Homeschooling: Raising Independent Learners

Hi!  I’m Melina, homeschooling mother of 11 and Grandmelina to 2!sacred-heart-gardens-homeschool-book-2

Homeschooling is not difficult, but sometimes life can get busy or complicated – like for us, right now.  This is a very busy season in our family.  To avoid falling behind in our schooling and feeling the burden as primary educators, we need to teach our children to be independent in their learning – with guidance from us.  My girls are keeping up with their schooling even when I am not present to teach.  I need to monitor and correct, as needed.

Teaching our kids to be independent in their learning will not only help us and keep our homeschooling going even when we don’t have enough time to grow it, but it will give our kids invaluable learning skills.

My oldest daughter graduated from university, and shared with one of her professors that the learning style we have at home helped her in university immeasurably – as much as, or more than, the content she learned in high school.

The sheer size of our family – all those child bearing years and little ones running around – formed our learning style.  It works for us and can work for you too.

Do your kids a favour:  stand back and watch them learn!

The Early Primary Years – kindergarten, grades 1 and 2

No way around it.  The early stages of teaching are very hands on.  Our kids know nothing yet and need to be taught.  But we can still keep the teaching to the necessary.

Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and religion – the 4 R’s of learning – should be the core of our schooling.  Teaching them to read will open up learning in all areas, and promote independence.

Teaching little ones to read doesn’t take much time each day, and shouldn’t.  They can’t focus for very long and shouldn’t be expected to.  No matter which curriculum you choose, the daily lessons are broken down into small bite sized pieces.  A couple of tricks I’ve learned:  first, take 2 years to do the grade 1 phonics curriculum, starting in kindergarten.  Taking it slowly eases the burden on both parent and child.  Second, ask an older child (if you have one) to do the daily lessons with their younger sibling.  This has a few benefits:  the older child learns skills in teaching – a whole lesson in itself, the younger child is learning to read and write, and the parent is freed up to focus on another child – for schooling or care.  And read lots to your kids.  This will instill a love of reading.


For arithmetic, I just focus on counting, then adding and subtracting, next I introduce some multiplication by grade 3, we do money management (letting them earn coins and count them out and learn to buy little things at the store) and time recognition.

Religion is done with family prayer, bible stories, rosary praying, movies, church, and highlighting the liturgical seasons.  For us it also includes teaching for First Communion, Reconciliation and Confirmation.

The Middle Primary Years – grades 3, 4 and 5

Some kids learn to read more quickly than others, but by the end of grade 3 the goal is for the kids to be pretty much independent in their learning.

Most school books are broken down into daily lessons.  Teach the kids to read their lesson, do their lesson, and, if a teacher’s correcting book is available, to correct their own lesson.  Encourage them to come to you when they can’t figure something out on their own or they are overwhelmed, or again, give that responsibility to an older child, if there is one around.

For English, I like to have weekly spelling tests as well as follow a language arts program with extra grammar exercises.  Ours works for us, but is now out of print.  I’m sure there are better programs out there.  Get them to read books too.  You can suggest books based on what you want them to learn at the time too – history based novels based on different time periods,  Black History novels during February, Canadian History novels, biographical novels, saint novels and general interest novels.  Let them choose books they like too.  Not everything has to be a lesson.  Continue reading novels out loud to your kids and sharing in the adventure.


For math, I start the kids in Saxon 5/4 before the end of grade 3.  They are more than capable by then.    Do as many of the lessons as possible orally at the beginning, jumping through them quickly.  This can easily bring you to lesson 20, saving you a whole month of schooling.  One lesson a day and doing every other number has been successful for us.  Most of my kids have really excelled in math in high school.  When you finish your book, start the next one right away.  You don’t have to wait until September.  If you didn’t finish a book before summer, pick up right where you left off when school starts up again.

Choose a bible study that the kids can do on their own, while still continuing with family prayer, bible stories, rosary praying, movies and church.  You can add in some art and some story retelling to make things interesting.

