How to Teach Your Homeschooler to Work Independently

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How to Teach Your Homeschooler to Work Independently

As our homeschoolers get older, one of the most important things we can teach them is how to work independently.

I admit, I do have some selfish reasons to do this. Because I’m a work-from-home-mom, it’s extremely helpful if my children are able to do at least some of their work independently. To be honest, though, it’s really better for them and for me if they can do at least some of their work independently.

Teach personal responsibility

In the past, we’ve used these visual schedule systems to keep on track, but my children are older now and have outgrown the graphics-based system. They’re now ready for a more streamlined planner.

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

Creating a similar system in your home is easy!

This new method of organizing work has a couple of 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’s worth of work.), 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 stacks of books- just one binder!), helps organize PDF curriculum (it’s all printed up-front and is ready to go), guarantees that individual workbooks will not be misplaced (as long as you don’t lose the master binder!), and allows you to give your children 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 each child and set it up.

I found this accordion file, and it’s perfect for this project. If you already have an accordion file, use what you have!

how to organzie curriculum to encourage independance

Each weekend, I consult my pacing guide, pull out the week’s worth of worksheets and assignments, and place them in the daily folders. Not all programs will have worksheets. In that case, I write little notes listing what needs to be done each day for each subject and pop that into the binder.

Create clear expectations with a weekly to-do list. 

I include the My Assignments To-Do List in the front of each child’s binder to make it easy for each child to find it, mark off assignments as they are completed, and see what has been completed and what still needs to be done. This also makes it easy for me to see what has been done or still needs to be done.

This list which shows the full week of work at a glance. You can download a free version of the to-do list in our 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.

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 each child 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 just write in the lesson number in the box. Our science program has a consumable booklet, but it stays together, so that also will get a page number written down.

Then, as your children work, 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 that child to go back the following day to get it done.

Let your children take responsibility for their assignments.

Each morning, each child can see exactly what is assigned for the day. There are no more questions about what has to be done or questions of, “Are we almost done???” because it’s all right there in front of their noses. Each one can see on his/her to-do list what will need to be done with me and what needs to be done independently.

Let them work in whatever order they choose. 

I allow my kids to work in any order they like as long as the work gets done for the day. Some of the lessons will need to be done with me (For example, I have to teach our science and spelling.), but many of their subjects can be started independently. My children know, though, that they can always ask me for help or guidance on lessons when they need it.

If for some reason one of my children’s assignments are not completed, those assignments can be moved to the last compartment in that child’s file folder. I’ve marked it as “homework.” My children know that any work in the homework folder must be completed before that child can watch TV or play video games. As long as the work is finished by Sunday night, there aren’t consequences other than that, but if the work doesn’t get 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. (This rarely happens. The screen ban is usually enough to keep my kids on top of their work.)

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)

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  1. 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?

    1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

    1. 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.

  4. I love this idea. I 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?

    1. 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!

  5. 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!!!

  6. 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 younger one 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! 🙂

    1. 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!

    1. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

    1. 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 they did 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!

  9. this is fantastic. I definitely will be doing a blog post about this and sending them your way. You have some great ideas. I will be using them with my 7 year old!! Thank you so much!

  10. 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!).

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

    1. 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. Anyway- I am glad you like them, and thanks so much for your purchase!

  13. 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!

  14. 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 so much!

    1. 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!

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