are in over their head in college.

Independent learning is a way of life around our home.  The Man is constantly reading about history and economics, two of his favorite subjects.  (I bought him a subscription to Tom Wood's Liberty Classroom for Christmas, and he's loving it.)  I love to research about nutrition and health, among other things; and this entire blog is an exercise in self-education, actually!  In addition to their school subjects, the kids know how to learn about what interests them.  One child is very interested in new advancements in technology.  Another taught herself to knit and crochet.

It can be easy to feel like we need to be on hand at all times for our children's homeschooling.  But I think it's better to allow them to stretch their wings, to try, maybe fail, but to keep pressing on, with independent learning.  It causes a calmer/quieter home environment, a less frazzled mom, and kids who know how to take the initiative in learning new things.   What could be more awesome than all of that? :-)

It's Not That Hard to Homeschool

27 thoughts on “This is what happens when you use Independent Learning in your homeschool”

  1. I fully support this approach toward learning. Some students have more capability for independent learning at younger ages than others do, but the approach of gradually allowing each student the independence that they can handle really allows then to take ownership of their own education. That’s exactly the way my mom handled it in the (large) homeschooling family I grew up in. At this point, of my six little siblings, only the baby sister is still not completely independent in her education (makes sense, because she’s 8) There’s 2 in high school and 3 college students, and I credit how well they are all doing to how Mom taught us to be able to learn on our own at young ages.

  2. Love it, Rachel! It’s always nice to hear that someone agrees with me, lol. :-) If your writing in this comment is anything to go by (and it is), your mom has done a GREAT job schooling you and your siblings! Thanks for stopping by! :-)

  3. I agree with you in theory and have tried this approach, but perhaps you don’t have children/teens with focus/comprehension/ issues or special needs?

    1. Hi Michelle! Two of my teens have been extremely distractible; perhaps they would have been said to have focus issues. I did/do have to work more closely with them, but not so much with the actual learning as with the staying on task. I recently wrote a post about it: Homeschooling Teens Who Are Easily Distracted. I don’t have any special needs kids. Obviously this might not apply as well to them. Thanks for stopping by! :-)

  4. I’d love to hear more about how to make this work for a non-textbook subject. My 5th grader is working independently for math and grammar (and we both love the freedom), but for subjects that don’t have daily worksheets or chapter tests, I’m lost.

    Science and history, for us, are read an essay together, do an activity, read a bunch of library books. We move on when the quality of discussion satisfies me. How can I help her be more independent with this sort of free-form subject?

    1. Great question, K.C.! I actually never gave them much evaluation for history or science at that age. I bought some old edition Abeka textbooks (cuz those are just pennies on Ebay) and had them read those and answer the questions — but I didn’t check them for accuracy, lol, because I didn’t bother to buy the teacher’s editions. Since I don’t remember much of those subjects from elementary school, I didn’t see them as super important for my kids, either. To me, the reading about them was the valuable thing, and whatever they absorbed from that was fine. We also have a big family library of historical fiction and interesting science books, so they freely grabbed those as they were interested. To me that was sufficient at that age. If you do want more formal evaluation, instead of having a discussion, she could read on her own and write a paragraph on what she learned. Or she could draw a picture, or make an outline, or just copy the topic sentence from each paragraph… any of these you can “grade” or not as you see fit. I always graded math and grammar tests, but the other subjects were not graded during the elementary years. I wanted my kids to just enjoy learning and exploring without always being under the gun, so to speak. Hope this helps!

    2. I would have your child do narrations. Or short answer worksheets. The narrations would especially let you know if they actually understood the material.

  5. I agree with you. I have done both methods. Started the are whole adventure with all you mentioned in a post (field trips, memory work, nature journals) and so on and then I ended up dealing with LIFE…..sickness for years. I am now better but those years where I was not able to do one on one was crucial they could be independent learners. I have sometimes felt guilt because it seems easier. I feel like I am not investing but I know that I am and it is just my thoughts because of my lofty expectations I had.

    1. Yes, the lofty expectations will do us in every time… and just because it is easier does not make it wrong. Homeschooling takes many different forms, and a lot of what dictates that is our own life circumstances — and everyone’s are different. I’m glad you stuck with homeschooling even through the difficult times. That in itself is worth being proud of!! Thanks for sharing, Chrissy! :-)

  6. I am homeschooling 2 boys, one is very naturally independent (even though he is quite distracted) and the other is not. He loves to work directly with me. Any tips to encourage the not-so-independent one?

