I am a big fan of independent work.
I believe that when a child has an opportunity to engage in material own their own–they begin to own their learning.
I also believe my job, as mommyteacher, is to organize, present and facilitate learning. Part of facilitating the learning is backing away and creating time and opportunity for my girls to engage the material own their own, independently. Just like riding a bike, once they get the hang of it–they are ready to go.
So how exactly does this look for our family?
Independent work for us means review work. I make it a rule to never introduce new content information as ‘independent work’. Independent work is reviewing skills and concepts that I have directly taught them before. Another way to look at it is, their independent work allows them to ‘show what they know’ and provides me very clear directions as to what my next steps should be (greenlight move ahead, light yellow–slow down and address one or two missed things or red light — complete reteach using a different approach of the concept).
Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
Independent work is also where they receive feedback from me. After I have looked over their work we take a quick moment to huddle around it. I am always curious to learn what they think of their work–Did they find it challenging? Easy? Were there any parts they found confusing? Did they discover anything new about themselves while doing it? If they need help I always first ask what they think will help them.
Independent work not only allows them to be apart of their own learning process, but it teaches them a variety of lifelong skills. It also makes them a stakeholder in their own progress, so when they have to revise a paper or reread a chapter they are less likely to complain. It also allows for me to work more efficiently and provides natural breaks in our learning time. At the table currently I have both my Princess Bella (3rd grade) and Princess Petals (K) with 2 year old Princess Jubilee running around in our meeting room. Our mornings begin with Princess Bella completing all of her independent work that is in her work bucket. I use a clear shoebox and I have everything in it she needs to do the work. While she is working independently, I teach the little ones. This works well for us because Princess Bella is able to focus on her work while I work with the little ones. Currently Princess Bella does about an hour of independent work in the mornings. She loves it because it means no work in the afternoons, YEAH!!!
This method has worked tremendously for us during this season of our lives. But what is important is finding out what works for you, right now. That may take some trail and error–just be open and patient with the process.
I do have 5 basic rules when it comes to independent work:
1. Strive for excellence not perfection. I always tell my girls this because I want them to know it is perfectly normal and healthy to make mistakes. So I reassure them I am not looking for perfect. I do expect them to work at their personal best. When they ask, “Mommy is this good?” I encourage them by saying, “You know your best effort when you see it, so you tell me if it is good.”
2. Respect the learning environment. This rule is a ‘work in progress’ especially with my littlest ones but I get so delighted when I see them striving for it. As I explained earlier, both girls are at the same table. So we have respect rules that we call upon before each meeting time to help everyone do their very best, including mommy.
3. Make it meaningful and relevant. I have never been a fan of ‘busy’ work so I try hard to provide meaningful opportunities for my girls to engage with their work. Really think about what you are having them do. My rule is: Know the why you want them to do it before you assign them to do it.
4. Plan for them to work independently. Especially if you have elementary/middle aged children, nothing is more frustrating for them to sit down and complete their work only to find they are missing something (book, pencil, paper). They will waste precious time and will cause major distractions. I try hard to have everything they need in order to complete the task. Another important thing is to determine before you begin, when you want them to work independently.
5. Spice it up. Variety is true blessing when it comes to work. Here are a few ways I add spice to their independent work with the following:
- Conversations. Write a provoking question on an index card relating to the topic of study. They have to think about it and then have a conversation with me about it. This one is a huge winner with Princess Bella because she absolutely loves to talk and I honor that about her.
- Computer work. So both little princesses love computer work. I try to find programs and sites that are engaging and will help reinforce what I am teaching. Youtube is great for this!
- Arts and Crafts. Who doesn’t like glue, markers and glitter? Princess Petals loves to show me she knows how to form her letters all by herself with fun things like beans and pennies. Princess Bella enjoys retelling her history story through artful pictures. Allowing the children to get hands on helps them to retain the information.
- Games. Learning via a game is always a hit and gets the girls up and moving. What is great about this type of independent work is that they can either do a game by themselves such as a poster game or file folder game or I will have them work together and complete a game role-playing.
Take your time and introduce it little by little. I suggest beginning with one subject ( preferably their strongest) and then build from there. When you think they are ready to add on another task then do so. Praise all their efforts and praise even more all of the stumbles.
Most of all, enjoy learning beside (and little further away) your children
Stay Encouraged & Be Blessed!