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Helping Your Children Become More Independent: As They Grow

February 27, 2014 by Brandy Vencel

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] assume that this will vary by student. Like all the other examples I’ve given, the ones in this post will best be used based upon ability rather than age.

Obviously, a student who is doing all or most of his own reading has taken great strides in becoming an independent learner. But what about children whose reading skills aren’t yet strong? There are still ways to encourage them to be as independent as possible.

In about third grade, my students begin choosing their own poems for memorization. My oldest keeps a poetry journal, which aids him in this process. I also begin accepting input as to the order in which we do our readings. So far, I’m reading most things aloud in Year Three {with my oldest, that was by choice, because he was my only student}. My current Year Three student will say she wants to read this or that book first. Why not? As long as there is no compelling reason to choose one work over another, I let her choose.

And if there is a reason, I let her know, so that she can get some insight into how an adult might make decisions about these things.

 

Reading and Alternation

Learning to alternate subjects is huge, and students can take charge in this area as well. It is time to do something other than a reading. In Year One, I hand them the next thing. By Year Three, they often choose. Now I want to do copywork. Or: Can I do math first and get it out of the way? In fact, my Year Three student recently discovered that she can start some of her lessons before I arrive, and get them done earlier than usual. So, when I show up for lessons, there are Wrap-Ups completed, and her copywork is often underway.

Now is probably time to mention that this is a big flaw I see in the workbox idea. Yes, that would work for Year One. But in using workboxes, the teacher has essentially decided the order of events. If we want our junior highers to be able to manage their own days, they are going to have to grow into it through steady, incremental growth and practice. That is not going to happen if our fifth graders are still doing workboxes.

I have never used workboxes. I’m not saying not to do it. But I do think that, if you use them, you should consider age-appropriateness.

I didn’t initiate the independence I’m beginning to see in my third grader. It has naturally grown out of what we were already doing. I really do think that this can happen organically, and starting with a student gathering their own supplies is the key. As they get their things, they eventually start to think, Hey! I can do this without Mom! Why not?

When a child is reading independently, I give them free reign. They choose what to do and in what order, keeping in mind the principle of alternation, which I make sure I teach to them before handing off this control.

 

CM Notebooks Breed Independence Naturally

We can also look at some of the individual components of a CM education, and see where there are possibilities for independence, even for nonreaders. Even the youngest non-reader in the bunch can choose what he wants to draw in his nature journal, or dictate what he wants written in it. Does a child want to do more than one entry per week in her nature journal? Why not?

For older children who are reading Shakespeare aloud, let them choose their own parts.

For the Book of Centuries, I have minimum requirements — a certain number of entries must be made per day or per week. But the child chooses which events to record, and he may also choose to record more than the minimum requirement.

I think Year Six or Year Seven is a good time to consider switching a child to a commonplace book, instead of assigned copywork. One big difference will be that they begin choosing their own selections, rather than having them assigned by Mom. After six or seven years of copywork assignments, no doubt they are ready to choose their own passages, and have even developed the aesthetic sense to choose good ones.

If you notice, the notebooks of a CM education naturally lend themselves to the independence of the scholar — the type of independence we are looking for.

 

Free Reading

AmblesideOnline has an extensive list of free reading books. At the beginning of the term, we can give the child a pile of books and say he must read x number of minutes per day. He must choose a book from the pile, and he must read in it each day until he has finished. But we don’t assign the book, nor, perhaps, the time of day in which he must do his minutes. Those things are up to him. As he grows older, he may be able to be trusted to engage two or three free read selections at a time, instead of only one, and, so long as he eventually finishes them, we can give him even more freedom. By age 11 or 12, we may be able to say, “Here are your free reading books. Please finish them by the end of the school year.”

 

Curriculum Input

One final example I have in mind is allowing children to choose bits and pieces of their curriculum. Much of AO is laid out for the students, as well it should be. But sometimes there are choices to be made. One more recent decision we had to make was whether to read The Illiad, or a more simple retelling, such as Black Ships Before Troy.

Well, I own both books. I know my Year Six student is capable of reading the original, but I also know it’d be harder and take more time. I put the decision to him. I let him look at both books. I let him read a sampling of The Illiad to see what to expect.

In the end, he chose the original, and I was pleased, but even more pleased than I would have been if I’d assigned it to him.

I’m fairly sure that my second child will choose the easy version, and I’m okay with that, too.

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