How to Make an Independent Learner Easily!
This is part two in my series on creating an independent learner to free up your time during school. If you have not read part one, Homeschool Assignment Chart | A Simple but Effective Tool, you should definitely do that first.
One of the most important parts of helping my children learn to become independent is creating a homeschool curriculum guide. This is what your child will refer to when completing his homeschool assignment chart.
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What Is a Homeschool Curriculum Guide?
A homeschool curriculum guide a list of all the assignments for each subject that I would like my child to complete throughout the year. You might be thinking this is a lot of work! The answer is yes and no. It’s actually quite easy to do. It just takes some time on your part, but once it’s done, it really pays off. Trust me! Before I begin explaining how to create one, I want to discuss why teaching your child to become independent is something you will want to introduce in your homeschool.
What is independent learning and what are the benefits for students?
Independent learning is the ability of a child 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, there are many benefits a child will gain.
- Ability to problem solve– If he can’t figure out an answer, he will have to go find it elsewhere. He may need a little assistance at first, but over time, he will know where to go and how to research for answers.
- Time management– When setting up a schedule for the week, he will have to determine the amount of time needed to complete the lessons and sometimes break them apart into steps. This is going to help him learn to manage his time wisely.
- Intrinsic rewards for accomplishing things– As each box is checked off throughout the week, he is going to feel a sense of accomplishment. He is going to be proud of his work, and because he was able to do this on his own and not rely on others to tell him what to do, he is going to be motivated to keep going. My children always love to check off the boxes. They feel like they are getting somewhere. As adults, we know how it feels to check everything off our To Do list.
- Discover strengths and weaknesses– He will 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 will figure out better ways to study and complete his work. My son realized he studied much better when he had certain types of music playing in the background. My daughter, on the other hand, realized she is 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 that can be referred to and checked 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 is a sense of accomplishment when you are able to 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 is preparing your child with life skills that will 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 are given the opportunity to make choices. Some of these choices will lead to good consequences, and others will lead to bad. All of them will 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.
Let’s think about adults in the workplace who are the best employees. They are 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
I typically spend a little time each summer getting myself organized for the upcoming year and this is one of the tasks I complete during that time. Many of the homeschool curricula out there these days make this process really easy because they already contain a breakdown of the lessons for the year. All you have to do is refer to that and list them one by one you will write or type them out on a sheet for your child to follow. An even easier way to do this would be to 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 don’t need to list a lot.
Be sure to put a checkbox to the left of each lesson. This helps to keep track of what is getting finished each week. I also 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 are 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 you to put forth a little extra effort figuring out what needs to be done each day. These are more time consuming, but it really does makes things so much 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.
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.
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 are introducing this system, you will need to model how to use it. I would suggest for at least a week that you do this with your child, making sure he understands exactly how it works. For the second week, I would have him do it himself while you watch. For the third week, I would check in with him occasionally to see that he is doing it correctly. After you are sure he has it down, I would have him turn the assignment sheet into 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 is getting done and that she understands what she is 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 to correct his work at a checking station. My daughter has learned so much by checking her work by herself and have to go back and redo the questions she has missed.
I create a special notebook for my kids to use each year using the disc system. 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 book 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.
Here is my son’s from his senior year.
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
Some fun extras!
TUL system sticky flags
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.
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I'd like to share with you five independent learning strategies you can use in your homeschool today. There are a number of reasons why we want our children to be independent learners. The biggest reason is they will become adults that need to function in the real world and the workplace. As an adult, no one is going to be standing around watching them to make sure they are getting their work done.
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