Raising an independent learning homeschooler is not something you want – it’s something you need.
Especially if you have multiple kids and plan to homeschool into the higher grades.
After our first year of homeschooling, I could easily see how important independent homeschooling would be. I was spending mountains of time with my 1st grader every day, and at the time it felt like she would always need me that close to her.
Don’t get me wrong, I was loving homeschooling, but there was not a single subject that didn’t require me to be right with her.
I was looking at my two little ones playing on the floor and wondering how I was ever going to be able to fit them into our homeschool routine one day.
Would I be homeschooling into the evening hours?
How is this going to work out??
Why You Need to Raise an Independent Homeschooler
Blessedly, I was in a small group at our co-op of much more experienced homeschool moms. All of them had high school-aged kids and it was so educational to listen to them talk about their homeschool.
I remember one mother coming in and laughing that her teen had completed his math at 3 am that morning. My eyes just about shot off my head! But the work was done, and she didn’t seem to care how or when. The teenager was clearly an independent homeschooler.
During these meetings and my own experience with my kids, I learned that I needed to raise an independent learning homeschooler for the following reasons:
1. Multiple Kids
If you have multiple kids, it will eventually become impossible to teach every subject, every day, to every child.
Even if you do group certain subjects, it will still be a significant challenge that will burn you and your kids out.
Write that down. It’s a fact.
2. Grouping Subjects is Not Always the Best Option
There are many homeschool experts who will tell you to group as many subjects as possible. That is good advice, and I have definitely done that myself.
But I have found that as my oldest starts to pull away from her sisters academically, that it is no longer in her best interests to group certain subjects. For example, she loves science and wants to be a vet. She is interested in all things zoology and biology.
I started to feel guilty about lumping her into a group lesson that may not have fanned that science flame for her – all because I needed to save time during the day.
Eventually, you will need to transition from group lessons to independent lessons, so your kids can continue to grow and excel!
3. The Waiting Game
As your child gets older, they will start to get impatient for you to get to them for their next lesson. As you hurriedly try to make your rounds to everyone, your child will sense the “wasted time” and endless waiting.
Believe it or not, they will delight in having work they can do on their own, so they don’t have to constantly wait for you.
4. Work Loads Get Heavier and Heavier
Every year my oldest child has new subjects and supplements that I am adding in.
Everything from math fact practice, writing supplements, vocabulary building, and critical thinking workbooks. Every year the day gets a little bit longer, and the workload a little bit heavier.
You may be able to keep pace with your littles, but the day will come when it will be too much.
5. College Prep
A huge goal of our homeschool is to successfully launch our daughter into college.
Even though she is only in 5th grade right now, we have already started talking about colleges, note-taking, and study skills.
She knows she is on track and preparing for college with every school day. A huge piece of this is completing school work without me holding her hand the entire time or spoon-feeding her the information.
She is learning to prioritize her subjects, schedule her breaks, and manage her time – huge independent learning skills that are needed in college.
Independent Learning in Homeschooling Does Not Mean…
You are abandoning your homeschooler.
They have no structure.
There is no accountability.
You are not available to help, check work, and/or reassure.
The above are definitely some pitfalls to avoid. You want your homeschooler to soar with their independence, not feel like they are on their own while you deal with the younger kids. Their requests for help should not be frustrating.
I will talk more further down about how to avoid and correct these issues that might come up with independent learning.
Wait! What About the Guilt of Asking Your Child to Do Work…(Insert Shudder)…By Themselves?!?!
As a reminder for the Homeschool Mama who may be prone to guilt over having their child work independently – please remember that your kid would absolutely be doing work independently in a traditional school setting. Even at the lowest grades, a teacher will not (and can not) sit with each child as they complete a worksheet or read a book.
I just asked my 5th grader how often she worked one on one with her kindergarten teacher (she was in pubilc school then). She looked at me as though she was straining to remember EVER having her teacher work with her one one one. That is understandable considering it was a class of about 25 kids.
My point is that your kid will be tremendously blessed for the one-on-one, customized attention they have had in your homeschool. But that doesn’t meant they will not also benefit and be proud of the work they can do without you right at their side the entire time.
