How to Make an Independent Learner Easily!

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Homeschooling one child wasn’t too bad. But once I added a few more into the mix, things got crazy! Somebody needed to learn how to work on their own before this mama lost her mind.

An important step in helping my children learn to become independent was creating a homeschool curriculum guide.

Note: This article is part two in a three part series I have written about helping your children to become an independent learner.

Part One: Homeschool Assignment Chart- A Simple but Effective Tool

Part Three: Homeschool Record Keeping- How to Save Time

If you have not read part one, you should do that first.

Independent learner

*Full Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase after clicking through, The Unexpected Homeschooler may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Read full disclosure policy here.

What Is a Homeschool Curriculum Guide?

A homeschool curriculum guide is what your child refers to when completing his homeschool assignment chart. It’s a master list of all the assignments for each subject you want him to complete throughout the year.

If you’re wondering if this is a lot of work, the answer is yes and no. It’s easy, but you need to set aside some time to do it. Once it’s done, it really pays off. Trust me!

Before I begin explaining how to create one, I want to discuss why you should use independent learning in your homeschool.

What Is Independent Learning and What Are the Benefits for Students?

Independent learning is the child’s ability to learn on his own. Another way to put it is that he takes the responsibility of learning into his own hands. When this happens, he gains a lot of benefits.

  • Ability to problem solve– If he can’t figure out an answer, he’ll have to go find it elsewhere. He may need assistance at first, but over time, he’ll know where to go and how to research for answers.
  • Time management– When he sets up his weekly schedule, he’ll determine the amount of time needed to complete the lessons and sometimes break them apart into steps. This helps him learn to manage his time wisely.
  • Intrinsic rewards for accomplishing things– As he checks off the boxes throughout the week, he’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, and be proud of his work because he was able to do it on his own and not rely on others telling him what to do. This will motivate him to keep going. My children always love checking off the boxes. They feel like they’re getting somewhere. As adults, we know how it feels to check everything off our To Do list.
  • Discover strengths and weaknesses– He’ll learn if some subjects are more difficult for him than others and if he needs to make adjustments to complete his work.
  • Learn how to adjust and adapt for his unique learning style– Once your student knows his strengths and weaknesses, he’ll figure out better ways to study and complete his work. My son realized he studied better when he had certain types of music playing in the background. My daughter, on the other hand, realized she’s visually distracted and would put up a display board (like you use for a science fair project) around her to block out distractions.
  • Teaches organization– In order to get all the assignments done, your student must learn to map out a plan through filling out an assignment chart or at least writing a list he will refer to and check off.
  • How to meet deadlines– Deadlines are a fact of life and having to meet them for school assignments is a great way to learn this.
  • Gives him some control over this learning– Every human wants to feel like they have some control. Your child is no different. When he is put in charge of his education, you are giving him some say so in the process.
  • Motivates him to keep learning-There’s a sense of accomplishment when you do something on your own. This type of learning fosters that and motivates the child to keep going.
  • Develop life skills that carry over into adulthood– Successful adults need to be able to work independently. This process prepares your child with life skills that benefit him for many years to come. I can speak from experience. I used this with my son, who is now graduated, and I see him using these techniques to research, plan, organize, and prepare. Taking the time to set this up is going to pay off down the road.

Should Students Be Responsible for Their Own Learning?

When students are responsible for their own learning, they have the opportunity to make choices. Some of these choices will lead to good consequences, and others will lead to bad. All of them result in learning valuable lessons.

The traditional form of learning has an adult (teacher/parent) telling the child what to do, how to complete his work, and when assignments are due. The student is trained to wait to do anything until someone tells them. He is not motivated in any way to take learning into his own hands.

When a child learns to work independently, he learns to self-monitor, set goals, and find the most effective ways to accomplish this.
Heidi Miller-Ford
The Unexpected Homeschooler

Let’s think about adults in the workplace who are the best employees. They’re the ones who never sit around waiting to be told what to do. When they carry out a task, they go find out what needs to be done next. They don’t wait for the boss to come find them. They meet deadlines and are usually organized. This is what we want for our children, and it’s actually pretty easy to instill in them if you start early.

I have written an article about 5 Independent Learning Strategies You Can Use Today if you want to learn more strategies to use in your homeschool.

Here is a great video showing 8 steps on how to become an independent learner. It’s only about 3 ½ minutes long but worth having your child watch.

How to Put Together a Homeschool Curriculum Guide

Curriculum Guide

I typically spend time each summer getting myself organized for the upcoming year and this is one of the tasks I complete during that time.

