3 Ways to Foster Independence in the Middle Grades Homeschool Child


3 Ways to Foster Independence in the Middle Grades Homeschool Child

One of the biggest challenges that comes with homeschooling "big kids" is fostering independence.

A reader, commenting on last week's "Big Kids" post put it perfectly:

The biggest question for me right now is teaching independence. I'm trying to move away from the "I need to sit here while you do this work" mode. But of course I can't leap right to the "here's your pile of work, now sit down and get it done" mode either!

What steps did you/would you take to foster independence?

I don't claim to have all the answers, but I can share what we have been doing for the past two years with our middle grades child. 

Now that we are nearing the end of seventh grade I am very pleased with the level of independence my daughter has achieved. (It's not perfect, but a work in progress, which is all I can ask for).

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Relationship, Relationship, Relationship

Training the heart has to come first. 

Kids in my house (and I am sure it's true in other houses, too) are more compliant, cheerful, and overall more willing when our relationship is strong.

During the middle grades years relationships can be difficult. It would be so easy to "check out" with our adolescents, but this is precisely the time they need us MOST. 

I've recently been reading a book that is changing my entire outlook on raising an adolescent. Hold On To Your Kids stresses the importance of the parent/child attachment and how this single factor determines so much of our children's values, academic success, and self esteeem. 

I have noticed that as my daughter feels more secure in her relationship with her dad and I, the more willing she is to please - the more independence she wants to exhibit for US.  There is nothing wrong with this type of motivation. In fact, it is really the only motivation that is proven to work with children this age. 


We are being very vigilant about the peer interactions our middle grade child has. A core group of eight children in her Challenge A group provide just the amount of "socialization" she needs. Add to this a couple of good friends and this is all she needs. The family MUST be the center at this tender age. We believe it is how God intended our children to be raised - by their FAMILES and NOT their PEERS. 

The parent/child relationship is paramount to our children gaining independence. The world does not value or protect this relationship. Do everything you can to keep your children close - you are what they need MOST at this age.

A Weekly Schedule with Accountability

A schedule made by my child (with my careful supervision and guidance) at the beginning of each academic week has been VERY helpful in fostering independence.

In our situation my daughter is given all of her Challenge A assignments in a guide book. After her weekly class meeting, she and I sit down and plan out what each day will look like. She schedules every.single.assignment and then posts this schedule above her desk.  (You can see what her curriculum looks like.)

It is a simple sheet, which is copied each week and then filled in - you could have your child design their own form for even more ownership. We tried a fancy planner and it just didn't work for us. This one sheet works best for my child.

*I have to credit a lot of this structure to Classical Conversations, but this model could be applied with any student. I appreciate that this model prepares our children for academic excellence and intellectual inquistiveness for the rest of their lives.



After breakfast each day Anna knows it is math time. She checks the assignment to be completed, reads the lesson (or watches it on the computer), completes the problems, and then brings it to me for grading. She is independent for an hour while she is working. After that hour, we grade, go over any questions, and assess how she did with the subject.

Her other subjects follow a similar pattern. Independent work first, then check in with mom. 

There is always a certain amount of work that I require her to do independently, but I always have her check in with me (or vice versa) after each subject is complete. This way she doesn't feel too ALONE, and if there is a probem with any of her work I can catch it right away.

How to juggle this with a younger child? I give 30-40 minutes in a hour to my younger child, and then let him have a "break" while I check in with his older sister. This works well for us. 

Of course I still check in with her periodicially during her hour of work time for each subject - think about how hard this system would be for YOU as an adult. It takes patience, grace, and constant training.

I made the mistake of thinking I could be more "hands-off", and this just resulted in confusion and frustration. Careful monitoring of their "independence" is crucial (especially in the beginning).

During our week we have two hour (or more) times where we "meet" to discuss her school work. These are times for large review, quizzing flashcards, discussing writing assignments and what she is reading, and working hard on Latin. One of these weekly times involves dad (lots of accountability there). And, of course, she is accountable to her Challenge A classmates and tutor each Tuesday.  This is HUGE.

*Training Anna to work like this took a few months. We had always done everything together, with a lot of direction and help from me. I found that having a PLAN, DECIDED UPON BY THE STUDENT, to be very helpful. All kids love control, and being in control of her time has fostered independence and a sense of accomplishment. 

The wisdom and self discipline that comes from controlling your own daily schedule is amazing. Time management won't elude your children when they are out in the "real world" if you start helping them manage their time now.  (Because guess what? You're training your children in the "real world" right now!)

A Dedicated Work Space

An area just for your middle grades child can greatly foster independence. 

Anna has an desk and bookshelf that is just hers. It is located in a "bonus room" in our upstairs. She is responsible for keeping it neat, uncluttered (this isn't always easy!), and doing most of her work there. Of course there are times when we take our work on the go, or have read aloud time together in the family room, but this space is her "home base".

This is a quiet area of our house, where she can't be easily distracted. {I can walk to the top of the stairs, however, and see into her work area - good for checking on her at any time.}

I think this area has really made her feel special - and I emphasize to her that this is where she does her "job". Sometimes I will work alongside her in this room, but for the most part this is a space just for her. 

This space in your home might be in the dining room or in a corner of a family room - simply giving your child a small space that is theirs is important.  I've even seen spaces separated by a trifold project board - if you are really short on space. 


 A dedicated work space can inspire organization and accountability in your child. It also makes your child feel that their work MATTERS and is deserving of a special place in your home.

It is important for me to share that all of this is a work in progress. Many days it's hard to follow a schedule, work in your dedicated space, and maintain good relationships. It's almost as if we've spent nearly a year training heart and independence issues. This, however, (from what I have gleaned from veteran homeschool moms) is NORMAL and NECESSARY.

Do not be discouraged if it is slow going, moms. You are doing important work that takes time and patience. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is your child's homeschool independence.

As I was talking with a good friend of mine today (who has a son the same age as Anna). She mentioned something irresponsible/immature her child had done.  She said to him (jokingly), "What are you?  13?  Oh right. You are 13!"

We need to remember that our children are exactly that - CHILDREN. Set your expectations high, but keep in mind their age and what you are asking of them. Remember to give grace and forgiveness liberally!  Sometimes we feel the weight of the world on our homeschooling shoulders. Pray, foster relationships, and love your children.

We have such amazing children we are nurturing! 

Do you have any specific tips for fostering independence in your middle grades child? I'm learning right along with you, so please share!

Have you missed any of the posts in the Homeschooling Big Kids Series?  

Homeschooling "Big Kids"

A Look at the Challenge Program

A Resource for Homeschooling Your "Big Kids":  The Question