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.
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
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? :-)
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