Independent Work and the Homeschool


Danielle's fabulous questions about homeschool planning have birthed more thoughts and queries from several of you, so let's keep going down this homeschool planning path. 


Lili asked:

I have a question about "independent work" that you set up for your children: at what age do you begin that? I read your articles about planning for a year as well as the few others that you had posted before this series, but I just need clarification on the process you use for what THEY, versus what YOU do.

The way my hs day goes is I teach all three of my children on one grade level (8-9 years old, we do a split 3/4 grade); I teach everything. I read the science and ask the questions about it, and they do worksheets on their own. I read the history pages, and discuss words or events that I feel need further info, then give them a verbal list for them to write for their "study guides". I read and go over Grammar, going over one page and examples, allowing them to finish the second page on their own. I do a math lesson, teaching all the way through, and then allowing them to do the worksheet. 

After reading your planning, I have a feeling I may be doing more work than I need to. So what age do you let them do their own work, and how does that play out as far as them reading an assigned page and then you knowing if they go out of it what they were supposed to?


Similarly, Cutzi asked:

After reading your planning, I have a feeling I may be doing more work than I need to. So what age do you let them do their own work, and how does that play out as far as them reading an assigned page and then you knowing if they got out of it what they were supposed to?


And finally, Angela:

OK, I have questions about independent work. My son is nine and I have the day planned so that he starts on some of his independent work that he is capable of doing without my help. He is supposed to complete it first thing in the morning after my husband leaves for work while I finish getting ready for the day. About half an hour later, I start teaching my five-year-old in the same room as the nine-year-old.

I don't know what is usual for him anymore, but if my son wants to get done with his school work, he can do it in what seems like the blink of an eye to me. But if he doesn't want to do it (which is much more common), he will have written two words in an hour's time.

Next in our day we do our Together Time (our version of Circle Time) which includes history and science. After a short break, I teach my nine-year-old the subjects that require me to actually teach him. Then it is his responsibility to finish his math worksheet, any history or science he didn't finish while we were doing it, and anything he didn't finish from earlier (which on some days is all of it). At this point it is usually getting close to lunch time, and I am ready to be done teaching him (did I mention he doesn't like school?). So most of this time he is alone while he is finishing this work (which has already all been explained to him), although he can come to me wherever I am to ask questions that he may have.

But now I am wondering if part of the reason he takes so long to finish his work is that perhaps he's just not mature enough to stay focused on his own and I should be closer to him reminding him to get back to work. I know a big part of it is that he just doesn't like doing school work and would rather play or read all day. He could finish all of his work before lunch every day if he wanted to, but most days he ends up taking all day.

You said you sit in the school room while your children are doing their independent work. How long do you sit there? What do you do while you are there with them? What would you do with a child who doesn't want to do the work and just draws it out all day? And can I send my son to your school room while I plan next year's lessons? :)

Let's answer point-by-point so we don't get too bogged down in specifics:


  • Independent work is something we gradually gain maturity toward. There is no magic age and no consistency among my kids. Once they begin reading and can read their own directions, they are on the path to independent work. 


  • Independence has varying definitions. If you mean by independent that they are completely on their own, responsible for studying and following through on assignments without being reminded or given deadlines or any supervision, then exactly none of my students prior to high school graduation has been independent. 


  • If, however, independent (in its varying degrees) means a child can mostly do a page of math on their own, stopping only to ask a question or pick up a dropped pencil, then my children are generally doing so by 3rd grade.


  • I have learned that I adore teaching/supervising some subjects (i.e., history, because I love to talk about it with them), and I don't love to teach others (logic). The subjects I love to teach, I teach. The subjects I don't love to teach, I find another avenue:


  • My girls begged to do Classical Academic Press's Song School Greek. After taking a peek at it and realizing they could independently handle this together, I let them go for it and I rarely cracked the teacher's manual. They had memorized every song, done every worksheet, and only occasionally asked me to look at what they had done. That's what's known as the win/win. They loved it; I let them love it, on their own.


  • If I'm sitting in the school room with them for a chunk of the morning, I can see that a worksheet or workbook assignment was completed and I can give it a glance-over right then and there. Takes a minute at most, unless I'm reading a composition of some sort. I try not to complain too loudly when that happens.


  • I reserve the right to get up and leave the schoolroom to A. Change a load of laundry, B. Use the bathroom, or C. Get a handfull of dark chocolate almonds from my secret stash. Children left in the schoolroom while I am temporarily absent are expected to keep at their work, but a good 60% of the time they are goofing off by the time I return. We did the same thing in the classrooms we grew up in, didn't we?


  • Boys (and some girls) can be annoyingly unpredictable when it comes to buckling down and getting their school work done. Typically, this causes me to tell myself what a lousy educator I am until the Holy Spirit gently nudges me to remind me that it's them, not me.


  • When a child whines and moans and wiggles and acts like their little workbook page of one is going to ruin their entire life, I say, "Why don't you go ahead and get on your bed? You can come back when you're happy and ready to work." I have no explanation as to why this works, but it does. Every time. They either protest and say, "Oh, no! No, I'll do it", or they leave only to return in a matter of minutes. 


  • If perchance I ever do have a child who says, "Okay! I'll see you later!", and then never returns to the school work, I will casually fill their dad in on the day's events while we're all enjoying dinner and then he'll be more than happy to sit with the child after the meal as they complete their school work. It's just a little agreement Fletch and I have, but it's never happened.


  • Sure! Send your kiddos here. I'll trade you - you plan the year for both of us and I'll make us big bowls of ice cream.