Want Independent Homeschoolers? Teach Them These Two Things
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Years ago as a brand new homeschooling mom, I would hear people gush about the fact that homeschooled children are so darn independent. I looked into the future and assumed our days would eventually play out with us going about our own thing, exploring our own fabulous interests and doing everything we felt we needed to do i-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t-l-y. You know. Because, independent homeschoolers.
Many years later, it is a super sweet fantasy that came true, mostly.
See, when people talk about having independent homeschoolers, they can be referring to two different kinds of independence.
The first type of independent homeschoolers are the kind most people dreamily talk about: homeschool families who are so independent that every single child in the family is off doing their own fan-tab-u-lous interest-based thing. They make their own fun and do their own learning. And that’s great, because self-entertainment is no doubt a valuable skill.
But there is another side of independence that refers to those days when independent homeschoolers have been asked to do something independently that doesn’t really lie within their realm of interests.
Or isn’t really something they want to, you know, get done right now.
Oh. My. Gosh. Stop the presses. You want them to do what?
I recently spoke with a homeschooling mom whose children had been pulled from public school. She told me one of the biggest surprises she’d had in joining the homeschooling community was how many of the homeschooled children she’d met that had no concept of time management.
As in, they’d never been told “This is your assignment, have it done by…”
Well yeah. What did she think this was?
In homeschooling we are allowed so much freedom and flexibility, and many of us will defend that to the death. For some of us, it can even be that hill we die upon.
In homeschooling, we don’t have to have deadlines. We don’t have to follow schedules. We don’t have to be at a certain point at a certain time in our school year. We don’t have to get things done at a certain time. If it doesn’t get done today, we do it tomorrow. Or the next day. Or not at all! We are free and we are flexible, hear us roar!
I mean, hey, new homeschooling mom, we’re not trying to do public school.
But…she sorta had a point. Our independent homeschoolers can sometimes be rather dependent (or scatterbrained or uninspired) regarding tasks they don’t really want to do.
I think there is a fantasy that persists in homeschooling that once our kids get out into life and find that thing they want to do, they will automatically figure out how to manage time and stay on task and deal with less than awesome parts of the thing they love.
And maybe some kids are like that.
But many kids aren’t.
And, just let’s just suppose…what if they need to manage time or follow through on something they really don’t love at all?
Hear me now, homeschooling mamas who crave independent homeschoolers: successful independence is made up of two other things: time management and follow-through.
Having independent homeschoolers requires time management.
Some people are naturally better at it than others, but we all can improve with practice. Also, understand that males and females think differently and this definitely affects how they approach time management.
Time management is not just about completing the task on time. Time management is also about:
- guesstimating how long it will take to get that project done,
- understanding that things come up and it sometimes takes longer,
- the best strategy for the order in which to do multiple projects that are due at the same time,
- using your time in the most effective, efficient, and productive way.
Please provide opportunities for your kids to learn about this at home. Releasing your kids to the proverbial hounds when they aren’t sure how long it will take to slay them can be disastrous for everyone involved.
Feeling a lot of mom guilt regarding your children and their newfound independence? Read more in Independence, Mom Guilt, and How to Deal.
Having independent homeschoolers requires follow through.
Sometimes people see the end result of something and want that end result, but aren’t aware how much it takes to get from Point A to Point B.
Kind of like when your kid says he wants to be in the big kids co-op, but then doesn’t want to do all the work that comes with the big kid projects.
Or kind of like when your kid says he wants to raise pigs, but then doesn’t want to do all the work that comes with taking care of them.
Lack of follow through is why some us never became rock star guitarists or famous ballerinas. It’s why we fail at diets and budgets.
We as parents have so much faith that our kids will find something they are interested in and they will just…naturally succeed. I mean, that’s it, right?
Kids need to learn (through experience) that there may be more steps involved in their project or goal or dream than they thought. You can help them by showing them to how to break the process into steps, and then show them how time management will help them to most productively climb those steps.
