As I started homeschooling one of my goals was for my children to be independent learners. I wanted them to be able to ask questions, and find answers, and to discern between facts and opinions. I wanted them to be motivated by their own interests and to learn to think about things for themselves.
As I share in my Scope and Sequence a student grows into independent learning as a progression – one step at a time.
- A child grows in relationship skills and character
- A child develops a love of learning
- A child learns how to study (study skills)
- A child grows as an Independent learner
When a child has gone through each of these steps they have what it takes for independent learning. As you can see, there is more to it than just knowing how to study. We start to build these other skills into our children when they are young – even as young as preschool age.
The benefits of a child being an independent student are many:
- They are motivated by their inner curiosity
- Learning is a process – it isn’t about finish a project, or passing a test
- It is flexible making room for each child’s interests and abilities
- Building life skills which will prepare them for adult education and employment
As our children grew and learnt how to have the focus and self control to study and learn and do things by themselves I was able to include this into our homeschool day. For example:
- When I was distracted or otherwise occupied with another child – the kids could continue to work without me, and if they finished their work, they could move onto something else that would be productive and not distracting to others.
- As the kids grew older their general knowledge subjects (science, history, geography, general knowledge) would become independent studies. This gave me the opportunity to focus on teaching the younger ones so that they could learn the skills necessary to be independent student as well.
- For many of our lessons we would learn together – we would read and discuss something and then as each child was able, they would go and do something with that lesson on their own. This helped us to shape our lessons to each child’s need and ability.
The greatest benefit though came when the kids have moved into adult learning (University and TAFE – Technical and Further Education, Australia). By this stage they know what they want to study, they understand their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning, they have the study skills and self-management skills to be able to do adult learning by themselves, without being spoon fed along the way.
What did this look like in our day?
Our routine was something like:
- Discipline studies – this includes Math, Reading, Writing, Typing, Music – anything that needed regular practice and repetitious drill.
- Discipleship studies – this included Bible study and Character study
- Discovery studies – this was our general knowledge subjects: Science, History, Geography etc. Though each child covered these subjects, we used resources and methods that suited each individual child.
- Delight studies – this was our kids productive free time where they focused on things that were of a personal interest to them. This wasn’t always hands on activities, sometimes their pursued formal studies on a topic because it interested them.
*These time slots are inspired by Educating the Wholehearted Child, by Clay and Sally Clarkson
For our Disciplined studies: As I planned for each time slot I would consider who could do what independently. Josh and Jess did their English subjects together, but Math separately. So while one typed for example, I would teach Math to the other and then we would switch. I had 15 minute teaching sessions, and then they would go and do the exercises for themselves for 10minutes. During that 10 minutes I would do something with the younger children, or some housework. It was go-go-go for those early years.
For our Discipleship studies: I tried to do Bible study and Character studies together as a family for as long as possible. We would read the same text and discuss it together, giving each child an opportunity to be involved regardless of their ability. (Read: How to have Bible Study with all Your Kids at the Same Time) After our discussion the children would go and do independent work as appropriate – Josh and Jess may write a summary, or an opinion piece, Nomi may write a copy-write after she has did a craft activity with Daniel. My focus at this stage would be with Nomi and Daniel, not Josh and Jess.
For our Discovery studies: Until a child was ready to read and write for learning we did unit studies together. Five in a Row was my favourite. (and here’s why). Even as we did the work together I took little opportunities for them to do work on their own. I may have left them on their own for 5 minutes while they finished a notebook page or lapbook activity with colouring in, or scissors and glue, or maybe 10 minutes to finish researching and writing. The practice of being together and then peeling off as their independent skills permitted was really how we shaped our homeschool day for many years.
For our Delight studies: This was done purely independently. Before they had the skills to do it on their own they would play for this time slot in our day. As they grew older some play was replaced by their hobbies and interests.
How to assess Learning when it is Independent
Some homeschool resources include testing, but we didn’t go down that path. Instead we felt that if the kids could talk about what they were learning, they had learnt. I would touch base with the kids at different times in our day – sometimes while they were studying, and sometimes not – and talk to them about what they were learning. Peter would often ask them questions over the dinner table – not drilling them, but rather out of being interested in the subject himself they would have a conversation. You cannot talk about a topic if you know nothing about it – so by having a culture of talking about things we could be assured that our kids were learning.
Another assessment tool was – if they could produce something from what they were learning, then they had learnt. Not all kids talk well, not all write well, not all construct and make stuff well. I have 4 kids and each of them had different strengths when it came to producing something from what they were learning. We used Notebooking and Lapbooking extensively which did make room for each of my kids learning styles.
Most homeschoolers have to report to the Education Department in some way. Other than the examples of what the kids produced, I kept a record of the different resources and projects that they completed and this was also evidence of their learning.
Helping our children grow into independent learners is an important part of homeschooling. As your oldest grow into these skills, it will benefit how much time you have to interact with the younger ones. But it optimizes the opportunity you have to create a unique learning experience for each of your kids. That being said, we cannot rush them into studying on their own – some kids need others to help them process, some kids need a mentor to walk along side of them, others need longer for things to be shown to them. For this reason I don’t like to put an age on when our children will reach this level of learning, but to say, it is something that we work towards.
Independent Learning starts Young: The habits and skills we teach our children when they are young prepare them to learn and study independently when they are older.
Create a Unique Education for each Child: When we look at the whole child we can create a unique education plan for each of our children. Includes worksheet download
What to do when Homeschooling isn’t Working: When you feel that your homeschool isn’t working it is time to hit pause and reconsider some fundamentals. It may be time for a change.
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