Five Ways to Assist Your Child to Be a More Independent Learner

Five Ways to Assist Your Child to Be a More Independent Learner

Remote learning really reinforced the importance of being an independent learner – a learner who is self-motivated and can reflect on their progress and know how to take next steps.  Independent learners know where they want to go – and will do what it takes to get there.

These are the learners who embraced remote learning and new ways of doing things, and enjoyed working at their own pace.  They showed resilience and resourcefulness – all skills that will help them in the workplace, and in further studies at tertiary level where classes look quite different.

So, teaching our children to love learning and feel confident to work on their own (with guidance of course) can be one of the greatest gifts we can give.  So how can we assist our young people to develop these skills?

At home, there are several strategies you can put into place to help with this – many of which apply as readily to younger children as to teenagers.  Here are five key strategies to begin with:


Encourage Them to Feel Positive About Challenges

When things get hard, it can be really easy to give up.  But an independent learner must embrace challenge and find the motivation and determination to conquer it.

Remind them struggling is good – and often it helps you remember facts and skills the most.  I always got 8×7 wrong in my times tables tests at school – but once I memorised it, I have never gotten it wrong again!  The feeling of frustration was hard to forget – as was the feeling of finally getting it right!

When your child is doing something hard – whether it be a puzzle or Lego activity in the primary years, or calculus or some other hard mathematical concept in the senior years, the first thing to do is to reinforce that they are capable of doing them.  Confidence is key to independent learning.  We can do this by modelling responding to challenges yourself – do puzzles or sudoku etc and talk about how you love to stretch your brain and how good it feels to finally get it right.

When you child asks for help – rather than do the task for them – pose the question back to them in new ways to see if they can solve it.  Don’t jump in straight away.  Additionally, you can ask them who might be a good person to seek assistance from. This not only normalises asking for help, but gets them really thinking about the right person for the job.  This will also make them more likely to ask for help in the classroom as well.

Another good strategy is to encourage young people to set goals if they are not quite where they want to be at with a skill or task.  Make sure those goals include some solid steps to work towards in the way to success or completion.


Don’t Expect Perfection

Perfectionism starts young – and so we need to shape their thinking around effort and strategies rather than success.  In their works Mindset and Grit, but Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth maintain that both good strategies and effort are what we really need to encourage in learners, and that when a person utilises both of these, they have a greater capacity to succeed with natural intelligence.

We have linked to these texts before on the Hive, but again recommend watching these videos to familiarise yourself with these important concepts.

Carol Dweck – Mindset

Angela Duckworth – Grit

The need to be perfect often causes young people (and older ones) to stop taking risks.  Risk-taking, as long as it is positive risk taking – is how all great discoveries were made. Sometimes we fail – but always we learn.  That learning is the most important thing.

Sometimes a mistake is how something unexpected and wonderful happened – consider how penicillin was discovered.


Have Independent/Screen Free Play Time

This works particularly well for young children but also for older ones. Young people often like to be entertained, and in a world of constant streaming and internet and games at their fingertips, they often are.  We need to remind them that they can rely on their own internal resources to be engaged.

It can be healthy to set screen free times each day – and direct young people towards other activities during this time. Set up a rack or zone for creativity – it could have art materials, pretty journals, Lego, books, games, puzzles and so on.  Set aside time to use it, or encourage them to use it when they complain about being bored.  They can learn to rely on their imagination or their own skills if they can play unassisted.

In addition, encourage them to tackle big bold projects if and when they bring them up.  Help them where needed but continue the message of confidence and competence we spoke of earlier.  Every teacher can tell you a story of a young person who achieved something astounding because they were encouraged to follow an idea to its fruition.


Have a Clear Routine, Especially for Homework

A lot of people hate the idea of a routine, thinking routine means boredom.  But routines protect what we want most and help us to make the most of our time and opportunities.

Procrastination is the death of much genius – and a good routine programs this out of you. Many of the greatest artists have embraced routine, for example I know many writers have specific times per day that they write and if they cannot write they must sit blankly in front of the computer until they do.  The message to their body and brain is – this is writing time.  The same for many athletes – it may not always feel good, but an exercise routine makes physical activity a norm, not a burden and ensures important training always gets done.

In terms of school work, a homework routine can be essential to academic success for the same reasons – it protects time for all that you need to do and helps young people learn about time management. Routine not only provides the stability needed for intellectual risk-taking, it ensures students see homework as a non-negotiable part of their day.

The five daily habits of the Wellbeing Hive – Connect, Create, Read, Be Mindful and Exercise can also be part of your routine to help you establish and maintain balance.


Encourage Curiosity About the World

Independent learners are engaged and interested – so present this in your home as the norm.  Here are some ways you might be able to do that:

  • Bring up current affairs at the dinner table
  • Encourage them to read books, do puzzles watch documentaries etc. Use language to reinforce the benefits of this – “we like to read books here” and “we love learning about the world around us”.
  • Model asking questions about the world – why do you think that is? And then encourage them to – original thinkers are always those who ask questions.
  • When they ask about something, help them solve it themselves rather than give them the answer.
  • Encourage your child to have an opinion on issues. Ask for it and ask them to explain how they formed it. However, we should always reinforce that opinions should be open to change.  Model this as well – allow them to see when you change your mind about an issue and explain why.  This isn’t failure or being wrong – it’s more learning.

Feeding our brain makes us more interesting people – and ensures we can talk to and connect with a variety of people from all walks of life.  You would want your young person to feel like they could go and start a conversation with anyone, and show interest in any kind of learning opportunity.  Another great attitude to model is “What can I learn from this situation?”.


So much like Dweck and Duckworth would tell us – the key is modelling, good strategies and sometimes stepping away to allow them to explore on their own.

Want to know more?  The article below is one aimed at teachers so you can know what teachers are trying to build towards in the classroom.


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