Encouraging Independent Learners

One of my goals of home schooling is to end up with independent learners.  I LOVE working and learning along side my children.  It is one of my greatest pleasures.  And it is one I am loath to give up.  However, I do want to move the children one more step towards independence.  I have been plotting this for a while, but had pretty much decided that I would instigate it for T11 over the summer and wait another year for the girls.  Over the last few weeks I have been really struggling to do everything I needed to and was finding it a real challenge to meet everyone’s needs.  Add that to the fact my sleeping is atrocious at the moment and I am super tired and you get a recipe for disaster.  I felt it was maybe time to start this move towards independence a little sooner.  Gary and I talked about it together.  I am always so grateful that Gary listens to me when I am having a hard time,  and better still he comes up with brilliant suggestions.  Sometimes I am so tired I can’t see the wood for the trees. He asked whether I could  facilitate the older children having a couple of hours study time alone when they were not allowed to interrupt me and the littles under any circumstance.  This would give me the time to concentrate on the younger two.

Prior to B2 being born we had a wonderful, strict timetable which enabled us all to work hard, play hard and relax as well.  Everything moved along like a well oiled cog.  B2 has presented some challenges.  She needs much more from me than I would be able to give if we had remained on our prior schedule.  She cries a lot.  She also enjoys quiet, which is a little unfortunate in this noisy house hold!  And to make matters considerably worse she did not begin to talk until nearing her second birthday.  As I have got to know her, things have become a little easier.  She is now talking in simple sentences and is able to express her needs.  Each week the crying is lessening slightly.  Each week she is becoming a little more predictable in her behaviour.  She is, at last, in a good sleep-nap routine.  Now is the time to reinstate my schedule.

All my children love being on a schedule and are very excited to be returning to one.  Even over the past two years there are certain things they do routinely, albeit with the melodious screams of B2 in the back ground!  They have always done chores: morning, noon and night;  they always have a quiet time every day for school reading; we have breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time, with two snacks in-between and they all have a bath and reading time before bed.  B2 changed none of this.  However the rest of the previous schedule went soaring out the window once B2 was born and we have winged it ever since.

Gary and I decided, after talking with the older three, that they would have one and a half hours from 9-1030am for independent study.  It has been very successful.  I am now able to school the littles in relative peace, as B2 is in a quiet environment which she prefers.

The older ones do a maths lesson, their writing and their bible study during this allotted time.  They have been doing maths independently for a while.  C10 and L10 use Mathusee, which have teaching dvds, whilst T11 is naturally a strong maths student and is coming to the end of Saxon 76.  He has completed this entirely on his own, without the need from any intervention from me.  However, I was well aware that for L10, who really struggles with maths, the lack of contact with me would be hard.  We overcome this in the following ways:

  1. She goes through each maths lesson with either Daddy or I in the evening, so we can make sure she understands exactly what she needs to do.
  2. Secondly I bought all three children a communication book.  In it, I outline everything I expect them to do in that hour.  They then write notes about anything they are finding hard or don’t understand.  If they come to a question they can not do they jot it down and leave it for Gary or I to go over it with them.
  3. If the girls really find they are unable to do an entire lesson, then we have sheets of simple maths facts practice which they can do in lieu of their lesson and we will help them in the evening time.

I always set them at least one writing assignment each week.  They are used to working fairly independently each day on their writing using our Informationary:


Each day they hand in all they have done in their note books.  We require them to write on every other line for their rough copy, allowing them to correct their work underneath without the frustration of rewriting.  Gary (have I told you how wonderful he is??) and I sit down each night and whilst Gary marks their maths I attack their writing with my fluorescent pens.  I have four colours, each colour indicates a different problem area.  Pink  means ‘tickled pink’ for something particularly good; green indicates an incorrect spelling; yellow indicates bad grammar and orange means that the sentence isn’t quite right for some reason and to reread and rewrite.  The goal is for the pink to take over the whole essay!!  We do not correct it for them.  They have a grammar booklet from IEW to use to correct grammar and a dictionary for spelling.  The children write a spider diagram for each paragraph, then write each paragraph in rough and on a Friday they write the whole essay in neat.  This may sound quite tough on 10 and 11 year olds but the informationary basically spoon feeds it to them, regardless of the topic set.  In addition we have used this tool for the last four months and the children are very familiar with it.