It is healthy and expected that they will eventually grow into kids with the confidence to go off to their room and bang out a research paper, finish a math assignment, or read a science textbook.
10 Tips for Raising an Independent Homeschooler
1. Develop Strong Reading Skills
I recently talked to a homeschool mom of 9 children.
Yep. 9. Woah.
She told me right away that her younger kids only do reading to start out with. It is the foundation of all the other subjects and must be mastered first so they can do work independently.
I don’t have 9 kids, but I completely agree with her. Using a high-quality phonics program (we like this one and this one) that gets your kid confidently reading will help your kid to read instructions on worksheets, read history assignments, take quizzes independently, read science books, classic literature selections, and many other things.
If you want to raise an independent homeschool learner, solid reading skills need to be your first step.
2. Spelling Fuels Writing
Quality writing is another key element of a solid independent homeschooler.
Your homeschooler will need to write out answers for most subjects. A huge key to making your homeschooler independent in this area is spelling.
I used to think that my kid hated writing.
Nope. She couldn’t spell, and therefore she hated writing.
I missed this because she would always ace her weekly spelling tests…but then I realized she was forgetting the words a month later. Quick memorization led to quick forgetting, unfortunately.
Once I started her on this Orton – Gillingham spelling program, she had strategies for spelling that helped her writing to flow much better.
3. Solid Math Facts Mastery
Nailing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts is the undeniable foundation to a solid math education.
Your kid may understand higher math concepts, but if they don’t have those math facts down, they will miss a lot of questions. And they will come to you with tears asking for help daily.
Make math fact memorization a priority, but try to make it fun!
I highly recommend all four books from the Math Facts That Stick Series from A Well Trained Mind. They are an outstanding, fun, and logical way to teach the facts!
4. Ease in with Independent Homeschool Assignments
When you think that your child is ready, start adding small things to their daily workload that they are responsible to do on their own.
For example, a journaling or reading assignment.
Have them report back to you as soon as they’re done. Praise them right away for doing something “all by themselves!” Check over the assignment, making small corrections where needed or asking your student to narrate back to you what they read.
As you go along, slowly add to the list of things that your child can do independently. Maybe teach a lesson, and then have the child read the instructions of the corresponding worksheet and complete it on their own while you work with another child.
Build slowly in this way, providing lots of support, and letting your kid know they can always come to you for support.
5. Provide Structure and Expectations
Your budding independent learner will try to take the “easy road” most days, so make sure you are very clear with your instructions for them.
For example, tell them how many sentences you expect to see in the journaling assignment, how many minutes they should spend on typing, etc.
Express that you want high-quality, thought-out work that shows effort. Set the bar within reach, but don’t make it too easy (sloppy work will do) or unreasonably difficult (college-level writing expectations for an elementary school kid).
Without clear expectations, your child will flounder and then be frustrated when you aren’t happy with their work.
This year, I actually created a student planner printable to keep my kid on task and focused while I was busy with my younger kids. Every morning I highlight the subjects and chores of the day and make notes to the side about what she has to do.
We have a 5-minute meeting where we go over the above planner sheet and I make sure she understands everything. I check in with her throughout the day to grade her work and monitor her progress. She knows to write notes in the “Help” section if she comes across something that confuses her.
To download your own planner sheet, just click here or click the above image.
6. Allow Your Child to Set Their Schedule – With Some Help
This is such an awesome way to hand the reigns to your independent learner and let them start taking the lead with their education!
Sit down with them and work on planning out a loose schedule.
What subjects would they like to do first? How many breaks would they like?
When would they like to be done for the day?
When does that mean the day needs to start?
You will still be doing many other subjects with them, but allowing them the freedom to set their schedule is a great way to produce a strong work ethic, time management skills, and confidence in their abilities.
You may disagree with their choices…and your kid’s plan my flop. That is a great time to come back with your kid (with no anger or judgment) and reassess the schedule. What went wrong?
How can we shift the subjects and schedule to make the day go better? Do they maybe need a homeschool student planner to stay organized?
Brainstorm WITH your kid and keep working at it till you find something that works for both of you.