I start adding in more subjects as we go along:  French language studies (but make sure the kids can read well in English before adding a foreign language), and other subjects as the kids have an interest with the odd unit study (in history, geography and science).  I take a pretty unschooling approach to the rest of our learning.  Some things the kids have done and do on their own have included:  art, crafts, karate, sports, fashion design, sewing, knitting, crochet, cooking, story writing, skateboarding, movie making, horseback riding, gaming, piano, guitar, singing, among others.

Sports have always been important to us, with karate being the constant for personal fitness.  You can start teaching the kids more lifeskills now too:  cooking, cleaning, child care and money management.  We make learning fun with outings and co-op.

The Upper Primary Years – grades 6, 7 and 8

By this stage, the kids should be totally independent unless you are doing a unit study with them.  If they can’t do a subject on their own, change your curriculum until you find something that works.  We always finish school by noon.  If a child really procrastinates, they’ll need to work in the afternoon to get the work done, but this doesn’t happen often.

Focus on getting all of their core subjects done (reading, writing, arithmetic and religion) on a daily/weekly basis.  Have the kids know what is expected of them on a weekly basis, that way they can work ahead and get it all done early if they want time off.

Once the core subjects are covered and done well, you can look at adding more subjects in as time permits.  I try to keep the kids busy until noon, but not past noon.  If they are quick at doing their work they do more subjects, if they are slow we cut subjects out (but never the core subjects) – using noon as our guide.  Family prayer and rosary are done before school and our formal lessons start at 9am.  When adding in another subject, I always make sure it is something the kids can do independently.


In English, now is the time to add in a writing program if you haven’t already done so.  At times we’ve added in the study of Greek and Latin root words, and Latin and Logics for a more classical approach.  Now I only add in those subjects if I want to fill in time or if there is a real interest on the child’s part.  Make reading mandatory.  Consider Great Books studies.  Even one a month will add up over time. You might consider reading out loud to your kids still.  This will encourage discussion.

For math, we keep going with our Saxon Math, with one exception.  We add in a geometry unit which seems to be lacking in Saxon.  We also skip Saxon 8/7, and go right into Algebra 1/2 (the grade 9 curriculum).  By starting a new book each time the old one is finished, skipping ahead orally at the beginning of each book, and leaving out Saxon 8/7, my kids always finish at least Algebra 1 and sometimes are partway through Algebra 2 before they start at the local high school, making them much more advanced than their peers.

As well as continuing with church, family prayer, Bible study, and personal faith growth, the kids also are leaders in Vacation Bible School, summer camps, children’s liturgy and youth group.

Continue adding in subjects as time permits.  It is exciting watching our kids become excited about learning.

Keep sports and personal fitness a priority.

High School

Even though we haven’t homeschooled during these years, we continue with faith growth at home and moral development.  Youth conferences and youth groups are important to us.

Sports in and out of school continue to be important to us.

Continue to encourage reading and model it by spending time reading yourself.  Share your favourite books or the ones that have had the biggest impact on your life with your kids.  Your enthusiasm will be contagious.


Learning the ins and outs of our homebased fudge business has been a learning experience for the kids.  We live in a small town and there are not many jobs, but the kids have worked for local farmers, at the pizzeria, cutting grass, babysitting, at camps, delivering newspapers and for the midway at the local fair as well as selling fudge with me.  We encourage them to save money as possible for when they move out.

Money management includes saving, tithing, paying for their own cell phone plan (if they have one) and helping to pay for sports, mission trips, and other extra curricular activities.

It goes without saying that they help out at home with chores and child care.








  1. I really enjoyed your blog entry. You really have quit a few wonderful ways of doing things.

    • Thank you! It’s really just been a work in progress. I think it’s just as important for homeschool moms to guard themselves so they don’t burn out. Growing independent learners helps us as much as it helps them 🙂

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