If you’re like me, you love learning alongside your kids and getting in there with them during the school day. However, I doubt there are many among us who aren’t also enjoying or looking forward to having more independent learners. I mean, let’s face it, at some point, our kids are going to have to learn to work independently and just imagine the things you could get done if you had an hour or two a day in which all of your kids were working independently.
Okay, I’m back. I slipped off into a beautiful daydream of working on writing my “someday” book and keeping caught up on housework.
My oldest does almost all of her work independently now, usually only joining us for Bible study, writing lessons and science labs. I’m working on getting my younger two to that point within the next two or three years – about middle school age is when I really like to start really encouraging independent work.
In addition to the benefit of more time for the teaching parent, independent learning also allows for a more personalized education for the kids – they can more easily follow their own interests when they’re working independently. So, how do you encourage independent learning?
1. Spend plenty of time setting the foundation. I think it’s counter-productive to push independent learning too early. Spending lots of time working one-on-one with your kids when they’re young gives them the confidence and the skill set to more easily accomplish independent learning when they are older. Making sure kids are strong in basic skills, such as reading, writing, and math computation, sets them up for productive independent learning throughout life.
2. Start simply. Let your kids start out working independently in areas where they’re confident. The first thing my kids started doing independently were their Explode the Code books. I like them as a starting point because each lesson is set up in the same format, so kids are familiar and comfortable with what they’re doing.
After Explode the Code, we’d usually move on to math because, once new concepts are explained, the review problems are familiar.
3. Keep a system of accountability in place. I give my older daughter an assignment/check sheet. She has to check off each assignment as she completes it. This is her acknowledgement that she has completed the assignment.
For my younger kids, when they first started working independently, I would check their work early enough in the evening that they would have time to sit down and finish it rather than watch a favorite TV show if their work didn’t get completed. An even worse fate that sometimes resulted was having to do their work at the dining room table the next day instead of being able to take their work to their rooms or the living room.
4. Provide incentives. Sometimes, in the beginning stages of learning to work independently, having an incentive program in place can be useful. This wasn’t something that I had to leave in place long for my older daughter and I haven’t done it with my younger two yet, but sometimes it’s helpful to help a kid realize that if they just get busy and do their work, it would be done.
5. Provide resources. Often when a child is just learning to work independently, there is just so much to remember. Providing tools to help overcome obstacles and get to the business at hand can really go a long way in helping your child learn to work on his own. We’ve used math mini-offices, a writing mini-office, and learning centers to accomplish those goals. Other tools might include your own version of workboxes.
What tips have you discovered that have helped your kids move toward more independent learning?