As a homeschooling family, you probably have many goals for the education of your children. You may want them to learn and accept your values, become academically prepared for college, learn valuable life skills, and become all-around good people. If you hope for your kids to be successful as adults, whether they carry on with education and go to college, get a job, or even start a business and work for themselves, one of the most important things you can teach them is to become lifelong and independent learners.
As a successful adult yourself, you are aware of the fact that you are always learning. It may not even be formal, but you have to look things up, develop a new skill, or hone your existing talents in order to live life to the fullest and to provide for your family in the best way possible. To be able to grow and evolve in this way, you must take the initiative and learn new things. As a parent, you can teach your children to do the same.
An added benefit, of course, is that as your children develop independence in learning, you get a little bit of a break. This can be especially helpful when you are schooling two or more kids at once. If you can count on your kids to be independently learning, even for just small periods of time, you get free moments to work one-on-one with another child, to get household chores done, or just maybe, to relax briefly and do something for yourself.
Independent learning is not something that you can simply spring on a child who has always counted on your direct instruction. You also need to consider the age, attention span, and maturity of each individual child when determining how much independence you can expect from them. Start young with small amounts of self-directed learning and work towards a reasonable schedule of directed learning and independent learning.
Design Your Learning Environment
Your kids cannot be expected to explore and to learn on their own if there are no resources to use. Your home should be rich and full of learning opportunities so that your children can find answers to their questions and can explore a new topic that they think might be interesting. This does not mean that your whole home has to be overrun with textbooks and educational toys. Designate learning areas. If you have one room or spot that you use for directed learning, set up your exploratory areas elsewhere. Keeping unstructured learning separate from “classroom” work will help your kids see exploration as fun and not as a chore.
Of course, you need to have resources that are appropriate for the varying ages of your children. For toddlers, lots of toys that test their motor skills and help them learn basic skills like letters, numbers, and patterns are great to have on hand. For youngsters just learning to read, lots and lots of books are key. For older children, have a variety of books, magazines, DVDs, computer games, and Internet access. Naturally, you might want to consider having a filter on the internet, as much of it is not rated PG.
Set Aside Time For “Fun” Learning
When your kids are interested in a particular subject, learning about it will not be a chore. Resist the urge to stick to a rigid, planned out set of lessons and units with no break for fun time. Your kids need to learn certain skills and meet certain benchmarks in basic topics, but don’t let that keep you from giving them time to explore what interests them. This is the most powerful thing you can do to inspire independent learning. When your kids enjoy exploring a topic, they are learning without you and developing an intrinsic appreciation for learning.
The amount of time you set aside in the schedule for allowing the kids to explore and develop their interests can be minimal to begin with and can get longer if you find that it goes well. When you are just starting out with this free time, observe carefully and only intervene if you find someone going off track. It may be difficult for your kids, initially, to get into the idea of learning about anything that strikes their fancy, but given time they will find it delightful. For those who get stuck and are not sure what to do with their time, help out with suggestions. Offer up art supplies, a journal, or other creative means to get thinking.
Add In Structure
Once your kids have gotten the hang of free learning time and have had the chance to develop certain interests, you can make their independent learning a little more structured. For instance, maybe your son has decided that he is very interested in botany and plants. Head to the library for more books about plants so he can learn more. Help him figure out some projects that he could do, like creating a terrarium or planting his own garden in a designated plot outside.
Your child may need some guidance from you to get started learning about his chosen subject in a more structured way. However, once the two of you have created a plan and have scheduled time for his projects and reading, let him take over. You can step back and observe occasionally to see how he is doing on his own. To be sure that he is really learning, ask him to share his new knowledge at the end of the day.
Create A Contract
A great way to ensure that your kids’ independent learning is really leading to fruitful knowledge is to create a contract. For your son who wants to learn about plants, for example, sit down together and come up with learning goals. Maybe he wants to learn first how plants work. That may lead to learning to identify different trees. Perhaps he thinks it might be useful to learn about edible plants in the wild and how to grow vegetable plants in the garden. List all of the goals in a contract along with plans for how to meet each goal and how he wants to prove to you that the goal is completed. He might work with his father outside to learn gardening techniques. He might also check out a book about trees and then lead you on a walk to point out the different types he has learned to identify.
A contract is one way to make independent learning more structured. You may have one child who does not require a rigid framework and who can learn and tell you all about it without any assistance. For others, though, the contract helps to keep them on track.
Initially, the idea of letting your kids take over some of your structured, well-planned instructional time with individualized learning may seem wasteful. It might be hard for you to let go of that control at first. But, what you should find is that at the end of a contract or by the time another child has exhausted her resources on a topic, that your children have met goals you already had for them. Your son learning about plants may have completed many of the points you hoped to teach him about biology and useful life skills such as gardening.
If you take the time to make sure that independent learning is really working, you will have well-educated children who love to learn new things. They will be self-directed learners and will have a crucial skill for becoming successful adults.