Sunday, September 29, 2013

Transitioning to Independence Part III

Continued from Part II.

In Part I, I wrote about using outsourced classes in Year 2 (when kiddo was seven) as a first step towards independent learning. In Part II, I described a math class in Year 3 (eight years old) as the crucial bridge between hand-holding and more independence. Before I get to Part III, where I describe kiddo's self-learning attempts at ages nine and ten, I want to define what I see as independence, and self-learning and why I bother trying this with an elementary-aged child.

As defined in Part II, independence to me is: being responsible for his own work, wanting to do it even if he has to do it all alone, because it means something special to him. It means having the tools to do something completely on his own, but not necessarily in isolation.

I define self-teaching in a similar way as the ability to pursue knowledge on his own. Knowing how to learn what he wants to learn, consulting books, people, websites in a systematic, meaningful way. I don't look at self-teaching as a passive endeavor or as something performed in isolation. I usually sit close to him and am at hand if he has questions or encounters difficulties with executive function.

The word "isolation" here is key to me because I've read forums where homeschooling parents consider independence to equal isolation. I personally don't agree with that.

Why transition a young child into independence? Well, why not? To me, being independent is an amazing skill regardless of how old you are. As long as the child is ready and not resistant, teaching independence promotes perseverance, resilience, responsibility, leadership, courage, grit. I also do not shirk from putting him in positions where he makes lots of mistakes. I like it when he figures out on his own how to correct them. I like seeing him not be afraid of mistakes.

At this stage, I still do hover. I don't know how to parent a young kid without doing that lol, but I see myself slowly stepping back to allow him more room for error and self-correction. It's very gradual but it's there. Anyway, one of my key goals when I started homeschooling was to teach kiddo to teach himself. It felt like the right thing to do then and still does.

And now Part III (ages 9-10+):

In Year 4, he started learning a foreign language (German) through a distance learning course and science (physics) through Derek Kiddo was able to manage more of the work on his own because he was very interested in course content and also had the prerequisite math background for physics (thanks mostly to Year 3's online math class).

As the motivation for the courses is coming primarily from him, it isn't a stretch for him to self-start and work daily on these courses. His attention span is better as well. He can spend about two hours (without breaks) working on one subject if he feels like it. Of course, he still needs a break after the two hours. He's come a long way since Year 2. I don't have to bribe or cajole him to do his work. He might take a long time to do something but it's rarely due to's usually a case of wanting to do more or just needing time to think.I hope this attitude lasts forever. It will take him far if it does. Fingers crossed.

The process of doing the homework, then scanning pages to be emailed for grading is still hard...even now in Year 6. He needed help because his executive function skills are not on the same level yet as his content knowledge and interest levels.

The main challenge he faces is writing out work neatly and being aware of the technical details.

I am stepping back from reminding him about these things. He needs to see for himself how to space out his work in his notebook in such a way that equations are all aligned (yes, despite my showing it to him in Year 3!). Writing your work in the middle of a page instead of starting on the left, for example, leads to using up more paper so you will need to spend more time scanning all these extra pages. You end up with piles of loose paper. Or you end up squishing all your work on the right (and he draws arrows all over the place as in snapshot above!). Writing all the way to the edge of  a page means part of your work might be cut off when you are scanning the page into a jpg or pdf file to email to your teacher. Not giving continuation sheets a title (question number and writing the word "continued" so that your teacher will know it's the same problem continued on another sheet of paper) can lead to fewer points because it's not the teacher's job to read your mind and sort out which page belongs to which problem. 

Not establishing a good file-saving or folder management system in your computer can lead to lost files. Oh sure, you can pull up a search function but why resort to that at all when consistency can prevent it? Relying on auto-save is dangerous, especially when you might have to hand in a test or project or lab sheet (so that you don't have to redo that three-hour lab all over again!).

It's all these little things...and he is slowly learning all about them. :) The great thing though is that making these errors now will hopefully lead to good habits when he is older. There is no pressure at nine or ten to learn these habits in a hurry. We can be as gentle as we like. I can nag but still know that he can make as many mistakes as he needs to before better habits stick. It's not a huge deal at this age.

Part IV (the final installment in the series) summarizes the series with a handy list of questions and skills for the coming years.

Links to other parts:
Part I, Part II and Part IV.


  1. You've put so much thought into homeschooling Kiddo. I agree with you that being left alone is not the same as independence. I've heard of past homeschoolers whose parents left alone once they got to high school and they felt neglected. The parents thought they were old enough to do everything on their own. Studies show that students do well when they have a mentor or someone who plays a supportive role all through high school. Maybe they are not holding that child's hands but they are there to show that they care. That might make a world of difference.

    As for writing down the solutions, our K does the same thing! She starts in the middle of the page and on top of that she writes BIG so most definitely she runs out of room. lol.

    Do you use EPGY for online math?

    1. Thanks M! No, we use an online tutor. Email me if you need his contact info! We did try EPGY briefly via open enrollment but the bugs drove us both batty.

  2. I may do that in a few years...although K is nowhere as interested in math as Kiddo!

  3. I find it very hard even as a 40+ year old to learn in isolation, so how can we possibly expect a child to do it? I learn best in a class or partnership situation, or at least having people to bounce my ideas off if I'm learning from a book or tutorial. And you know, I only just realised that while I was writing this comment!


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