7. Give Assignments and Deadlines
Homeschoolers do not typically have the pressure of deadlines, and that is kind of a nice thing. But there is nothing wrong with giving your older kid assignments (i.e. writing project, book report, poster board presentation) that require them to manage their time outside of typical school hours.
Since you are both teacher and parent, you can of course still work with them and help as needed (as I said earlier, you are not abandoning your child), but do not micromanage the assignment.
Start with giving your kid an assignment with a deadline and clear instructions. Tell them that there will be a (small) reward for meeting the deadline and a consequence (of your choosing) if the deadline is not met.
****Why the reward and consequence? Kids in traditional school do receive rewards for submitting work on time – good grades, praise from their teacher, or support from their peers. It can be hard for a homeschooler to care about hitting a deadline if nothing happens – good or bad.
Then step back.
You will want to remind them every 5 minutes that time is ticking and they need to get on this project, but you need to allow a vacuum of leadership so that your kid has the opportunity to step up!
They may surprise you!
And they may not. If they fail to meet the deadline (because you refused to offer micromanagement type help), then you have another opportunity to meet with your student (without anger or judgment) and talk about it.
Why didn’t they meet the deadline? What could have been different to help the student be organized, productive, or motivated?
8. Tell Your Kid What You’re Doing and Why
Step #7 may be very frustrating for the kid who does not understand the endpoint of school.
If your independent learner only sees school as something to finish so they can go play, then you both may become very frustrated.
Talk to your kid about your role as a parent in preparing them for college and “real life.” Ask them what they want to be when they grow up. Explain the purpose behind school and the path that it leads to a bright future!
I did this with my (then) 4th grader and it turned into such a fun conversation. We even pulled up websites of colleges and looked at videos from different majors and dorm life. She got excited and absolutely zeroed in on a goal that was set in front of her.
The goal is not to “check the block” every day. The goal is to get into a certain college for Pre-Vet. She is going places!
9. Understand That It is a Process
This is not a 2-week process, Homeschool Mama.
For many kids, it takes years of intentional process that leads to an independent high school homeschool learner. A student that devours their school work and doesn’t need their hand held.
Do not get frustrated if your kid calls for help with their “independent work.” You don’t want them to feel abandoned or isolated.
Always come up behind and check their work. Talk to them about what they’re reading and engage them often about what they are learning!
If you kid does seem to be consistently struggling in an area, let that be a red flag to step in and get more involved.
10. Invest in Independent Homeschool Curriculum
This was actually really hard for me. I love working with my kids, reading with them, and sitting with them.
I hate that I can’t realistically continue to do that for their entire education. I eventually had to start looking into curriculum that my kid could do independent of me.
Our very first independent curriculum was Teaching Textbooks. I cannot tell you how much that helped my days! Not having to teach math was game-changing, to say the least.
She also started to use Reflex Math for math fact mastery (no more flashcard games with mom!).
This year I added in Veritas Press History, which has been a HUGE help to give her grade-level appropriate, challenging history that my younger ones could not keep pace with.
We also switched over to Noeo Science. She could do that independently, but I still feel like she needs support here, so I work with her as needed.
“Learning Language Arts Through Literature” has been a nice addition to our homeschool this year too.
I really like that there are 4 book studies that have to be done every year – separate from the day-to-day curriculum. This is an easy way to schedule deadlines and independent work for my daughter.
As I said before, I really like our current spelling curriculum, but I would eventually like to try Phonetic Zoo since it is also mostly independent for kids.
Some Supplemental Independent Homeschool Options
If your kid needs to sharpen certain areas, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your homeschool day has to lengthen!
Here are some of my favorites that I have assigned to my daughter for independent work while I work with her younger sisters:
Recap Raising an Independent Learning Homeschooler – and BIG Reminder!
Pointing your homeschoolers towards independent learning is not a want, it is a need.
I know I said that earlier, but it bears repeating, Homeschool Mama!
I hope you take these tips to heart and start easing your child into the steps of taking responsibility for their education and future!
Remember to set a strong foundation of reading, math facts, and spelling for a good start to independent learning. And take it slow – it’s a journey (not a sprint!). Make sure your kid always feels supported and always check their work to keep them accountable.
Have you already raised an independent homeschooler? I would love to hear your tips and curriculum suggestions in the comments!