Homeschooling, like parenting, is all about training. We’re in the process of raising adults, and we train up our children in the Lord with the end result in mind.
In the beginning, homeschooling is pretty hands-on for the parent. We’re teaching our kids to hold a pencil, sound out words, and walk through math functions. There are character issues and time-management skills to address. We parents are vital to the process of homeschooling in the early elementary years.
As kids grow, they can start to assume more responsibility for their assignments. They can plan their day and their week according to their deadlines. By middle school, kids should be shouldering a good deal of their workload in preparation for high school.
The process of transitioning to independent study is fresh in my mind. We began the 2013-2014 school year with our two youngest boys in 4th and 5th grade. They’ve been doing some subjects on their own for awhile, but this year we were going to concentrate on developing planning skills. I’d give the assignments and the due dates, and they’d figure out how much to do each day and check in with me. We planned to do most of our subjects together, though, just because we enjoy each other’s company and I really enjoy being a part of the process.
And then we added my 1- and 2-year-old nieces to our school day.
Friends, toddlers are a lot of work. There were mealtime issues, and potty-training, and stickers, coloring books, and crowd control to deal with. My boys were thrilled. They wanted to play with the little people ALL day long! I couldn’t keep up with directing all our classes and dress-up time simultaneously.
We needed middle school independence to start immediately. We found that some subjects worked well for independent study, and others really needed some discipleship. We also found strategies that worked well and those that fizzled.
Moving toward Independence in Homeschooling
1) Evaluate the needs of each child. Not every child will be able to navigate every subject on their own. With your spouse and your child, determine which subjects your children should do on their own. You may wish to start with literature or free-read time (when your child can read well), math practice problems, and some independent writing.
2) Take small steps. Ease your child into independence a little at a time. Kids crave autonomy, but it can be a shock to the child’s system to be responsible for too much at once.
3) Check in — often. As kids learn to be responsible for their own work, they need to be accountable to a caring adult for their work. Trust me… it’s better for everyone if we as parents inspect work on a daily basis. This prevents unnecessary shocks a month in to a new experiment in independence.
4) Teach the skills your child needs in order to work independently. None of us know instinctively how to schedule our days, plan a project, or prioritize our responsibilities. Your children will be far ahead of the game if your days have been orderly and structured. However, they’ll still need help deciding how many chapters to read each day, and remembering to record their assignments.
5) Preserve classes you can do with your child. I am aware that some educational models are built on having children school themselves entirely. However, I believe it’s of the utmost importance that Christian homeschool parents disciple their children. We have a unique opportunity to point our kids to Christ and to help them interpret information. That responsibility doesn’t end once our students hit middle school or even high school. There are several subjects I plan to participate in through high school:
- Bible & Theology: We use Bible Road Trip to take us through the Bible. At this point, we do all of our reading and discussion together. The boys use their Notebooking Journals independently after we’ve discussed the reading. In high school, the boys may do their reading separately, but we will still meet together for daily discussions. We use a variety of materials for devotions and theology (many videos from Ligonier Ministries), and we will always discuss these together.
- History: Heading into middle school, we make time for me to read all of our history aloud. History is a highly subjective and confusing subject, and I want to be present to help the boys develop their worldview and understanding. (We use Tapestry of Grace, which is based on living books.) The children may do their own reading in high school, but I will also read the material and discuss it with them weekly. Reading aloud together is also highly relational. It’s important to me that my boys and I have a strong, loving relationship throughout the homeschool process.
- Art: I’m a big believer in allowing kids to experiment and learn art through process. However, I explain the project we’ll work on and help the kids learn how to use each medium (YouTube can be a great place to find art supply tutorials). I love using Pinterest as a way to keep track of great ideas. (I have 11 different homeschool art boards!) Then I stand back (a little) and let the boys create. I’m able to help and encourage when needed.
- Foreign Language: There are language programs that are independent. However, I’ve found it’s a good idea to stay involved in foreign language learning. Foreign language builds on itself, and isn’t self-correcting. I stay involved because it’s important the building blocks are correct.
Training my boys to study independently has been a bittersweet process for me. I miss the extra time with them, marveling over worms and drawing life-size whales in the street with sidewalk chalk. But it’s exciting to watch them becoming confident young men with a good work ethic. In the end, that’s the goal: to raise full-grown men and women of God.
Danika Cooley is a children’s writer with a love for God’s Word, history, wisdom and small people. She is the author of Bible Road Trip, a 3 year Bible survey curriculum for preschool to high school. Her work has appeared in magazines including Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr.; Upper Room Ministries’ Pockets and Devozine; Cobblestone Group’s FACES and Odyssey; and in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters. You can find Danika musing about parenting, homeschooling, and children’s books at ThinkingKidsBlog.org, on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest (0h, how she loves Pinterest!) and Google+.