• homeschool charter near me | training an independent learner | teaching a self-learner

    One of the primary goals of home-based education is to encourage independent learning. We want our kids to be self-learners, to be curious about the world, and to find the answers to their questions. But getting to that point of independence can seem daunting, even ambiguous. Do we just toss them into the deep end of learning and hope they can swim? Training an independent learner is actually more about modeling and mentoring than it is refusing help and hoping for the best. It actually involves more attention and more accountability at the beginning, not less. When training your child to learn independently, you will need to be sure your child has developed the following skills.

    5 Skills for Training an Independent Learner

    Time Management

    One of the first steps to training independence is teaching your child a sense of time. Young children especially have a weak sense of time. Five minutes is forever when a task is distasteful, but an hour at the park feels like you just got there. This weak sense of time doesn’t suddenly improve when we sit down for math. When your child is daydreaming and spending hours on five math problems, it could be a weak sense of time and the inability to manage time. The first step toward training independence is teaching time management.


    Some children are naturally better at initiating than others. Whether your child has anxiety, ADD, or just has to take his time getting started, initiating a project or assignment can seem pretty daunting at times. If your child struggles with getting the day started or pushing play on that science video, realize that this is a skill that your child may need a little extra help with as you are training independence.

    Growth Mindset

    Overwhelm is a prime suspect when a child is taking way too long on an assignment. Fear of making a mistake, fear of misunderstanding the assignment, fear of never finishing the task, or a thousand other fears may paralyze your child and make independent learning seem impossible. Consider whether the child has a fixed mindset that is putting on the brakes. A child with a fixed mindset sees only what she is incapable of doing or the possible failures in her future, while a child with a growth mindset can see mistakes as part of the bigger process of growing. It takes time to coach a child (especially a perfectionist) that mistakes are okay, that imperfect work is still acceptable, that learning involves trying and failing and trying again.

    A child who struggles in this area needs reassurance and affirmation. She can’t just “try harder.” If you identify this as a problem area for your child, find some tools for teaching a growth mindset and take baby steps that will increase your child’s confidence in this area.

    Breaking Down Large Tasks

    A key part of training an independent learner involves the ability to break down a large task into its smaller parts. As parents, we are used to doing this for our children and then assigning them the smaller steps. When we are ready for them to be independent, we forget that they haven’t been part of this process of breaking down an assignment. Training independence involves walking your child through this process a few times, letting them try it on their own, then following up to see what went well and what could be improved the next time. 

    This is a complicated skill that takes time. When setting your SMART goals for the year, give yourself an entire year to work through this process, providing more assistance at the beginning of the year and allowing more independence by the end of the academic year.

    Organizing Assignments

    Organizing assignments involves several of the previous skills working together. Your child will need to understand how to break down an assignment, how much time an assignment could take, how to incorporate that assignment with other assignments and time commitments, and how to remember what needs to get done each day. This is the final step toward independence, a culmination of skills. 

    Learning to organize oneself is also a very personal journey, because each of us has a particular method of organizing that works best for us. Encourage a growth mindset as your child experiments with different methods of organizing school assignments. Does he prefer a paper planner, Google Calendar, or a scheduling app? If one method is failing your child, help your child to see it as a step closer to independence: “we’ve learned what doesn’t work for you; now let’s find out what works better.”

    Keep in mind that a child with ADHD or other special needs may have considerably more trouble with these executive functioning skills. Your child is probably not “just being stubborn,” but legitimately struggling with a function that involves a region of the brain that doesn’t work as well for them. That doesn’t mean your child will never be independent, but it may mean that one or more of these skills may take longer to learn or that your child will need more accommodations and assistance with some of these skills. And that’s okay. Our goal is to give our children the tools to succeed, regardless of what those tools may be.


    Take your time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your self-learner won’t wake up with these skills overnight. There isn’t a magical age when your child suddenly assumes these skills. The journey takes time, but training your independent learner is worth the time and effort. In a very real sense, you are giving your child the keys to unlock the world, even if it means you hand those keys to your child one at a time.