- Every child should learn to be independent
- What is independent learning?
- Independent learning for 6-12 year olds
- Encouraging independent learning
- Every child is unique
- Independent learning activities for students
- Promoting independence with school work
- When kids need more help
During the primary school years, kids grow and change so much! At this stage they are ready to become more independent and self-directed in their learning.
In fact, now is the perfect time to develop those skills. If you find yourself very involved in your child’s school work these days, we're here to help you take a step back and find ways to help them develop independence and self-responsibility.
Let’s jump in and discuss what 6-12 year olds are like developmentally 🧠 and how that affects their learning style, plus what you can do at home to help.
Every child should learn to be independent
When you think of the independent child of your dreams, what do you picture?
- Getting up for school on their own?
- Completing homework without reminders?
- Helping out around the house?
These things aren’t just better for your patience 😉 - they are great skills your child will need in the future!
Taking charge of their own learning helps students build confidence and prepare for later schooling and adulthood. More and more, teachers, universities, and employers are looking for students who demonstrate independence, flexible thinking, and problem-solving skills. These skills cannot be simply taught - kids need practice doing them.
What exactly is independent learning?
You may be thinking, okay, great, but what do we really mean by 'independent learning' anyway? 🤔
Every educator you ask will give you a slightly different answer about promoting independent learning in the primary classroom, but everyone agrees on the basics.
Independent learning means kids are self-directed: they choose, plan, and complete their work with limited adult assistance.
Of course, teachers and parents still play an important role, but school is not like it used to be. You probably spent your time at school sitting and listening to the teacher read from a textbook or recite multiplication facts in unison. These days in the classroom, you are apt to find:
- A small group of students working on a history research project
- A child investigating as many ways as possible to solve a problem
- A messy, hands-on science experiment
And sometimes all of those at once! The teacher serves as a guide for these student-led activities and gives some instruction, but allows the students to do the real work themselves.
Independent learning for 6-12 year olds
Kids at this age are developmentally ready to take on responsibilities and feel ownership of their studies. You’ve probably noticed some of these tendencies in your primary aged child:
- Starting to argue with you
- Very logical, needs things to make sense
- Wants things to feel fair
- Very peer oriented
Maria Montessori said of this age group, “There is an unusual demand on the part of the child to know the reasons for things."
Doesn’t that ring so true? Students are always asking questions and looking for explanations. And pity the adult who couldn’t explain why a rule was the way it was!
Use these tendencies to your advantage as you promote independence in your child.
Encouraging independent learning
Independent learning starts at home, though the classroom plays an integral part! Independent learning begins with the 'soft skills' first - communication, problem-solving, and flexibility, to name a few. Soft skills lead to academic growth.
Take advantage of your time at home! Try these steps to encourage a more independent mindset in your child.
- Let them help decide house rules, routines, even consequences - give them ownership over their daily lives.
- Primary aged kids are very curious. But don’t immediately answer their questions. Give them time to think it through first. You can prompt with a simple, “Hm, I don’t know, what do you think?” Model looking things up, and make sure they have access to the tools to find their own answers too (dictionary, kid-safe web search bar, etc).
- Think of yourself as a coach. The coach doesn’t jump in and kick the ball for the player, right? Provide support to your child, but let them do the mental work.
- Teach the skill clearly that you want your child to master. This can be applied to academics and home life. Want your child to start unloading the dishwasher? Break it down into simple steps and teach each one slowly. Don’t assume they know anything (though they likely do). Kids need clear, simple instructions. This will help them repeat the steps in the future.
Every child is unique
Every child is different. Their personality, their development, even your personality...it all plays a part in how they learn. Some kids are born ready to take charge of their life, and others are content to let others take the lead. Different kids will need different approaches. Here are a couple of examples of common issues parents run into:
The perfectionist wants everything to be, well, perfect. They believe there is only one “right way” to do something and sometimes shut down and don’t try at all when they make a mistake.
Some kids are just natural perfectionists. Kids like this tend to rely on adults more because they have decided we know the perfect answer and can do the task better.
Does that sound like your child? Here are a few suggestions:
- Be gentle with them, and encourage and praise and effort over the result (really you should do this with all kids, but perfectionists will especially benefit!).
“Wow, you worked so hard on this!”
“You made great progress on that section!”
“Which part are you most proud of?”