Lastly, is their bible study.  We have been slowly working our way through the scriptures of Plants Grown Up and Cornerstones for the last year.  I thought I would have the children read and learn all the scriptures before we attempted the projects, which I plan to use as a big part of their school once they turn 13.  It is an easy exercise for the children to do.  Each scripture they look up in various translations of the bible and then write it in their own words in their leather-bound notepads, especially bought for the purpose.  They then make any notes pertaining to the application of the verse on their life.  And that is it.  This is useful for them to have this to do if they finish their work before the hour and a half is up.

Whilst this type of independence has always been a goal, and I believe is a skill which will help the children in their future lives as adults, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it feels too soon for me.  The children are loving the responsibility of working independently.  This happens for an hour and a half each day and it is a blessing for all.  I still read aloud as part of the older ones’ quiet time and Gary kindly takes the littles out for an hour in the afternoon after work so I at least have that hour with my gorgeous older children.  Time with them is too precious to give up entirely!


  1. This is a useful read as I think about working on more independence with one of my children.
    Sorry about the sleep-I had been a bit envious of you having so little sleep but these things always have a flip side. I know that I function less when when over-tired.
    The markers are such a good idea:
    “Pink means ‘tickled pink’ for something particularly good”.
    I’ve use boring old school red biros but this is a much better idea.

    1. Insomnia is a double edged sword for me. In the main it means I have more hours in my day and it doesn’t effect me a huge amount, but when it is particularly bad it is almost unbearable (happens a handful of times a year for no particular reason). I went three months without any sleep AT ALL when my older ones were little. It’s about three weeks now. I’m very tired!!

      1. We can’t get Melatonin over here, or at least we used not to be able to (I looked into it years ago). I may have to see if things have changed. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. This gives me some ideas on homeschooling my 9 year old next year. Thanks for sharing. Can I ask what types of chores your kids are doing in the afternoon? My son has chores in the morning and night, but I may be depriving him of his noon chores 🙂 Thanks

    1. Hi Amy,
      One of my older children cook lunch, usually a homemade soup, croutons and shredded cheese. After lunch, whilst I am putting B2 down for a nap the older four wash and dry up, generally clear up from lunch and morning home-school and get ready for quiet time. As there are four of them it takes about 15 minutes in total, as they automatically divide out the chores between them.
      HTH, although I’m sure your son won’t thank me for that answer!!

  3. Sleep will come baby. You are doing a marvellous job and I’m just so thankful that I get the opportunity to share it all with you.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. You always have brilliant suggestions, and this is an area which is a weakness for me. It is so good to hear advise from someone who knows what they are doing! I am going to read and re-read this post until I can get it in my head! LOL

  5. I really like the way you explain how you’re fostering independence in your older children. It feels like a very natural transition, in accordance to your family dynamics, and is certainly paving the way for the older ones for high school level work that requires great independence. It’s a really good, clear post.

    I’m sorry about your lack of sleep. I know someone who also suffers from insomnia for years, and she hasn’t found a solution to it yet, except to accept it and take cat naps whenever possible. Hope the situation gets better for you soon.

  6. This gives me some good ideas of where to go from here, my guys are still pretty young for the whole independent learning thing, primarily because their reading skills aren’t there yet, but it’s a progress thing.
    You might check into some sleepytime teas, I know I have a few of those and they can be helpful for sleep.

    1. I think I’ve tried everything going. I’ve had it all my life so most of the time it really isn’t an issue. At the moment it is! But thanks for the suggestion, I really appreciate it!

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