A few months ago, I had the privilege of attending the Teach Them Diligently homeschool convention in Nashville, TN. It was my first time to go, and although I wasn’t able to go to many of the seminars, it was still a valuable learning experience.
The main thing that was impressed upon my mind was that it is our job as parents to not just focus on teaching our children facts, figures, and how to be successful in this world. But to be independent thinkers who know what they believe and why they believe it.
Adults who can stand on their own two feet to support themselves while helping others along the way.
Time to re-evaluate
While I felt like we were on the right track in some ways- emphasizing the Bible, character, and nature- it just didn’t seem like things flowed. There was a constant struggle to accomplish anything measurable without falling into “school” mode.
I was ready for a change and praying that the homeschool conference would give me a boost and clear direction.
That "Aha!" moment
What I learned were practical ways to start giving the kids responsibility for their own education.
It was that “Aha!” moment when the theory and the application finally makes sense and the light bulb turns on.
If we are educating for independent thinking, we must give our kids the chance to take on some tasks independently.
However, like the bird parents in my first post about independent learners, we don’t just leave them on the ground to fend for themselves, we gradually give them more independence as they are able to handle it.
This can be applied to household tasks or schoolwork.
Translated into the homeschooling environment, that means having age-appropriate tasks demonstrated first. Then give them the chance to assist with, perform with supervision, and finally, independently.
My first plan of attack was to build a portfolio for each child.
My daughter is eight years old. She can read well and knows how to do quite a few tasks to bless the home.
To help encourage her independent learning, I printed off several pages to go in her portfolio:
Having to record her progress gives her the responsibility to track her education, including keeping an account of the number of days in school.
The checklists are to be completed daily and turned in at the end of each day for my review.
This way, although she is in charge of her education, I can help her stay accountable and make sure she is doing appropriate activities to meet her goals.
When we first started doing this, it seemed great, but after about a week my daughter fell into her usual, “Do I have to do this? I don’t like school” mode, even though the “school” we do is super informal with little to no seat work.
I asked what it was that made her not like to learn and what she would like to learn about that sounded more fun. We were already doing theme study, so I wasn’t sure what else to do to help her stay interested.
No more school
One thing she asked is that I stop calling it “school” and start calling our learning “fashion design school” as right now she wants to learn all she can about being a fashion designer.
Simple enough! So far it is working much better.
I also created one more checklist with each subject to be covered and several suggestions to choose from for each subject (see pic).
She loves it! It’s finally helped her catch the vision of what our goals are for learning and what counts as “school” including learning how to classify normal daily activities into different subject areas.
It’s a fun challenge for her to make sure that she finds something math, history, service, or work-related, for example, to check off that area of study daily.
It’s also fun for her to try to relate it all to fashion designing (or whatever subject she is studying this week).
Now that I’m putting my daughter in the (supervised) driver’s seat, it has taken the pressure off of me to come up with the plan. Although I’m still very much available to offer as many suggestions and resources as she needs to get going on a project.
Daily independent learning routine
We still have a regular routine even though working independently at various times throughout the day.
A regular school day might look like this:
• Wake up, complete morning checklist
• Eat breakfast
•Clean up breakfast and bless the home (a.k.a. tidy house) for the day
•Begin daily checklist (independent learning time)
• Come together for singing and story time (after I have the toddler cleaned up and ready for the day)
• Free play, walk, or other outdoor activity
• Continue checklist with the goal to finish before afternoon free play time
We continue in this manner, keeping each subject area to around 20 minutes each to avoid boredom or dawdling. Plus it reminds us to break up school time with outside, active, or “home blessing” (a.k.a. chores) time.
Independent learning sounds great for a reader, but how to implement it with a younger child?
As for my son, he is five years old. He does not read nor is he particularly interested in learning how to read. To encourage independent learning in him, I also gave him his own portfolio. He has a morning checklist (with pictures) and calendars.
Most of the morning checklist must be completed before breakfast. We keep it in a clear page protector so we can mark it with a dry erase marker and reuse it daily. I simply double-check that he has completed his morning checklist tasks before breakfast and encourage him if he’s getting sidetracked.
Update: A few months into it, my son is completing his tasks without needing to check them off so we are no longer using a formal checklist.
He also has regular tasks to bless the home (chores). Plus he has the option to give extra blessings for service or paid work (as does my daughter).
He has a lot of time for free productive play, and I also try to assign him outdoor duties as much as possible because it seems to help him feel more useful and regulate his emotions.
To pre-empt mischievousness and bickering, I have a list of activities he can do while his sister is in “fashion design school” such as Tinkertoys, board games, coloring pages, crafts, Legos, puzzles, skeleton model (his favorite), dollar store phonics, math, or sticker books, etc. to keep him busy.
Baby School 101
My toddler son (age 2) still needs constant supervision of course, so he tags along with whatever the rest of us are doing. My daughter has started him in “baby school,” as she calls it, and daily goes through the Sabbath School lesson with him.
She is responsible to teach him the lesson, including his memory verse, and to come up with ways to keep his interest. She uses felts, prints coloring pages for him, puts on audio stories or songs, and has even used Legos to teach the lessons.
They both really enjoy the time. It also gives me a chance to have some one-on-one time with my older son.
It’s a work in progress, but I finally see how this teaching method can be implemented in the real world, with multiple-aged kids, little to no seat work, and still have a well-ordered day!
I’m very hopeful for our homeschooling future and pray this also inspires you to encourage independent learning in your own home.
What are some ways you are growing independent learners?