- Start loving mistakes. Their mistakes, your mistakes, the delivery driver’s mistakes.
You love them all now. Mistakes are a wonderful opportunity to learn. Internalise this and model it for your children. You may feel a little silly modeling it at first, but it will help!
“Hm, this didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. I suppose I’ll do it differently next time.”
“You made a mistake. What did you learn from it?”
“Let’s try to learn this new activity together.” (aim for something challenging to allow for more practice making mistakes!)
- Help them set limits. It is not productive to rewrite the same sentence for two hours. Nor is it productive to avoid starting the book report because you can’t decide on the perfect book.
“Shall we say 2 or 3 revisions for this paper?”
“Let’s set a timer so you can get that assignment done. How long do you think you’ll need?”
The “my way or no way”
Some kids have no problem taking control of their learning - and everything else in their lives! Headstrong kids love to make choices and direct their learning, but they don’t always take direction well.
Nurture their confidence while making sure they are following directions. Some ideas:
- Give lots of choices when you can. Rather than fight kids on their need to feel in control, we want to give them control as much as possible. This does not mean they run the show! Just that their input is valuable.
- Involve them in decision making. This tactic can be especially useful when you need to deliver a consequence or rethink a house rule.
- Let them think it was their idea. Sometimes, you know exactly what the solution to a problem is. When you’re on a work call, everyone needs to stay out of the room. Easy peasy. But to get more cooperation from your kids, let them 'decide' what should be done...with your expert guidance of course. 😉
Independent learning activities for students
If independent learning is new to your family, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Start with an “easy win” - something your child is already good at. Maybe they are great with writing, so they can complete those tasks without you. Maybe academics are not their strong suit and they need to start with something around the house instead. Household chores are a must for kids this age.
- Feeling stuck? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Inquiry notebook for questions and ideas
- Growing a plant from seed
- Creating a schedule for the day
- Planning a video chat with a friend or family member (invite, pick date, write on calendar)
- Independent research project
- Learn a new craft(from a kit or book)
- Write a book recommendation for a sibling or friend
- Plan gifts for a birthday
The key with all of these is to allow your child to complete the project from start to finish. Resist the temptation to offer them tips or feedback! This will undermine their confidence and leave them relying on you to finish the task.
Promoting independence with school work
When you promote independence at home, independence at school will follow. These days, however, home is school, which is an added challenge for you. But don’t worry, try out these tips for facilitating independence with school work.
Checklists are gold for primary students. Write it for a younger child and have an older child write their own. You can make a checklist for self-monitoring progress for a larger project, a checklist for assignments to be completed, even a simple checklist that says “attend class, eat snack.” 😃 Kids benefit from seeing their accomplishments, and who doesn’t love checking boxes?
Encourage your child to think about what they have learned. This includes the actual content of the lesson, but also the process of completing it.
What do they feel worked well? What was a challenge? What will they do differently next time? This helps students consider how they could take charge of their learning.
📚 Process over product
Yes, grades and test results are important. But the true learning happens in the time in between. Try to place less emphasis on the final product and more on the process leading up to it. Kids are better able to learn independently when they see themselves as hard workers rather than high achievers.
📝 Develop an action plan.
Or rather, help your child develop an action plan. This strategy works well for older students who must complete lengthy projects. Assist them in planning their steps and predicting where they might need support, then step back and let them follow through.
👨👩👦👦 Capitalise on peer to peer learning.
In school, students work together and learn from one another. How can you create this at home? Maybe your child can set up a virtual study session with a friend. You can even complete a family task where everyone has a responsibility, like cooking a meal where everyone is responsible for one part.
🤝 Be less helpful.
When your child asks for help with school work, focus on clarifying instructions or giving a nudge, but don’t give the answers. They don’t know that word? Ask them how they can find the definition. They want to check their answers? Prompt them to come up with ways they can double check themselves.
When kids need more help!
Even the most independent kids will need help from adults with their schoolwork sometimes. Ideally, all their lessons would be at the exact right level. ✨
In real life though, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes kids need a little extra support with a certain subject.
These days, remote learning means teachers may not be as available for individual students the way they are in-person. A GoStudent tutor can help fill the gap.
Our team of experienced tutors can meet your child where they are, and help them make progress with their studies. They know how to foster independent thinking and instill confidence. With affordable packages, high quality instruction is within your reach. Book a free trial lesson today!