At the recently concluded inaugural Homeschool Convention 2017, I was given the topic, “Raising Independent Learners”. For a moment, it stumped me. I had to think back and analyse what helped because when we started homeschooling back in 2004, I had no strategy! It was purely out of necessity that our children were encouraged to be independent. We had 4 children, aged 6 and under, and I was pregnant with our 5th!
Choice of curriculum and planner system
In my opinion, there were two things that helped our children be more independent : our Choice of Curriculum and having a Planner System.
As I share what worked for us, please bear in mind that this is what worked for our family. It is not the only way. By no means am I saying that our curriculum choice and planner system are the best. Instead, take what is applicable and helpful. Then, tweak and modify it for your family. Make it your system. My purpose is to encourage you that it IS possible to make homeschooling work whether you have one child or many children. Having the right tools and systems help.
And by the way, your “perfect” tools and systems will probably change as your family grows and matures.
One of the best ways to raise independent learners is to empower them. Empower them to know that they can do things for themselves without always waiting for daddy and mummy to help them.
Take for example, babies wanting to feed themselves, or toddlers wanting to help around the house. Although both take more time than if I did them by myself, I actively encourage them to do both. Why? Because it empowers them. It builds up their confidence.
So, by the time they are toddlers, they can put their own dirty clothes into the laundry basket (learn sorting by colours too!), clear their own plates and cups from the dining table, and so on and so forth.
Because they are encouraged and expected to do things for themselves, the transition to doing school on their own was smoother.
Choice of curriculum
Let us explore how our curriculum choice helped our children be more independent. Unpopular as it is in the homeschool movement, I have chosen textbook-styled curricula for our homeschool. We like it because work required is laid out clearly – either by me or by Abeka. That helps everyone be clear on what is expected. School has a start and an end.
1. Singapore syllabus for primary school years
We started out our homeschooling the primary school years with the intention of using BJU, Bob Jones University Press curriculum, long term. But reality hit me when my oldest was in Primary 2. I had to switch to our local Singapore, MOE-directed syllabus. Why??? P.S.L.E.
PSLE and clearing the benchmark
If you are local or have lived in Singapore long enough, you know what a high stakes exam the Primary School Leaving Examinations are. Even if you are a homeschooler. Homeschoolers have to sit for PSLE and clear a benchmark that is set higher than for children attending public schools.
Therefore, to prepare my child to clear the PSLE benchmark, I had to transition him from BJU to MOE around Primary 4 or 5. Because the scope and sequence of both curricula are so different, I had to ensure that the gaps between the 2 curricula were bridged. I know homeschoolers who have done it and done it successfully. But the dynamics in my family is different.
I was running a houseful of small children with no help. We have no maid or grandparent help and my husband’s work hours were long and unpredictable. So, let’s be practical! MOE syllabus it was and Popular Bookstore became my best friend!
2. Abeka for post-PSLE
After PSLE, we chose to go with Abeka Academy, a US-based curriculum. Why? For practical reasons again.
It confers an accredited American High School Diploma after Grade 12. Using that and SAT has led to quite a few of its graduates being accepted into our local universities and polytechnics.
It is our intention to provide our children with the option of being able to apply for our local universities and polytechnics should they choose to do so and Abeka is one homeschool programme that allows that.
My planner system
Once our curriculum was settled, I implemented my Planner System. We school all year round on a 6 weeks on and 1 week off calendar, taking off on all Public Holidays, our 9 birthdays and our wedding anniversary! And in PSLE year, I give us an extra month off because I need to recover!
How it works
At the end of each school year, I go to Popular Bookstore and pick out all books I want to use and fit them into my master planner. Yes, that is A LOT of books to haul back. One year, with 4 children in primary school, I bought so many books that the cashier asked if I ran a tuition centre! And yes, I bring my supermarket trolley along to bring back the books.
Note : I cover ONLY the 4 required subjects in primary school. Anything extra is done on an ad-hoc basis so that there is no pressure to complete it.
Once the master planner is completed, I transfer 6 weeks’ worth of work from it to each child’s planner. 6 weeks because we school 6 weeks on. During the 1 week break, I transfer another 6 weeks’ worth of work into their planners.
From K2, each child has his or her own planner. It is not a time table. No times are listed, just the pages or chapters that they have to complete per subject, each day. It is a very simple and basic, excel-based worksheet.
This system is used whether one is using MOE or Abeka. The only difference is that I don’t plan for the Abeka users. Abeka has its own Lesson Plans in the Teacher’s Manual.
Each morning, they check their planners, do the assigned work, and then place it on my Homeschool Trolley.
I usually go through all their work after lunch and they do their corrections there and then. Then, school is officially over. They are free to play/read/craft/space out…
Done day in, day out, they are used to this routine. Interspersed with schoolwork would be their chores, which are also listed out in their planners.
Most of the time, they work steadily on their own and come to me only when they are stuck. Everyone is on auto-pilot.
Why it works
- It works because there is no quibbling over what needs to be done. Everything is clearly listed out.
- More importantly, the Planner System works because it empowers them. The children take their planners and run with it. They are responsible for their own work. I don’t even have to be around for school to be done.
- And lastly, they have freedom within boundaries. They control their day. They can choose to start early and finish early or start late and end late. In fact, they could even choose to do 2 – 3 days’ worth of work so that they are free the next few days! As long as all work is handed in at the end of the day, I allow them freedom of choice.
Will this system work for all curricula?
The more mom dependent or intensive a curriculum, the trickier it will be. Because it is mom dependent, if mom is sick, busy or not disciplined, school is affected.
Very early on, I realised that the biggest obstacle in getting school done consistently and getting children to be more independent was …. ME!!!
Yes, I was the bottleneck! They were always waiting on me to start or do school or help them with something or another. But I had babies to nurse, toddlers to discipline, meals to cook, messes to clean up. I could not start school at a predictable time even though I wanted to. More often than not, I was telling them, “Wait”, or “Never mind, we will do it tomorrow”. And we all know that tomorrow never comes.
Mom intensive only for pre-school years
In the pre-school years, school possibly has to be mom intensive – think : teaching phonics and maths. But, as PSLE loomed in the horizon, it wasn’t practical. I was being irresponsible and doing a disservice to my children. I was holding them back.
4 down, 3 more to go!
Our choice of curriculum and planner system, plus a whole lot of God’s grace, saw 4 children clearing the PSLE benchmark. It has also seen them grow to be more and more independent as time passes.
Independent children lessen work and stress on mom
I was never more grateful that they were independent when my oldest had to take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. I was recovering from PSLE. (No matter how many times I have gone through it, I still need recovery time!) When the time came, I had no energy to help him, not that I could since I have never taken SAT before and until today, only have a vague idea of how SAT works.
I just bought him the recommended books from College Board and Popular and, dumped them on him. He ploughed through them himself and took the tests. David, used to taking charge of his own studies, cleared the tests and again, by the grace of God, was offered a place in both NUS and NTU for Mechanical Engineering, his first choice. Between him and God, they did it! I had nothing to do with it.
While adapting what I shared at the Convention for the blog, I suddenly remembered what one child said to me, rather huffily, when she heard that I was going to share about preparing our children for PSLE back in 2012. She asked, “Why are they asking you how I cleared PSLE? You didn’t do anything!”
True … but she forgot how I encouraged and taught her how to study on her own, and to take charge of her own studies! Heh!
You CAN do this!
So, be encouraged! Know that you CAN do this homeschooling journey! Regardless of whether you have one child, a houseful of children, have help or no help. Set up your systems, empower your children and let’s go!