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How to Teach Your Homeschooler to Work Independently

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Bug is getting older, and this spring, one of the most important things I want to teach him is how to work independently. I admit, I do have some selfish reasons to do this- I am not sure how I will survive spring semester with a newborn and three kids needing me to teach them without expecting him to take more responsibility for his own work.

Teach personal responsibility

In the past, we’ve used these visual schedule systems to keep the two boys on track, but Bug has outgrown the graphics based system, and is ready for a more streamlined planner.

With my new system, all of his worksheets and workbooks have been consolidated into one place, his weekly work is all together, easily accessible, and easy to keep track of, and my expectations of him are clearly spelled out in his to-do list.

Creating a similar system in your home is easy!

This new method of organizing his work has a couple components.

Assemble a “Master Binder” for each child

First, gather all the consumables: workbooks, student books, and print PDF materials you would like to use with your child. You’ll need a three-ring binder (I used a three inch for a little over one semester worth of work- we’ll be schooling January to the end of June to make up for some of the “sick days” I took this fall while pregnant), dividers to separate subjects, scissors or a paper cutter, and a heavy duty hole punch.

Organzing workbooks and curriculum

I know some of you will cringe at this suggestion, but go ahead and rip all the papers out of their workbook binding. You want these pages loose, so you can hole punch them and put them in the master binder. If you don’t want to do it yourself (I just ripped and snipped as needed) you can take them to an office supply store to get the bindings professionally cut off for a small fee.

Doing this organizes your shelves (no more stack of books- just one binder!), helps organize PDF curriculum (it’s all printed up front and is ready to go) and guarantees that individual workbooks will not be misplaced (as long as you don’t loose the master binder!) and allows you to give your child their weekly assignments in a more organized way without overwhelming them.

Teachers manuals are left together on my shelf, so I have them as I need them. I wouldn’t take the binding off these because I like to be able to keep them neat and re-sellable to help my keep my homeschool budget on track.

Get a weekly binder or accordion folder for your child and set it up

I found this accordion file and it’s perfect for this project. It has seven sections, a easy access front window (more on that later) and a zipper to keep everything inside neatly.

how to organzie curriculum to encourage independance

Each weekend, I consult my pacing guide, and pull out the week’s worth of worksheets and assignments, and place them in the daily folders. Not all programs will have worksheets for you, for example, Oak Meadow, our core does not have worksheets for anything other than math. In that case, I write little notes listing what needs done each day and pop that into his binder.

I also added his pencil pouch with his supplies in the front folder, so lost pencils, pens, scissors and glue sticks wouldn’t slow him down either. His to-do list slides into the front view section of the binder so he has easy access to it, and I can see at a glance what has been completed and what still needs to be done.

Create clear expectations with a weekly to-do list

The last component to this system is the to-do list, which shows the full week of work at a glance. You can download a free version of the to-do list in our printable shop, or if you have many kids with different needs, or want a calendar or chore section (like the page shown below) you can grab our larger pack of to-do forms for a small price with has 13 different forms to choose from.

Printable to-do lists for homeschoolersThe printable versions are blank so you can write in your subjects down the side column. Then, black out any days where you don’t do that subject. For us, we have out-of-the house activities twice a week, so those days are “light” days. I blacked out half the subjects, so Bug knows we don’t need to work those days.

You can also write in page numbers for books you weren’t able to put within the file folder system, for example, our art program isn’t consumable, so I will just write in the lesson number in the box, and the science program has a consumable booklet, but it stays together, so that also will get a page number written down.

Then, as your child works, they can mark off what they have completed. In the example shown above, art is circled because it was not completed for the day, so it’s a signal to Bug to go back the following day to get it done.

Let your child take responsibility for their assignments

Each morning, Bug can see exactly what is assigned for the day. There is no more questions about what he has to do, or questions of “are we almost done???” because it’s all right there in front of his nose. He can see on his to-do list what will need to be done with me, and in his folder, he knows exactly what he has to finish.

Teaching homeschooled kids to take responsibility for their work, and encourage independanceI allow him to work in any order he likes, as long as the work gets done for the day. Some of the lessons will need to be done with me (for example, science, or spelling needs me to teach it) but many of them can be started independently. He can always come ask me for help or guidance on lessons when he needs it, but many things can be done on his own.

If for some reason his assignments are not completed, they can be moved to the last compartment of his file folder, which I have marked “homework.” In my home, this folder will have to be completed before he can watch TV or play games in the evening, or on the weekend. As long as the work is finished by Sunday night, there aren’t consequences other than that, but if he doesn’t get his work done by the time I sit down to put the next week’s work in…. well, then we’ll have to come up with some sort of consequence (it hasn’t happened yet, so I haven’t decided what we would do! The screen ban is enough to keep him on top of his work in our house.)

Free Accountability Sheet for Homeschool Kids

Download the Free To-Do List

13 differerent forms- accountability for kids
Get the Accountability Pack with 13 different forms (chores, reading, calender, planner pages, and to-do list options are all included)


Get organized along with your child, grab the mom planner too! 

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  • Do you correct every ingle sheet he does?
    This is an ongoing question for me. This is my first year ever homeschooling, my daughter is in 4th grade and so far 5 months in its great. But i have 3 younger children and it is a huge chunk of time and burden for me to correct so mich work. Some moms i ask say they just sorta skim through the week and dont actually get the teacher book out for every last detail. What is your take on this?

    • I don’t correct every last thing- nope. I prioritize my time to correct only the most important things (like Math or grammar or spelling) on the regular, and some things I check only sometimes. I feel that most parents probably have a good idea of what is clicking for their kids and what isn’t, so it can help you make a decision about what work really needs you to take the time to fine tooth comb their work. As the kids get older, my philosophy on this may change, but for now, it’s working for us!

