Thursday, November 8, 2007

Laying the Foundation: Moving Students from Dependence to Independence

The process of moving a child from dependence upon you as a teacher to independence, autonomy and the self sufficiency of self learning is different for every child.

Obviously, children that are not yet reading need a lot of supervision. The same is true when teaching elementary students new concepts. Also, when a student is struggling with a concept, such as long division, the teacher (though she may have moved into the role of coach) will need to stand over the child as they work through the formula until they completely understand the algorithm and can do it on their own.

Yet, the question remains, how do you move into the role of coach and from coach to facilitator, and finally mentor. This is done in a deliberate fashion over several years. There are several keys to promoting independence in your children. I will discuss one of the keys, perhaps the most important one today.

In order to move our children into this next phase of independent learning, we need to spend the better part of their younger years teaching character and instilling a sense of personal responsibility over their lives and future.

Character is key. Many homeschool parents neglect Bible time and character discussions over academics in the early years; this is usually because of fear. They are afraid the child will fall behind their peers and such if they spend an hour on Bible and character each day, or neglect school to train the hearts of their children. They tend to overlook small indicators of poor character in order to move forward academically. They hope they'll grow out of it one day. Sadly, a child that has poor character in elementary school is in great danger of having even worse character (when mom isn't around) in high school.

On the other hand, a child whose heart has been trained is able and often willing to fly ahead of his peers academically when it really counts: in high school. Thus, the early years are extremely important for building the foundation of character. Poor character (lying, cheating, little white lies, small dishonest acts, sneaking, unkindness, rudeness, curtness, anger, laziness, sloppy work habits, rolling of the eyes, incomplete obedience "I forgot" or disobedience) should be considered very serious in the early years.

If these character flaws are considered more important than math and English, your child will be enabled to excel in math and English when they reach a more mature age. Otherwise, school work will always be a struggle for them their whole lives. Poor character training will result in a student that cannot be independent because he or she does not have good habits.

A child should be taught that they must be trusted. They must always, always, always be truthful, especially when mom is not around. If they would sneak an M&M from the bowl when you left the room, you need to work on character. This is usually best trained through reading good books, discussions and pleadings with your child to consider their actions in light of God, Satan, truth, character and the person they hope to be one day.

We explain to our children that the man (or woman) they will be as an adult is decided by them today, day by day, moment by moment, decision by decision. Each time that they choose right over wrong or wrong over right, they are laying down the structure of the man they will be as an adult. We have very serious discussions about this. I tell my little children that if they lie to me today, it could affect their entire lives. If I can't trust them today, I will not trust them to have their own car, to have a job outside the home, to live away at college. They see a big picture of their lives. If they say that they didn't leave the milk out, but they did, and I learn that they did: I can't trust them anymore and many privileges are immediately revoked. This I do for their own good because when they are teenagers, they will think twice about saying their going somewhere when they know they should not. Let your kids know early on how important it is to be trustworthy. You need to trust them completely. We explain that once you lose trust, it is so hard to earn it back. Discussions like these are ongoing in our household. The children understand these things well.

Another important value we pass on to our children is helping them understand that they are ultimately responsible for their education and what they do with the life God has given them. They are responsible to learn; and that it will affect their entire lives if they don't grasp that truth early. No teacher is responsible for a student's education. She can lead them to water....but the student, whether at home or at school, has always been the one that is truly responsible to attend to the material they are given to learn. If they choose to neglect their education today, at nine, ten or eleven years old, they are choosing a hard life for themselves, a hard future. Yes, sometimes people can change their course. Yes, God is merciful. However, it's a much harder road to have to change the course and habits you set for yourself than to lay down good habits and work harder today for an better tomorrow.

Thus, our older children all feel a certain level of responsibility to work diligently whether they are still being taught by me each day or have moved to being coached or are now independent self learners.

I believe that moving to independence is first begun by laying down these foundational mindsets in the home. A child that is honest and obedient and believes he is accountable to himself for his choices and that his choices can very easily affect his future moves much more readily into the role of an independent self learner than a child that has not been empowered with this knowledge.