by Kyndra Steinmann

One of the difficulties of being a homeschool mom is being willing to let our children try and fail! We want them to be successful, and often we offer them so much support that we fail to train them to struggle, try, fall, and try again…until they succeed! Truly, we need to discipline ourselves to stand back and encourage them to work out their questions and discipline themselves to work and learn.

Over-supporting our children makes things difficult for them. It undermines their confidence in themselves when we jump in at the first sign of a struggle, by making them feel as if they can’t conquer that page of long division without help! It also undermines their confidence in us.

“If Mom keeps giving me assignments to do alone, but that she actually needs to help me with, maybe she’s making a mistake…” They begin to wonder, and the next time that subject is presented, they assume that they will need help.

Then, too, if we are intending to raise fully functional adults, we need to be teaching them to persevere—and surely slogging through a spelling lesson or studying for a test helps to teach that! Just as they would need to develop their muscles for physical labor or athletics, so they must develop the muscles to tackle a difficult or confusing assignment, solve a problem, and move on to the next task.

This past year I’ve been concentrating on this with my fourth and fifth grade students and have seen some real progress. As is typical with my homeschooling, I have found that the hardest thing has been my own consistency in setting limits concerning when I will help and what kinds of help I will give. When I’m tired or someone starts to be tearfu,l it is SO hard to say, “I know you can do this if you try! You need to try.”

Here are seven tips for building the independence “muscle” in your own students:

  • Designate some subjects as “independent work” and stick to it. The fourth and fifth graders are expected to do their spelling, handwriting, and Latin on their own. I write the assignments on their weekly sheet, and they are to give me the completed work to check. I will answer specific questions if they don’t understand the directions or need a couple of examples of how to form a letter, but other than that, they are to do the work on their own. Success with this varies somewhat according to their willingness to work on any given day, but generally, they do complete the assignments on their own.
  • Designate certain times as “I’m teaching someone else and am not available” times. This year I have a new reader, so the 30-40 minutes when we are doing phonics and reading are not a time when I can be interrupted. During that time, they need to work on the subjects above without asking any questions. If they are truly stuck, they can switch subjects, or skip a question until I’m available. I find that I have to really watch myself here, as my automatic reaction when asked a question is to provide an explanation! That’s bad for the new reader, though, and doesn’t teach the big two to put others first, so I try to curb my desire to answer and just say, “This is Bull’s teaching time.”
  • Set a timer. Often I find that there really isn’t a problem of understanding, just a lack of effort or a small panic because the question is worded a bit differently or looks unfamiliar. My husband suggested having the children let me know they have a question, and then be given three to five minutes to work at it before I answer. 90% of the time, they find they don’t actually need me, and are encouraged by having solved their own problem!
  • Insist on real questions. When I was a girl, I remember frequently saying to my mother, “This makes no sense!” or “I just don’t get it!” She would always insist that I tell her exactly where I was getting stuck. I thought it so unsympathetic, but now that I have my own children, I frequently find that, by explaining their confusion to me, they straighten themselves out with minimal or no help at all. I guess Mom knew what she was doing when she refused to support my panic!
  • Add something like Khan Academy, and only provide technical support. I got this idea from a friend. Her child and mine like to think that they know everything! Math lessons in particular can turn into “I know I’m right” sessions. By switching at least some of math to the computer, the desire to prove mom wrong is taken out of the equation (haha!) and the child is forced to look at whether or not he or she needs to pay closer attention to the details in order to get the correct answers.
  • Choose curriculum with independent work in mind. I’m not a huge fan of workbooks (one of my children has an amazing ability to figure out what answer the author wants without actually absorbing the material) but some workbook-like materials, combined with other assignments that can be done without much of my involvement, gives opportunities for the children to continue to learn how to learn on their own. This skill will only benefit them as they continue their studies.
  • Take classes from others. Having someone else teach who is less moved by whining or tears can be just the thing for students who want to have mom beside them at all times. My big children will try tears on me, but I’ve never heard of them crying for one of the other moms who teach in our co-op! Apparently it just isn’t something they think to try.

As I start thinking about next year, and making lists for my trip to convention, I’m thinking about what I want the children to learn to do on their own next year. They’ll be in second, fifth, and sixth grades, and I’ll have a toddler —who literally climbs the walls—and a preschooler —who really wants to “do school.” I’m thinking those “independent work muscles” are going to get even more of a workout in the 2016-2017 school year!



Kyndra Steinmann blogs at Sticks, Stones and Chicken Bones about living in a houseful of young children, special needs, discipling hearts, and abundant grace! As a homeschool graduate, she has an especial burden to encourage mothers to know and enjoy their children. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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Train your child to work independently is every parent's goal.