Some homeschooling methods have their children studying independently very early on, but in our house we have had a balance between independent time and times where I teach and work along side of my children. Both aspects to learning are important.
It starts when they are young
Independent study skills start when your child is just a toddler when they learn to play by themselves. In those early years of toddler / preschool we had many time slots throughout the day where the kids grew in this skill. For it is a skill and it needs learning and practicing.
- Cot time or playpen time – where the children were given a small selection of toys, and a few books and were expected to play for a set period of time. This grew into room time where they played in their room, with a set amount of toys, for a set amount of time.
- Table time. Initially this started as time in a highchair and they would have some activity like playdough, sorting, matching, puzzles etc. When they graduated from their highchair they could sit at the table for a set period of time, and colouring in, drawing, reading, puzzles, etc.
- Mat time or couch time. Though my kids didn’t do this every day, there were times where I expected them to play on a carpet/blanket or up on the couch. On the blanket they would play with the same sort of toys they had in the playpen, but up on the couch it was generally reading/book time.
- Outside time, free play time etc. There wasn’t always a sibling around and sometimes they did just have to play by themselves.
How long each time slot went for grew as their ability to occupy themselves happily grew. This was both attitudinal and actual skills.
For Naomi and Daniel (our youngest two) these different activities slotted in and around Joshua and Jessica’s homeschool activities. For example, when it was Math time, the younger ones would have cot/room time. When it was read aloud time, the younger ones would have highchair/table time. This is how I could have some focus time with the older ones, and yet continue to train the younger ones. Sometimes, of course, the younger ones needed more training than just practice and it would interrupt the lessons for the older ones. But that was okay – I would take the time to train the younger ones because I knew short term pain, long term gain!
Moving into Independent Learning
While I was focused on training the younger ones (or any other such interruption) the older ones, who had progressed further with their independent focus skills, where able to find something else to do.
- Continue to work on their studies if possible. We also kept a file of uncompleted work, so the kids could pull that out and finish a worksheet, or notebook page etc.
- Read a book.
- The younger two have been able to draw or play Lego when I’m pulled away.
My number one guide for what to do when I am not available (be that because of younger siblings, a business situation, or a heart issue with another sibling) is that they are to be available as soon as I become available. This means they don’t move away from their desks, and they do something that can be dropped straight away otherwise we get into a vicious cycle of them doing something waiting for me, then I wait for them, and we just waste time. So the rule is – stay at your desk, be busy, and be available.
Once my children can read they begin their journey of independent academic study. We have a block of time, each day where the kids work on their independent studies. Generally these have been their ‘discipline’ studies – studies that need daily practice/drill. These subjects vary student to student, season to season, depending on the needs at the time, but generally they have covered these types of topics:
- Handwriting (copywriting)
- Drawing (practice)
- Worksheets – phonics, gramma, writing exercises
- Bible verse memorisation
My plan is to teach my kids the skills necessary to study and learn independently. We work on these skills during the studies that we do together: Bible study, Read alouds, Discussions, History, Science, Geography etc… At some stage, the kids will be able to step away from doing these lessons as a family, and start studying independently. I have found that they are able to move towards independent study on a subject that they love earlier than a subject that they struggle with. In our house moving to independent study has been a gradual thing.
Though I have cherished the times we have learnt together as a family, letting my children move to independent study is a part of letting them grow. But, that being said, each of my children have moved to complete independent study at different ages. That is a part of the opportunity we have as homeschoolers to fit our teaching methods around what is best for each of our students.
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