All of my children resemble me in some way.
The resemblance may be visible in our eyes, our smile, our manner of speech, our interests and talents, or a combination of these features and others. But we are also each unique. None of my children is just like me. That means that they need to explore their own strengths, discover their own weaknesses, nurture their own talents, and develop their own skills.
As homeschoolers, facilitating opportunities for our children comprises a large portion of our responsibility. We spend hours exploring the best curriculum options, searching out field trip adventures, and seeking opportunities to help our children explore sports or the arts. We curl up on the couch for read-aloud time so they are exposed to great literature from an early age. We walk them through difficult concepts to ensure that they truly grasp what they need to learn.
There is an additional component to learning, however, that much of our facilitation tends to neglect: the intentional nurturing of independent learning.
In a way, independent learning occurs naturally among homeschoolers because one child learns how to teach herself while Mom works with another child. Or our bend toward encouraging our children to explore their own interests nudges them toward independent exploration and experimentation.
At some point, though, our children’s growth toward independence maxes out as long as we remain their facilitators.
The Role of Facilitation through the Stages
Facilitation is essential in the early stages of learning. During the Starting Out stage (preschool through first grade), encouraging independence means that we organize our children’s drawers so they can pick out their own clothes each day or we rearrange the kitchen so dishes are low enough for them to reach when they need a cup of water or want to help set the table.
Even as they move through the Getting Excited stage (second through fourth grade) our children rely heavily on us to facilitate their growth toward independence. We provide a sampling of activities for them to taste as they explore interests and talents. We recognize their limitations and walk with them through the exploration to minimize the impact of those limitations on their learning.
As they enter the Beginning to Understand stage (fifth through eighth grade), however, it becomes time to not only allow but encourage them to begin digging for themselves. And, by the time they reach the Learning to Reason stage (high school), this becomes critically important.
Obviously, care must be taken. Our children still lack the maturity to handle an unfettered flow of information and opportunity. But, by encouraging them to help with the facilitation of their interests during these stages, we can teach them how to filter information and seek out reliable sources for themselves.
Practical Suggestions for Building Independence
Here are some ways to encourage our children to become their own facilitators of learning.
Encourage web searches
It goes without saying that this must be done with care. Unfettered web searches are rarely safe. But, eventually, they will need to know how to weed out the safe and unsafe sources for themselves.
– When your child asks a question, point her to safe sources for finding the answer herself.
– Create a shared Pinterest account that your middle schooler uses (with your supervision) to search out creative ideas for personal development interests or school projects.
– Let your child design his own blog.
Suggest homemade gifts
There is nothing like being presented with the challenge of creating a gift for a family member to reveal talents and interests and promote independence in learning. Even if he cannot do all of the creating himself, ask him to contemplate what he would like to make if he had the skills. It could be a woodworking project, a story, an original song, a leather gift, or any number of other creations. Then help him create a plan for finishing his project on time and, if needed, find resources or a teacher to help him learn needed skills.
Create a Teacher
By the time our children reach middle school, we cannot always learn a new skill or concept quickly enough to stay ahead of them, especially if we have multiple children. That means that we will often need to find someone already skilled in that area to teach our child, whether through face-to-face or online resources.
But, we can also use this reality to help our children learn independence by encouraging them to teach their new skill to a sibling, a friend, or even Mom or Dad! Learning to turn their skill into a teaching opportunity teaches independence in ways that few other lessons can accomplish.
Open a checking account
This is a great way to teach financial independence as she learns to keep tabs on her own balance, use checks and a debit card, and decide how to better manage her cash flow.
Suggestions for High Schoolers
Opportunities for independence and self-facilitation only increase once our children are firmly established in the high school years. Here are some ideas specially tailored to older students.
Build a resume
Show your student how to find a resume template, then encourage him to create his own. If he does not have work experience yet, encourage him to create a sample resume for the experience he would like to have.
Encourage job searches
This can include regular employment, internships, or other opportunities that require interviews. Having to answer the questions of a stranger builds her ability to organize her thoughts and pay attention to her preferences, strengths, weaknesses, and potential.
Involve your student in the process of planning out a semester or year of high school. This will prepare him for working with a college adviser or an employer to lay out a degree or performance plan. Consider together what approach he wants to take to complete required courses and what he would like to pursue for electives. If you choose a course that lacks a detailed, day-by-day lesson plan, teach him how to break the course down into manageable weekly goals.
Assign Family Responsibilities
This could include any number of responsibilities, including planning and preparing meals for a day or week, determining and running family errands, making and/or keeping appointments, or being responsible for teaching and caring for younger siblings while you tackle other needs or errands.