    1. Wow, Emily, I feel AWFUL that I missed your comment somehow. Please forgive me! But to answer your question, I will be publishing a post next week that goes into detail about how to teach independent learning to your child. That should have some pointers you can apply. :-)

  7. I agree with you and have worked very hard to be hands off especially with my 8th & 10th graders. What is extremely difficult is when they have graded their work and when they come to that quiz or test and totally bomb it because they more then likely cheated… then here we go having to reassign the same chapter or lesson. I don’t truly know what’s the best route?

    1. Yes, I’ve been there and done that, and it stinks. There is a delicate balance between nagging and supervising, lol. I do think spot-checking is a viable practice. Either take a quick look over their shoulder every once in awhile to see how they’re working, or pull the random daily work out of their hands and grade it yourself. Also just check in verbally — “What did you learn in history today? Do you think that was a good thing or a bad thing?” Or whatever. Many of them just WILL try to shortcut the process. We have to be on our toes to keep them on theirs. LOL. :-)

  8. I have a question about your daily routine. Do you get them up at a certain time? How do you motivate and keep them on task.

  9. Thank you for this. I am currently homeschooling 3 in 3 grades, and watching 2 toddlers during the day. I have felt so incredibly fried that I’ve wanted to throw in the towel. This post was very helpful!

  10. hey<my name is Ethan and i am in the 7th grade,i have been wanted to do independent study for a really long time now but my parents are totally against it but i just really cant stay in public school. please give me a email back,thanks

    1. Aw, Ethan, sorry to hear you’re having trouble! I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to email you without your parents’ knowledge, however. If you can talk with them and have one of them email me, then maybe I can help. ann (at) annieandeverything (dot) com.

  11. So, I love this philosophy… however, I have struggled with a math co op class that I teach, because the kids depend too much on the answer key… I want the parents to assist with grading. I feel like there is borderline cheating happening, They “get good grades”, but don’t seem to understand the math so well at quiz time. Do you have a solution in mind for this?

    1. Yes, there is that possibility. The student can get caught up in the habit of mostly looking at the answer key and working backwards, and then think they know how to do the problem. Or if they get it wrong, they don’t take the time to really figure out why. That is definitely the parent’s repsonsibility to monitor that. One way I have done so is to keep the answer key by me and have the kid tell me their answer after they complete each problem. I will tell them if it is right or wrong, and they can either move on or must give me a different answer. This gives me an idea of whether they truly understand the material, and it also gives them the idea of how the answer key is to be used. I think most parents (including myself, lol) will not want to do this for long, though. But it is helpful for the short term. As a co-op teacher, you only have so much influence in how the parents handle this, unfortunately. I wonder if you could model it in class for the students? Do the same thing with them — have some in-class guided practice, where they have to do a problem and let you know their answer, and if they don’t get it right, they keep working until they do? I’m just brainstorming here, but maybe doing this or even just dialoging about it in class with the students would help? I think a lot of times we assume that kids know how to use the answer key correctly, but we don’t really instruct them about it. AND THEY NEED TO BE REMINDED OFTEN, lol. :-)

  12. Any particular curriculum you like to use? I’ve looked at the Robinson curriculum, but am not entirely sure. I have kids at nearly 2 years old, 4 years old, almost 7, 8, 10 and a struggling 12 year old. Last year we barely got anything done because of a lot of things, but mainly because everything was riding on me alone. It’s a lot of weight to bear. Now I need to play catch up and need to implement self learning.

    1. I feel like I am in a similar boat. I have 7 from NB to 13yo. Only my eldest can read independently. we usually spend almost no money on curriculum, but this year I need some we bought a membership to a math & reading online program. I will say too that board kids tend to create more chaos in my house. having chores especially for the littles is a lifesaver. you can document it as home ec or life skills. I will also be grouping my kids this year so my middle-schoolers will be in the same math and language arts. Khan Academy may be a good fit for your 4 older ones in math. there is a video teaching the concept, then self-grading exercises and quizzes. I love teaching textbooks (especially for non-readers) but it is out of my budget.

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