Most homeschool curricula these days make this process really easy because they already have a breakdown of the lessons for the year. All you have to do is look at that and list them one by one.

You’ll write or type out each lesson on a sheet(s) for the year for your child to follow.

An even easier way to do this is Xerox those plans from the teacher’s manual and draw checkboxes next to each one.

It’s up to you and also what you think will be easiest for your student to follow.

As you list each lesson, you only need to include a short phrase or two explaining what needs to be done. Sometimes it only requires the page numbers. Because your child is going to doing the work independently, he will be reading the directions on his own, so you want o keep it simple.

Be sure to put a checkbox to the left of each lesson. This helps him keep track of what he finished each week and where to start the next.

I don’t date anything because if something happens and your child isn’t able to complete a lesson, it simply gets moved to the next day.

If you’re using a workbook and there aren’t lesson plans that come with it, an easy thing to do is figure out at the total number of pages you want to be completed and divide it out by the number of days in your school year. Be sure to take into account any holidays or breaks you take when getting that number. I always add on at least a week extra to allow for illnesses and unexpected things that can happen throughout the year.

Some programs are more complicated and require more effort figuring out what needs done each day. It’s more time consuming, but it really does makes things easier during the school year if you get this done in advance.

There may be some subjects you still have to do with your child depending on the age or what the subject is. For example, when I use All About Spelling, it’s a program that requires me to teach the lessons to my child. You have two options here, you can skip typing out the lessons for this subject because your child won’t be doing it by himself, or you can type it out for your own reference to make life easier for you during the year.

Here are some examples of pages from my son’s guide.

Homeschool curriculum guide
Homeschool Curriculum Guide
Homeschool curriculum guide

Once all of the subjects have been written or typed out and printed, you’ll want to put them in a binder or disc system notebook. (I’ll cover this below.)

The homeschool binder is key to creating independence and also a simple way to have a portfolio review already done for you at the end of the year. You can put all the pages together in one section of the binder, or you can separate them with page dividers and label each subject.

How to Create an Independent Learner

Most likely you are glad that job is done. Now it’s time to put all that work to good use! At the beginning of each week or day, depending on how far your child wants to plan ahead, he will look at his binder to fill in an assignment sheet with each of the lessons you have planned for him. I prefer to have my daughter do it daily in case some lessons don’t get finished. Having to erase or move things around can be frustrating for some children.

I have created several homeschool assignment charts to choose from that you can download for free.

Homeschool Assignment Chart

Once that is filled out, he is ready to start working. As he finishes each subject on the assignment chart, he checks off the box next to it. This will let him know what was done and what needs to be moved to the next day when he looks at again. I don’t have my child check off the boxes in the lesson plan lists in her notebook until the next day. If this is done the day she is filling in her chart, and she doesn’t get them completed, that can be confusing when she goes back to look at it. This way she just checks off everything that was done the day before and writes down the next assignment in line.

When you’re introducing this system, you’ll need to model how to use it. I would suggest you do this for at least a week with your child, making sure he understands exactly how it works.

For the second week, I’d have him do it himself while you watch. For the third week, I’d check in with him occasionally to see if he’s doing it correctly. After you’re sure he has it down, I’d have him turn in the assignment sheet to you at the end of every day or week (that’s up to you), to glance at it.

I look over my daughter’s work each week to see that it’s getting done and that she understands what she’s learning. If she seems to be missing a lot or there are a lot of things left blank, then I sit down with her and go over those lessons and see what’s going on.

I highly recommend teaching your child to use an answer key at a checking station to correct his work. My daughter has learned so much by checking her work by herself and having to go back and redo the questions she’s missed.

I create a homeschool binder for my kids every year but I use the disc system to put it together.  There are a lot of different companies now that make these. Two popular ones are TUL and The Happy Planner.

I love this type of system because I can put whatever I want in it the binder and change out papers if needed. My kids can easily add things to it without pinching their fingers on the metal rings in regular binders.

This is what my daughter’s book looks like.

Homeschool Notebook

Here is my son’s from his senior year.

Homeschool Notebook

If you decide to make one for your child, here are some of the products we use. Once you have the notebook set up, you only have to replace the papers each year and change out the cover if you want to.

This punch is awesome and a necessary tool if you want to use the disc system. You can purchase the TUL punch and it will fit 8 ½ x 11 sheets and smaller.

