Tools to motivate and challenge your homeschooled children to learn how to work on their own and take responsibility for their educational experiences.
Everyone has their own motivation for raising kids who know how to learn on their own and do their school work without dawdling and whining. My motivation originally came in the form of lots of babies born back to back. But, as I saw the fruit of teaching my children to love learning while gaining an understanding of how to work on their own, I realized the concept of independent learning had much deeper benefits beyond making my life as a large family mom easier.
It created a love of learning and a sense of purpose and responsibility that carried my older children into their adult years with more tools and resources than most young adults possess in our modern culture.
My kids know how to make decisions, find answers, solve problems, and forge through difficult circumstances better than most children I know. Learning how to learn on their own has paid dividends far beyond my wildest imaginations.
Before I share with you how you can lead your own children down this path to independent learning, I’d like to give you a peek into our lives and how this plays out during an ordinary homeschool day.
What Independent Learning Looks Like in My Homeschool
We start out our day with Bible, History, and sometimes Art or Music during what some people call Morning Time. (Read more about our Homeschool Morning Time with Multiple Ages.) I could make these independent studies as well, but I love the experience of learning alongside my children, so this is my jam!
After Morning Time, I dismiss my olders to their independent studies, and rarely am I needed by them after that. I do check in with them from time to time, but everyone from 11 on up is almost entirely independent. If you’d like to know exactly how I put together their schedules, check out my post How to Put Your Homeschool on Autopilot.
I am hands-on with my K-3rd graders. Phonics and Math are my main emphasis at this age. I want to get them reading well because once they can read, the doors open to endless possibilities! In total, this teacher-intensive timeframe only takes about 30 minutes, and much of their actual schoolwork is done independently with me nearby if needed.
And that’s it! Once they are finished with their studies, they are free to pursue their own interests until called upon for chores or meals. Some kids draw, others read, some are playing instruments, some are writing stories. I rarely hear, “I’m bored,” because they are doing things they love to do!
How to Raise Children Who Learn On Their Own
So, how can you foster an environment of independent learning in your own home? Here are some of the things we have done that have made all the difference in this journey!
Believe in your children
Years ago, when my oldest two children were young, a friend who was over visiting was shocked to see my son scoot a chair to the counter, climb up, and get his own water glass. She said, “You let him do that?” She NEVER let her kids (who were older than my kids) get their own drinks. Yet, it had never occurred to me that they couldn’t get their own drinks. I believed they could and acted accordingly by letting them try. Honestly, learning to believe in your children is half your battle to getting them to learn independently! You have to believe they CAN!
Teach them HOW to work alone
The best method I have found to teach independence is called the EDGE™ Method. The acronym stands for:
So, let’s use this method to teach independent learning in a child’s math workbook…
First, you EXPLAIN how to do the problems. Teach new concepts, circle the problems you want them to do, and then…
DEMONSTRATE the new concepts by working a few problems, explaining step-by-step as you go how each problem is completed.
Next, you GUIDE the child to try the problems on their own with you nearby to catch any missteps or troubles, but don’t come to their rescue too quickly because you want them to gain confidence that they can do the lessons on their own – even if it takes a while to figure it out.
And then you ENABLE your child to do the work independently by walking away. That’s right LEAVE THEM ALONE to try on their own without you hovering over their every move. This keeps you from the temptation to micromanage and your child from the temptation to ask you to help them the second they get a little stuck.
You want to start using this method from the very beginning of your child’s homeschool years. Don’t micromanage them. Let them try things on their own!
Integrate their interests into their lessons
Another wonderful thing that encourages independent learning is integrating your child’s interests into their homeschool lessons. Not only will this spark interest in them to pursue their lessons with a passion, but it creates an educational environment that makes sense and prepares your child for life beyond homeschool.
Learn more about this concept:
Investing in Real World Homeschooling
There are 2 ways you can integrate interests into the school day to encourage independence in your child’s learning.
1 – Integrate interests into subjects:
EXAMPLE 1: Your son likes to do cartooning. Instead of a book report, you require him to recreate a scene from his current literature assignment in graphic novel form.
EXAMPLE 2: You daughter likes to bake. As part of her history lessons, you have her bake something from the country and time period she is studying.
2 – Allow them to pursue passions after school hours:
I have written at length about this method of integrating interests into your child’s homeschool day in my Delight Directed Homeschooling Series. The essence of this way of homeschooling requires you to allow your child plenty of time to pursue their passions by avoiding hours and hours of seatwork that isn’t enjoyable and doesn’t make sense in the overall scheme of things.
Teach responsibility for their own school work
Most children are convinced certain subjects were cooked up by parents to torture them. They will never learn to own their own schoolwork and educational experiences if they don’t see value in it. And they will never learn to see value in their education if you don’t also see value in the subjects you are requiring.
Consider WHY you homeschool. Consider WHY you require certain subjects. Know your reasons and be certain you are giving work that has MEANING. Then, make sure you are showing your children how these required subjects have real-world application. You don’t want your children taking 12 hours of bike and never getting on one.
Read more here: True Education Isn’t About Making a Living
Increase your child’s responsibility level:
When giving assignments to your children keep increasing what THEY are responsible for versus what YOU are responsible for them. Give them more command over their own lessons, but always inspect their work. Make sure goals are consistently and correctly met. NEVER ASSUME your child is doing everything you expect of them. They are human, they make mistakes, and sometimes they slip into a habit of doing their own thing – especially if you don’t notice.
Allow them to work at a comfortable, but challenging pace, and periodically, encourage them to work outside their comfort zone. Children who are never challenged, rarely rise above mediocrity and struggle to rise above difficult circumstances.
Don’t hand-hold every decision your child needs to make, and give them opportunities to be responsible outside of school hours because schoolwork is not the be-all-end-all of your child’s education. Teach your child to independently manage their own life!
Watch for struggles that aren’t resolving
Even a child who naturally embraces responsibility finds themselves struggling with it from time to time. Start by encouraging them through it, and then use your parental instincts to decide if you need to intervene.
Your child may only need encouragement to persevere through the struggle or you may need to change up their lessons, curriculum, pace, or environment. You know your child, so trust your instincts.
Ultimately, you are raising adults, not children. Don’t paralyze your children by not allowing them to make decisions. This is the season to hone your arrows in the safety of your home, so when they are on their own, they will fly strong and straight – independently!