Understanding the concept of following through will help your kids determine what they actually want. A person can be interested in a million things, but once they understand there is work involved in what they pursue—and that even if the end goal is something you love, the work to get there might not be—a person will (hopefully) make decisions and choose their path more carefully.
Gah. All this big life stuff. It’s so not….flexible. Or….free.
So, how do we get kids to respect deadlines?
First, you have to have some deadlines. (I know. Some of you just freaked out a little bit at this. But stick with me.) A deadline doesn’t have to be “this paper needs to be done by…” It can be “I need the bathroom cleaned by 10 pm” or “the lawn has to be mowed this week” or “we need to be in the car by…”
Second, there has to be a consequence for not meeting the deadline.
This is going to backfire if you just arbitrarily set a deadline on a project that your kids can totally see through. However, having said that, there are some things in life that we just have to do because someone said we have to.
If our kids don’t finish their project, it’s not as if we can give them a bad grade. I mean, we can…but honestly, as a homeschooler…what does that really mean?
We can’t give them detention because that’s really just a punishment for us. 😉
To teach kids to get their work done, or to struggle through a task they don’t necessarily care for, there has to be something that happens if they don’t.
Use real life consequences…when possible.
Back when I was in public school, the consequence for repeatedly not turning in your assignments was that you failed the class. The consequence for being tardy three times in a week was detention. The consequence for forgetting to bring your lunch was that you didn’t eat until you got back home.
Consequences in homeschool can be a little more tricky, however, because we don’t have the same set up. It’s easy to say “if you’re not ready to leave by 11, we will be late and can’t go.” There’s an obvious real life consequence there that makes sense.
But if a kid doesn’t get their paper done or doesn’t do their reading, what happens? Mom gets mad and yells? You make them spend Saturday finishing the paper instead of going fishing with friends?
What happens if the child turns to you and says, “But why does it have to be done by Saturday? We’re homeschoolers.”
Herein lies the problem.
Figure out their currency.
Sometimes you have to resort to other measures. Every person has something they value that can be used as currency. If someone told me they’d take away my coffee if I didn’t make a weekly meal plan every Sunday night, I’d be planning meals out for months at a time.
What does your kid value? Wi-fi is often a major currency, as is chauffeuring to friend’s houses, or use of a cell phone. You’ve decided to slack off on your responsibilities? Here’s what that means.
I don’t think this is a battle of wills. I don’t think this is a parent trying to control the show. I think this is kid, I’m hoping to release you into the world with an ability to stand on two feet, and there are some things you should learn here in the safety of home before you head out to the great beyond.
If you want to take the kinder, gentler approach, you can very easily create currency and dangle it above their heads. Your kids love to go out for ice cream? Explain there is a trip to the ice cream shop every Friday afternoon on weeks that school goes well. (And remember, you’ll need a solid definition of what school goes well actually means.)
Some people may call this bribing. I call it a goal. I mean, I get up in the morning because there is coffee. If my kids want to complete their book on time because it means we will go out for ice cream, more power to them.
(I’ll take Rocky Road, please.)
In my opinion, homeschooling is an agreement between parent and child.
Having consequences for not completing tasks is not mean, even though I often hear people say otherwise. Consequences are an inherent part of life.
Regarding homeschooling, here is what I’ve told my children a few times in the past when things got hairy:
“In the state of Minnesota, you are required to be educated from ages 7-16. You have the choice to be educated here or at the public school. Here are my expectations if we’re going to homeschool. You make the choice.”
Homeschooling can be a very flexible journey steeped in freedom, but that doesn’t mean it’s void of responsibility. Give your kids the opportunity to experience and be comfortable with independence so, as independent homeschoolers, they can take on the world.
Tired of the sugarcoated version of homeschooling? Read my book The Homeschool Highway: How to Navigate Your Way Without Getting Carsick.