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Let’s talk about independence.
Some homeschoolers want more of it like it’s the Holy Grail of home education. Others counter with the criticism that homeschooling is not meant to be a solitary activity.
So, which is it?
Let’s explore some ideas in The Myth of Independence.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, independence is the state of being independent. So, what does it mean to be independent? This is the exact definition in part:
: not dependent: asa (1) : not subject to control by others : self-governing (2) : not affiliated with a larger controlling unit <an independent bookstore>b (1) : not requiring or relying on something else : not contingent <an independent conclusion> (2) : not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct (3) : not bound by or committed to a political partyc (1) : not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood) <independent of her parents> (2) : being enough to free one from the necessity of working for a living <a person of independent means>d : showing a desire for freedom <an independent manner>
What Makes Independence So Attractive?
Let’s face it. Homeschooling is a big responsibility. When we first start out, I think one of the big milestones (or fears!) is getting kids to read on their own. Really, you can count any basic skill kids need to learn in this category and there are some big ones early on. Of course, having more than one student adds to the workload and we begin to think it would be great if these older kids could do some work on their own!
- Working with more than one student would be easier if kids worked on their own.
- Meeting the needs of many students means having some kids work by themselves sometimes.
- One on one time with each student would be more productive if other students worked by themselves at times.
- We could get more housework, school planning, meal making, or (insert task here) done if our kids were working more independently.
As homeschooling parents, we look forward to a time when we do not have to be present and integral to our children’s learning. So, it’s mostly about getting to a point where learning can occur regularly without our constant input.
Can Students Be Too Independent?
The critics of independence will remind us that homeschooling shouldn’t occur in a vacuum. And, they’re right. The goal for us should not be a completely hands off education– at least, not in the sense that we no longer connect with our students during the day.
- Need to check in on progress to keep tabs on learning- it’s easy to let workbook pages get filled in or the next lesson finished without really going over the work with your student.
- Misconceptions are missed if we go too long without checking in- when we aren’t connecting with our student often enough, things get missed that we thought our student understood.
- May require back tracking when we do discover big mistakes- this is frustrating for the student and the parent when it happens.
- Develops poor habits in students when they are too young for too much independence- Getting work done quickly but not accurately is a good example.
- Lacks the connection piece of homeschooling– both with siblings and the parents. One of the advantages of homeschooling is the opportunity to connect one on one and in small groups together. There are a lot of benefits to learning with others.
Does that mean we shouldn’t work on independence? Does it mean we look for any and every opportunity to work with our students? My answer is no. There is such a thing as too much dependence in learning.
The truth is we need to be somewhere in between. We want our kids to be able to work well on their own and with others. What does healthy independence look like? Kids need to be:
- Self Starters– Able to follow the directions and get started on an assignment without a lot of hand holding. Sure, it’s ok to clear up questions and make sure our students know the job, but once that is complete, they need to get going and make progress on their own without a lot of adult intervention.
- Task Finishers– Students need to be finishers. That means allowing enough time for our students to finish well and it means they need to be able to observe a deadline and eventually do that without a lot of reminders.
- Focusers– Work on task without interruption on their own. Whatever challenges our kids have in this area, we need to give them coping mechanisms to do this well in a variety of settings.
- Independent Thinkers– Our students need to formulate their own ideas and opinions and express them well without a lot of influence from others. I’m not talking about large, worldview issues here. I’m talking about even the everyday moments when they are asked for their thoughts. There are lots of ways to work on this, but it is important.
- Problem Identifiers– Can our students sit down and make sense of what they need to do? Can they identify the essential problem and begin to work on it? It’s a good skill.
- Problem Solvers– Developing problem solving skills in any subject area without tons of input is a goal to work toward.
- Decision Makers– This is not a problem I struggle with, but I see it a lot in adults. Our kids need to be able to make decisions and move toward their goal. Making too many decisions for our kids will interfere with helping our students get better at decision making.
- Copers– If our kids struggle in any of these skill areas, then it is our responsibility to teach them coping skills. None of us are 100% on our game 100% of the time. Whether or not we have diagnosed special needs, we all need to be able to function at less than 100%. What strategies can we teach our children which will keep them in the game of life when they struggle?
They do not need us to do these things for them. What a tragedy life would be for our children, who are our students, if we did not allow them to become proficient at these skills on their own. That is not to say, we should never step in. But, if we are doing a lot of hand holding during the process, they will not develop these skills as easily- if ever.
Teaching vs Mentoring
When our children are young, the teaching portion of our homeschool is very demanding and teacher-oriented. As our children grow, our role as their teacher will change as we allow our kids to take on more responsibility. Sometimes this comes naturally to parents and other times it does not. The goal is to give them ownership of their learning over time and to develop our role as a mentor in our teens’ lives. How do we go about this transition? Here are a few tips:
- Help with Goal Setting– Bring your older kids to the table and let them take the lead in their own learning.
- Model Lifelong Learning– Keep up with your learners so you can discuss topics with them and to continue learning yourself. Reading what our kids are reading helps a lot in this area if nothing else.
- Provide Time– for your kids and teens to explore and find their niche.
- Make Available Space– So, your students can continue learning and not have to find the spot to work.
- Provide Materials & Resources– Make sure items are available and ready for use. Taking them to where the resources are located and generally helping them to get what they need to work needs to be a priority. I try to just anticipate what they will need at the start or as I see things that might be useful I leave them out. This is a tried and true method.
- Collaborate– Meet with your kids as they work and see where they are and how they are doing.
- Be Available– Being a mentor doesn’t mean disappearing. It means being available while your student is working and consult with them.
Also, remember that as parents, you can choose to find other mentors for your kids based on interest. Mentors come in the form of online classes, local opportunities, family members, and other trusted adults.
Note: I’ve written more about transitioning from teaching to mentoring in The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas.
Will you still search for the Holy Grail of homeschooling? Or has the myth of independence been busted for you today?
Our job is to lead our kids to a healthy independence.
Let us engage when our students need it.
And back off when they don’t.
More Posts on Independence & Collaboration
These are a gathering of posts I’ve written related to how we practice independence and mentoring as our kids have gotten older.
- How to Implement an Independent & Authentic Homeschool Day– This post gets to the heart of how we engage multiple ages with academic and project work during the day.
- Using Writing Conferences to Coach Writing– Our writing instruction and process for kids of all ages.
- Creating Homeschool Independence with Online Schedulers– Tools and strategies for helping older students to be more independent.
- How to Homeschool with a Kindle– One of the best tools for our multi-aged learners. We use these economical tablets and eReaders for everything from reading to researching. This post shares some tricks and little known features of the Kindle.
- Creating Opportunities for Your Homeschooled Teen– Helping teens put together activities and adventures in middle and high school which give them growth and experience.