Friday, March 6, 2015

Independent Learning

Experienced homeschooling mothers of large families have told me that one key to homeschooling success is teaching independent learning. A mother who is open to a large family--which will include inevitable months of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, postpartum months of reduced abilities, and various childhood illnesses that require her care--simply can't be the full-time teacher to every student in her school.

What to do?

I've heard various opinions on when children should be basically independent in their learning and to what degrees, but the common theme is that independence is the goal for which we strive. I've commonly heard that a big transition occurs in second, third, or fourth grades. I've known admirable families in which, by high-school, the students are designing their own curriculum each year, within parental supervision, then managing their own time to do the work, meeting deadlines as needed. In the school-school world, this is a lesson not typically learned (if at all) until college, when many kids (more accurately: adults!) 'crash and burn' their first year when the onus is on them to manage their own time.

Recently I approached a friend of mine who has nine children and asked for the nitty gritty of how she does it. We got out her Scope and Sequence for all the schooling children, we got out her individual children's curricula. Here are some differences:

  1. I was teaching every single subject to each child. My friend has purchased curricula that can be learned independently by all her children above Kindergarten (after which they can read because that is her focus during Kindergarten).
  2. I was teaching fewer and fewer subjects because we couldn't fit it all in during the morning. My friend's same-aged children were learning more than mine and finishing by 11:30 a.m. (And I can see by her high-school aged children that they are all receiving--no, pursuing and achieving--a rigorous education.)
  3. I was spending several hours each weekend planning lessons. My friend sets one curriculum for the year and the child simply 'chugs away' at it all year round.
  4. I was stressed and upset about our progress each day. My friend is relaxed as she spends her mornings working at her other duties in the home.

I decided that just perhaps I should set aside my own ideals and listen to this more-experienced friend's wisdom.

I can't (and don't want to) change everything mid-way through the year; that would be very disruptive. Some of my curriculum choices are too beloved to me (e.g., All About Spelling) for me to change, even though it means my continuing to teach it. Others can be changed now or next fall.

The first week of the new plan, I spent 'holding the children's hands' and teaching them how to follow their new syllabi, how to check off their lists. There was lots of, "Okay honey, what can you do next? Look at your list and you tell me." "Alright, now you're done with Math, so show me how you check it off your list." The standards for my second grader becoming independent are higher than for my Kindergartner, but she happens to read and follow a list well, so she's more independent than I'd expect.

At the start of the second week, I announced to the children that I expected them now to follow their lists as best they could. I explained that I expected them to finish their work before 11:30 recess break and noon lunch. If they didn't, they'd be working in the afternoon, not me.

One way I'm avoiding being 'held hostage' in the afternoon is that I divided the children's syllabi into three sections:

  1. Start Your Day (Bible reading and prayer)
  2. Subjects You Should Complete with Mama (we do this first so it's done within an hour or so)
  3. Subjects You Should Complete Yourself (they can stretch this part into the afternoon if they want, but they don't want to!)

With my somewhat more relaxed mornings for the prior three whole weeks, I've been able to tend to work that normally eats up my afternoon.
  • I've been completed with laundry (including folding) most days by noon.
  • Complete meal planning and grocery shopping online (instead of doing it at five in the morning).
  • Read books to the little ones!
I've been able to do projects while bustling about teaching the two big ones and taking care of the two little ones. These are the projects that don't get done for lack of time or use up our afternoon time.

  • I've done extra cooking of "Mama's health nut food" (much more needed during pregnancy and not eaten by the rest of the family), such as baked acorn squash, white bean kale soup, and zucchini bake.
  • Collect all the children's shoes and scrub off the mud, shining them brightly.
  • Do "Magic Eraser" duty on the walls.
  • Gather donations for Goodwill.
We're three weeks into this shift toward independence, which is bearing great fruit. The children's daily completion rate is now at 80-100%: an improvement! It also requires of me to be less controlling, less perfectionist--if I'm not going to be actively teaching each subject. This is good for my soul! I'm excited about what the spring of our school year will look like and additional changes I'd like to implement next fall.


  1. Wow this is extremely helpful, and I really need to think about all you suggested!!! Thank you!!!!! Also, where do you do your online shopping? Ive never looked into it because I feel like prices would be more than where I usually shop, but there might be seasons in my life where it's worth the extra cost...

  2. Katie,

    I do my grocery shopping online at Harris Teeter, then go through the drive-through pick up. I've done this for about four years now and it's well worth never having to shop with children during this season of life. I think the service fee is $20/month or $99/year for unlimited orders, no matter how small. My personal shopper has gotten to know me well and knows my preferences. Some other grocery stores provide this service too.

  3. Love this post!! How are you liking Singapore now that you have been using it a little bit? We have really liked it this year, but for the sake of sticking to MODG who can tell me what to do (and thereby require me to think EVEN less) I might switch Ben to Saxon next year. When Ben started Kingergarten he learned quickly to work independently because I was pregnant with Beatrice! At least twice a week i would literally fall asleep during school time. I would say, "Just finish two pages of math and you can be done....Zzzz" And he would do it! I still find myself "trapped" with lots of stuff I need to read or drill with them (Poetry memorization, catechism memorization, states and capitols etc...although is suppose I could have Ben go over them each day and just go over it with him once a week). Anyway, babbling for a change. Is John in 2nd or 3rd grade??? What do you guys do for history? Trying to figure it out for 3rd grade.

  4. And what is the math program John is working on??

  5. Jamie: That is great that you already taught Ben some independence! I'm hoping to write some posts with specific details upcoming. For example, my friend has her children 1st grade and up independently doing daily poetry memorization, states & capitals, catechism memorization! I'm not there-there yet, but have goals.

    The math program you're seeing is Math-It, of which I have a draft blog post already written. I just wanted some more experience with it before I RAVE on about it. :)

    We use RC History . . . except that it is so reading-intensive that I keep *not* getting to it. I love this program, as it is actually Catholic and it is Charlotte Mason in style (living books). But if I never get to it, how good is it? Of course, doing any history this early is entirely unnecessary. As my friend looked over my curriculum, she said, "I think you need to cut History!"

    John is in second grade.

  6. Jamie . . . oh, and I'm not loving Singapore. I really miss RightStart and am considering actually switching back. oh my!

  7. Ohh I dont want to give you the idea that I taught Ben anything...HA! He was really just born that way. Thankfully because Anna has watched Ben do school for a few years already she figures that is how it is done so she will work independently on her math and phonics workbook (We do the reading together obviously). I hope it keeps spreading to the other kids!! LOL

    Looking forward to the Math-It review. I love love love the idea of RC history. But the reason you give is why I change my mind each year. MAYBE one I have more kids benefiting at one time I will try it. You should check out the MODG recommendations. They do have a textbook as a spine but they rely heavily on living books and biographies. The textbook is the OLVS 3rd grade history book. I can never remember the title.

    Would love to see their daily checklists. I might try that next year. Right now I have their plans in my book and they just ask me for what pages to do.....fine with just the two of them to deal with (and we school when baby is napping.)

    Thanks for all the great info!