The greatest strength as well as the greatest potential weakness of homeschooling is the role of the teacher. Too many parents, in a desire to support their children, end up becoming a crutch. In fourth grade, Mom sits next to Susie for every math problem, and by tenth, Mom is pulling out her hair because Susie still can’t come up with anything approximating a coherent research paper without her hand being held at every step.
Many more homeschooled students are driven, independent learners and self-starters. They come up with original thoughts and pursue those thoughts with action. They handle themselves with maturity and self-control. They take responsibility for themselves and their futures in their school and far beyond.
The trick is to make sure your child is in the second group, not the first! Some of this is personality. Some children are born with a broad independent streak. If I had been homeschooled, I would have taken my work into a corner, finished it in a couple of hours, and then gone and done my own thing for the rest of the day. Some children are not made this way. If I would hand-hold Danger Boy every second of the day, that would not be too much for him!
But whatever a students’ natural bent, all children need to grow into independence. So how to you get your reluctant child’s feet on the right path?
Step by step. At first, that may be no more than “Finish these five questions in the time allotted. I’ll be back when the timer rings to check on you.” Eventually, your child should be able to work through the entire school day with your role limited to clarifying instructions and information and checking work.
Doesn’t sound exciting? I don’t mean that you can’t still do great family projects. You can, of course. Nor do I mean that you can’t science experiments, field trips, and the like together. However, the fastest way to learn the greatest amount of information is through work that can and should be studied independently before sparking our lively discussions and further research.
Every child needs a chance to develop her own thoughts about what she is learning based upon what she has previously learned. Once she has made connections, these connections can be discussed and expanded upon. Until the burden of learning is placed on the child, the child is less concerned about the information that she’s supposed to be processing and more concerned about pleasing the adult. The child is playing a mind game, a guessing game, and the facts being studied are only incidental to the real objective, which is to get adult approval.
In contrast, the child with a mind actively engaged with learning will develop his ideas which can form the basis for a lively debate and will open up further avenues of thought and discussion. She will be the actor in her learning instead of the passive recipient.
I believe in building independence in learning stage by stage. You look at where you are now and decide how you will reach the next stage whenever your child is ready for it, one tweak at a time.
The tools to reach each stage will be different for different children with different personalities–for example, for my ADHD Danger Boy, a timer is crucial, as are incremental tokens and various rewards.
I’ll discuss that more later. For now, I’ll set up the stages as I use them.
Our starting point! Total dependence. Everything is done together. At this point, my only cares are reading, handwriting, and, to a lesser extent, math. Do anything else? Great. But it doesn’t really matter.
Stage 2, by first grade:
The child reads independently at a low level. Reading is partly independent and partly together. Handwriting is largely independent. Math is mostly teacher-led, with some independent worksheet and/or electronic flashcard work. The child is at least one year ahead on mathematics at this point, since math and reading were the sole early focus. History and science are added as read-aloud subjects, and so is learning to play an instrument.
At least 50% independent:
Stage 3, by second grade:
The child reads independently at a fourth grade level and is at third to fourth grade level in math–due to an early emphasis, these skills are accelerated compared to the usual trajectory. Composition is added, along with the first foreign language. Science and history are, at this point, mere exposure subjects. The child is learning a framework of information from which real, sophisticated learning can occur later.
The following activities are at least 75% independent:
- Foreign language
Stage 4, by 6th grade:
The child reads at or near a high school level and is beginning pre-algebra or algebra. Art, as real drawing instruction, is added. At this point, a student should become accustomed to taking tests beyond the occasional spelling test.
At least 80% independent:
- Foreign language
Stage 5, by 9th grade:
At this point, over 80% of everything a child does in daily work is independent. Discussions, explanations, and grading are the only assistance needed. The student begins working on long-term projects, keeping his own deadlines and maintaining a schedule to get things done on time. Testing continues.
Danger Boy is at Stage 4 in everything but mathematics. We’re working on providing a combination between support and incentive that will get him to that level of independence, too.
Some parents say, “I could never do that! It’s battle enough to make Johnny do his work as it is!” let me assure you that the battles disappear when Johnny takes ownership of his learning. Once a child fully takes on responsibility for his own learning, he begins to see learning as his own goal, not just that of his teachers…
…which is one of the greatest gifts that homeschooling can give any child!