When a paper is punched, it creates notches down the side that discs fit into to hold all the documents. These are the discs we use:

Talia Discs 1”- They have a variety of colors

TUL Discs 1.5”- Black

TUL Discs 2”- Black

You can add dividers to separate your subjects if you like. These TUL system tab dividers are great!

Some fun extras!

TUL system sticky flags

TUL Notebook Pages Refill- 100 page (50 sheets)

TUL 10” Clear Ruler

If you would like to purchase one that is already put together, the TUL system makes a nice one. You would still need to purchase the punch for adding papers to it. As you add more papers, you would want to buy the bigger discs to expand.

If you do not want to set up a disc system, this Avery 2” D-Ring binder is a good substitute. It has clear pockets on the front, back, and spine so you can customize it. It also has 4 extra pockets to hold papers inside.

There are extra wide tab dividers that make it easy to see the subjects.

If you would prefer dividers with pockets, these work great!


Using this system has drastically changed the amount of time it takes my daughter to do school. She doesn’t have to wait around for me to tell her what to do next or wait for me to finish up with another child before she can go on. She knows what to do and can keep going.

It has also freed up a lot of my time that was spent looking at the manual to see what I needed to do next or bouncing back and forth between children.

Creating an independent learner has been a huge help in our homeschool, and I can already see the benefits. My daughter is only in sixth grade right now, and she is developing study habits that will carry over into high school and beyond.

Are you teaching your child to become an independent learner? What strategies do you use? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

Hi I’m Heidi. I’m a former teacher turned homeschool mom of three. I’ve homeschooled from the beginning and my oldest is now graduated. I believe your home doesn’t have to be chaotic just because you homeschool. When you join The Unexpected Homeschooler’s community, you’ll learn how to have a more organized, efficient, and productive homeschool, and I’ll send you this Daily Assignment Sheet tool as a gift to teach your students to work independently and free up your time.

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Indpendent Learner
Independent Learner

16 thoughts on “How to Make an Independent Learner Easily!”

  1. Oh my goodness, you have put a lot of effort into this post! Thanks for all of the information and resources. I feel this material could be useful in various learning situations.

  2. This is amazing!!! I was just reading about similar ideas in Rethinking School. I was also seriously considering buying a homeschool planner, but with this I feel pretty confident putting together my own.

  3. Yes. Yes. And YES!!!! When I was getting my BS in education, we often talked about how the goal of every teacher is to not be needed. Elementary was supposed to be focused on developing learning skills. Middle School was the transitional time where students work on applying those learning skills on their own and then, in High School, teachers are simply there to present new material. Of course, we don’t often see it this way, but it was this theory that our school structure was built around. The proof is in the traditional college setting where the teacher gives a lecture and the students are expected to digest and prepare for the exam without assignments and study guides. I’m so glad that you are sharing this information with homeschoolers! Creating a curriculum guide is such a great idea to support children’s independence. And yes, they learn so many skills!`

    • So glad you enjoyed the article! Teaching children to learn independently is so important, and I hope this will help other homeschool families do that.

  4. I love these, Heidi! I’m such a sucker for checklists! Do you find different kids respond differently to checklists or are they generally appreciated by most?

    • Thanks! I love them as well! I do find that students respond differently, but I believe they all seem to benefit from them. Some absolutely love them, and they are a natural part of their personality, while others are very disorganized, and lists are a necessary tool that help them get organized.

      • Hello! Wow… seems so simple! I was looking at planners too. My boys are still little, 5 & 3. Would this type of system be used for children at least when they can read…?

        • Kerri, I would do a modified version for them. If they are not reading, they will not be able to do much work independently. However, this would be a great time to start training them for it. You could print out one of the assignment charts and put pictures of things you want them to do in place of subjects. It would be more of an order of things you want done. Here are some examples:

          • a book might tell them to go and get their book, workbooks, or whatever curriculum needed for school- you could even split that up into subjects with a picture of an insect or animal for science, numbers for math, and so on.
          • a picture of a pencil, scissors, crayons, etc. for any supplies used each day
          • a picture of a child putting something away can tell them to put school materials away
          • a picture of something to represent chores
          • a picture of a drawing to art/crafts


          Does that make sense? Once you get the pictures pasted onto the chart, just make a copy of it for each day.

          This will start to train them to do things on their own and eventually you can transfer that to doing their school work by themselves. I hope that helps!

  5. Hi Heidi,
    First time homeschool mom. Is there a place I should be looking at for materials and lessons to start my lesson planning?


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