Overview: Guest contributor Sara Dennis of Classically Homeschooling shares some great tips to help anyone teach teens to learn independently. I advocate independent learning in high school, to prepare our kids for college where that is what they will need to do to succeed!
I think everyone has heard the rumor that homeschooled teenagers can learn independently. You look forward to hours of free time when your child will finally not need you hovering over every problem. And then reality sets in. Teenagers do not magically wake up one morning knowing how to learn. You need to teach teens to learn independently.
3 Super Easy Steps to Teach Teens to Learn Independently
Thankfully, it’s easy to teach your teenager to learn independently. You first need to set them up for success, explain how to find the information they need, and then teach them how to get their work done.
Don’t worry. It’s not as hard as it sounds!
1. Setting Teens Up to Learn Independently
The first goal is to set your teenagers up for success. You do this by finding a curriculum that’s designed for independent learning.
I’ve never had any luck heading to the local used bookstore and finding an old textbook on the given subject. The textbooks assume that some knowledge will be passed on by a teacher standing in front of a classroom. Let’s just say, most homeschool kids aren’t taking formal classes.
Instead, you need to look for either an online or video class for your kids or material that’s written TO the student.
Online and Video Classes
Online and video classes will give your kids the benefit of information being passed on by a teacher, but your kids can take the classes from the comfort of their own homes. What I’ve found is that an experienced teacher knows the pitfalls a student will discover if left to their own devices.
My kids took video math classes for a time. Once I was watching the lecture along with a son. The instructor said, “I know you’re thinking you can take this shortcut, but here’s why it won’t work…” My son looked disgusted. He was planning on using that very shortcut to complete his math problems in record time.
Using online and video classes with your teenagers also gives your kids the experience of learning information from a lecture. Most adults end up needing to spend time in a classroom. Don’t wait to toss your kids into a class when they reach college.
Material Written for Homeschoolers
I’ve also had huge success using material that’s written to the student, i.e. for homeschool kids working at their kitchen tables. The explanations assume that no teacher is filling in missing information, so the explanations tend to be more detailed than the textbooks you’ll find in a used bookstore.
Kids can read the information, absorb it, and then complete the material independently. It’s been a lifesaver for my children and me as they move into middle and high school.
They don’t need to wait for me to complete their schoolwork. They can start work on their own.
2. Find the Information Needed to Learn Independently
Once you’ve set your kids up for success, it’s time to teach teens to learn independently. After all, not every teacher or every course will explain things in the exact way your child learns.
They need to learn how to absorb the knowledge and make it their own without getting frustrated and throwing their books across the room.
Related: How to Teach Children to Learn Independently (on Classically Homeschooling)
You’ll find that sometimes kids need more information than the teacher, lecture, or material provides. This means that you’ll need to show your kids how to look for more information. They can check out Khan Academy, YouTube Videos, and pull out old books.
Another great source of information is children’s books. Children’s books explain complicated information at a level written that kids can understand. If a concept is confusing, you can read a children’s book to get enough background information to start to make heads and tails of the detailed adult version.
And often your kids need just enough background information to understand the terminology being used. Then your teens will be off, running, and mastering the information on their own.
Explain or Teach Someone
A second trick that works when kids get stuck is to have them explain the concept to someone else. You can ask them to teach a sibling, teach you, or even give a lecture to a group of stuffed animals if their dignity will allow them to do so.
It’s a case where teaching someone else will help your child figure out exactly what they know and what they don’t.
It’s a simple trick that will allow your teenagers to come away with a better understanding of the topic.
3. Teach Teens to Learn Independently with Time Management Skills
Unfortunately, we’re not born with time management skills any more than we’re born with the ability to learn independently. Time management usually boils down to tricks to encourage us to get things done.
The first method that works is to break things apart into small bites, and the second is to use a timer.
Teach Teens to Learn Independently with Small Bites
I sent my youngest kid into his bedroom last weekend to clean it up. He stood there in dismay. Legos, action figures, nerf darts, stuffed animals, sheets, and books were haphazardly tossed all over his bedroom.
The poor child had no idea where to start. So I gave him a small bite to begin. Pick up the stuffed animals and put them on his bed. He started and soon was able to finish cleaning his room.
The same issue happens to high school teenagers. They’re given the assignment to write a history report. Then they sit there trying to figure out how to write this monstrosity when they have no idea how to begin.
Teenagers can write a history report provided it’s broken down into various steps. The same goes for math problems, science labs, and art projects.
Sometimes it seems that high school is nothing but a series of large elephants. But how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You will need to sit down with your teenager and teach them how to eat an elephant in a series of small bites.
Spend some time helping your child break their large assignments into small bites. Soon they’ll be able to eat their elephants without your help.
At other times, you’ll come across your kid sitting at their desk doodling. They’re drawing anime characters, poodles, and flowers. In short, your child is procrastinating.
Once kids get going, they can usually get their schoolwork done quickly, especially if it’s been broken down into small bites. It’s the getting going that’s an issue.
That’s where the Pomodoro method comes in. Just ask your kids to work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minutes break. It’s enough to get the ball rolling.
A series of 25-minute work periods and your child will soon be done with all of the assignments.
More about the Pomodoro Method here: Homeschooling Your Easily Distracted Teen.
Stay on Top of Learning
Despite teaching teens to learn independently, you will still need to stay on top of learning. Sometimes even the most diligent teenager will appear to be doing their schoolwork while they’re daydreaming about their next vacation.
Make sure you set time aside each week to double-check your child’s schoolwork. This will keep your child moving forward and will allow you to catch problems before it’s spring break and you discover your kid is just now completing the fourth week of school.
It’s super easy to teach teens to learn independently when you follow these simple steps. Make sure that you set them up with course material that makes it possible for them to learn independently. Teach your kids how to find more information when needed. And don’t forget to introduce your children to the basics of time management.
Soon you’ll be sitting back, drinking your coffee, and enjoying the leisurely homeschool life.
Note: For further information and details about teaching independent learning, see How to Teach the Most Valuable Skill Your Child Will Ever Need.
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