The Launch Pad

Raising Independent Learners
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Launch (verb, late Middle English) to send forth, catapult, or release; to start a person on a course; to set going, initiate (Dictionary.com)

What’s your primary goal as a homeschooling parent? For many of us, it’s to launch our children into society as independent, lifelong learners and contributing, Christ-honoring adults. If that describes your goal, how are you going to get there? Adopt these three guiding principles to grow independent learners.

It’s a Process

I don’t expect my 5- or 6-year old to complete his schoolwork alone. But what about when a new baby arrives and there’s less of mom to go around? Or when I realize my 8-year old has enough reading skills to read a chapter book solo? These are the defining moments toward handing my child the reins of his own education.

No matter how young, I gradually give my learner increasing levels of independence. This year, I’ll create a daily schedule for my 3rd grader so he begins to manage his time. Each day he will look at his schedule to do his schoolwork. I’ll jump in whenever he needs help or his schedule shows a time we spend together, such as a new math lesson, a read-aloud, or a project.

Teach the Necessary Skills

I’m amazed by the story of how Abraham Lincoln became a lawyer. Like many other professionals of his day, he didn’t attend a formal school. Instead, he borrowed law books from an established attorney, studied on his own, and after almost three years, he passed the Illinois bar exam. Lincoln exemplifies the two keys to being an independent learner: strong reading comprehension and competent time management skills.

Make teaching reading to your little ones the top academic priority. As they head into the late elementary years, don’t just celebrate reading, but emphasize their comprehension. Can your fourth grader read an age-appropriate book on Yellowstone National Park or dolphins and then tell you what he’s just read? If so, he can now teach himself almost anything for the rest of his life.

As for time management, my older children complete much of their school work independently. They read science chapters and work their math assignments solo, but afterwards I grade their work and we make corrections together. When I assign a book for history or English, I give them a deadline. It’s up to them to figure out how many pages to read each day. And then I hold them to that schedule! The same goes for an essay or research paper when the book is finished. Less spoon feeding from me, and more time management from them, prepares them for their future as an employee or advanced student.

Make teaching reading to your little ones the top academic priority. As they head into the late elementary years, don’t just celebrate reading, but emphasize their comprehension. Can your fourth grader read an age-appropriate book on Yellowstone National Park or dolphins and then tell you what he’s just read? If so, he can now teach himself almost anything for the rest of his life.

Melanie Hexter

Adopt a Counselor Role

When my children are young, I am their primary teacher. But as they arrive into the middle school years, I gradually transition from teacher to counselor. As independent readers, they are now increasingly able to teach themselves so I no longer do the bulk of the instruction.

I become more of an administrator, selecting curriculum, providing deadlines and schedules, and grading assigned reading and writing. Certainly, I serve as a tutor or provide an answer key when my student gets stuck. Like a public high school counselor, I direct my students toward extracurricular options, job shadowing and volunteer opportunities based on their God-given abilities and passions. If my child is college-bound, I register and help them prepare for pre-college tests like the SAT and ACT. I track their classes and develop their transcript.

Raising children who are independent learners doesn’t happen all at once. It takes years of commitment from you as a parent with increasing doses of work and maturity from your children. Homeschooling is a great setting for launching lifelong learners, the goal most of us desire.


Melanie Hexter

"Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage (Psalm 84:5)." Melanie Hexter writes on homeschooling and travel from the beautiful mountains in Colorado, but that's not where her family has always lived. She and her husband have homeschooled their six children, three now graduates and three still in process, in three time zones as they have pursued God's leading. In addition to helping her husband with his business and her children live out their gifts, Melanie has written the U.S. National Parks Unit Study and several literature-based studies which she makes available to others at LemiloePublishing.com.


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