  • Found your page after doing some research for my wife and I really like what I see. Thanks for all of your postings as it provides many insights to what we’re doing with our kids.

  • Hi Heather,
    I am loving this form and am going to start using it next week when we start our new school year. One question, what do you use the “Work” section on the right for? Is it if they get all of their schoolwork done for the day, they check a box and check the box next to it when I check back over their work? Thanks again for this great printable! I think it will help my son to know what we have planned for the day!

    • It’s meant to be flexible. You can totally use it the way you said- by having your son mark it when he is done, and then you mark it when you have checked his work. Or, you can use it for chores (which is what we do). My kids have morning and afternoon lists, and he marks the box twice a day, once after morning chores, and once after the afternoon chores.

  • I love this idea. I, too, am a military spouse and I have a question not regarding the post, but just a question in general. We currently live in a state that requires standardized testing starting in 3rd grade. I do not have to turn anything in to the state, they just need proof that the test was administered… here’s my question….we will be moving this summer, can I forgo the achievement test since I will not be in the state for the following school year? I know I can look it up, but I was wondering if you’ve ever done that. Thank you for your help.

    • I would probably call the school liaison officer to be sure. My gut says you probably have to test, but I always err on the side of caution. The SLO at the post nearest you would have a more clear answer. Good luck on the move!

  • Hi! Thanks for this post and for the printouts. I am about to pull my 3rd grader out of public school and I am not sure about planning yet! We will probably deschool for the rest of the year and then start OM4 in the fall. I see from your photo that you also use Life of Fred and I had planned on using that as well. I was wondering if you had a post about your specific curriculum flow or if you wouldn’t mind emailing me? I’m
    Even confused about what supplies are absolutely necessary. Thank you so much!!!

  • I love this! My older kids already have a good system, and I don’t want to change what ain’t broke, lol, but I have been searching and searching for a picture-based list/chart for my pre-reader. I would love if you could share what your Bug used until making the switch to this system,

    Thanks for sharing. I will have to look around your site when it’s not already way past my bedtime! 🙂

    • Nevermind! I scrolled back up to the beginning of the post and saw the link. I’m sorry! I’m super excited to see the rest of your site!

    • Malia, I am using them to have the kids track their hour of reading I ask them to do each day. They can put a check in the box for each half an hour read, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. You can decide what you want them to stand for with your own children- a check mark for a picture book read, 15 minutes, an hour, whatever sounds best to you.

  • Thank you so much for sharing all your hard work! I appreciate your blog so much. I would love to see what accordion folder you use, but the link isn’t working. Which one do you use? All the zipper ones I found on Amazon don’t have the clear front. Thanks!

  • Hi Heather! What a great blog post! I belong to a LinkedIn group of working homeschool parents and shared this post with our group.Thanks again for your post!

    • Kenya,
      At the end of each school day, the kids put their completed work back into the slot for the day (if it’s loose leaf). Some work also ends up in a Main Lesson Book or in a composition book depending on what it is. If it’s loose (like math worksheets) at the end of the week, I pull it all out and look it over. This way, I can grade it or make note of mistakes on things Bug worked on without my direct involvement.
      Once it’s graded, I move the stuff I want to save into our portfolio binder to keep for our official reviews (and myself- I like a record of work completed!) and recycle the items I don’t want to save. Since I have the master pacing guide, I don’t need to keep everything to have a record of what we have done, but I do like to keep a good sample of work to see how far we have come.
      Thanks for asking!

    • I’m glad you like them! An editable pack is on the to-do list, for as soon as I can pull it off with the new baby and schooling the bigs. I’ll do my best to do it quickly!

  • I do a week at a time, and we use an 11-spot accordion file. This way I can staple pages together (no “I didn’t realize I had to do the third page!).

  • Such helpful ideas! We utilize the binder method for our workbooks. However, I don’t always do it ahead of time. Rather, I store them in a binder after we’ve used them for use with younger kids in the future. We use copies to write on and keep the curriculum complete this way.

    Slowly we are working our way toward independence. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

  • I have had it on my to do list for the whole Christmas break that I needed to get my stuff in order for increasing independent work. And then I saw your beautiful form, and thought, “Why re-invent the wheel?” Such a good use for $2!!! The other forms are beautiful as well, but I’ll be using the one pictured in your post. It’s truly exactly what I was looking for!

    • Monica,
      Thanks so much for the kind words! I don’t know about you, but I make much better use of things when they are pretty. Sure…. I could write a list on lined paper each week, but this is so much more organized and fun! The kids are thrilled to dig in with their new notebooks (LOL I ended up getting one for Mr. Man too after he saw Bug’s and started asking for one like it).
      Anyways- I am glad you like them, and thanks so much for your purchase!

  • I have been procrastinating on putting together and independent work system for when I’m busy with baby. I am planning on just clipping sheets to a clipboard and calling it…. Clipboard Work! But I knew I wanted an accountability form and I was putting off creating one. So glad I did! Yours is beautiful and I am going to purchase the pack!

  • What a great system! I”m totally bookmarking this so that later this weekend (ack! It’s already Saturday! So, I guess, TOMORROW) I can go over this post a bit slower and get things ready for us to start up school again. I really like the idea of “tearing apart” the workbooks and putting them right into the binder. That’s brilliant. Thanks, Heather!

    • I was really hesitant to do it- but I am so sick of workbooks getting lost, and having to find the page because the sticky note fell out, or a cup of juice being spilled on it. I figured if I put it in a binder, I know where they all are, and I only have to give the kids what they need for the week, eliminating the time spent finding books and pages!