Homeschool, Homeschool high school
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The Truth About Your Teens, Homeschooling, and Independent Learning

In the homeschool community, there is a lot of talk about independent learning. If a mother complains of being overwhelmed with teaching several children, someone suggests she try “independent learning.” When someone mentions teens, the words “independent learning” are not far behind. If one fears the high school years, the answer is “independent learning.”

What exactly is independent learning? It sounds so good, like a promise of easy days and long life and happiness. Who wouldn’t want all that and more, if the price is right?

What is independent learning?

Independent learning means taking personal responsibility for learning and grades.

Teens have four years to prepare for college and independent living. So it stands to reason they need a little practice ahead of time, right? High school years are the perfect time to start taking responsibility for one’s academics, too.

Independent learning is about responsibility and accountability.

But that may be difficult for Mom. It’s hard to stand back and let them fail when the stakes seem so high. What if he ruins his GPA? What if she never comprehends that concept? It can be scary to allow teens – and even myself! — live with the consequences of doing less-than-stellar work.

Isn’t that what life is about, though? Independent learning means letting students learn from their own mistakes now, rather than from the nagging of Mom. Or rather than only the nagging of Mom.

Independent learning means taking responsibility for finishing the course.

For years of elementary and middle school, teens have had the courses dictated to them. They’ve been told when to take the tests, when to do the homework, even how much to study.

Independent learning works if we let them learn from their own mistakes.

But that won’t work in college. I remember my shock at the first week of college classes when eight professors handed me their syllabus on paper and said they wouldn’t remind me again of those due dates. And they didn’t. I had to make sure the work was on time without anyone nagging me!

Surprisingly, though, most students want the freedom to take their course at their own pace. Maybe they will pace themselves well. Maybe they will finish early. Or maybe they’ll cram all the experiments into the last week. But they’ll get it done when they want and learn so much more about time management in the process.

If we let them learn from their own mistakes.

Independent learning means taking personal responsibility for finding the answers.

It’s so flattering to be the human encyclopedia for the entire family, the go-to-answer-gal. But one of two things happen as students approach the teen years:

  1. Mom cannot be omnipresent in the student’s life, dispensing wisdom and understanding at every moment of confusion.
  2. Mom cannot be omniscient because the courses are suddenly…hard.

So before the jig is up and people know we don’t know everything, it’s crucial we teach students how to learn for themselves. That means more than just googling the answers. It also means digging deep into the required reading to find what the teacher is looking for. It may even mean asking the hard or embarrassing questions in class, those questions everyone is wondering but no one wants to pose. It might even involve…thinking!

It sounds a little scary to gradually take the hands off the planner and let the student take more control of his education. But that’s not all. Independent learning has several misconceptions, too, that can damage the experience for the student and his family.


What is NOT independent learning?

Independent learning is not abandoning all parental responsibility for the student’s education.

It doesn’t’ mean I don’t care whether my student takes four years of English in high school. It doesn’t mean I don’t ensure he passes the science courses required for high school graduation in my state. Independent learning is not an excuse for homeschool laziness or neglect. At the end of the day, my student’s education — like the rest of my parenting — is fully my responsibility.

Independent learning is not lifting all student accountability.

independentlearningpinOn the contrary, independent learning means the student should be held more accountable for his education. He is accountable for finishing his course, for mastering the material, and for achieving acceptable grades.

Accountability means someone is bringing him to account. That sounds obvious, but it is not always intuitive for high school parents. We need to be present and watching all the tests and quizzes. We need to be inspecting the projects carefully.

We need to be giving clear consequences when the student fails to meet his responsibilities. That means failing him — failing our own student — when he cheats or fails to complete his work. To do otherwise is to teach our child to lie and steal.

Independent learning is not dumbing down academics.

There are hard classes, really hard classes that make no sense and seem completely disconnected with the student’s life. Everyone has to take them. They are the GPA breakers, the ones that stain the transcript and scar the life. Mine was French.

And English Composition.

It’s true that one learns more from those classes than from a thousand A’s. It’s usually not the lesson one wants to learn, but one learns it and remembers it.

That is what independent learning is all about — real learning, not grades or accolades or prizes or pride or free time.

It’s learning for life.

For more homeschool help, check out my new book Homeschool Made Easy, now available on Kindle. Get your copy today!



  1. Great post. I have encouraged my wife to transition more into this style of teaching with our oldest (15). The future seems to be moving toward independent education through on-line schools, and training programs for corporations. My employer has moved 90 percent of my annual training from the classroom to the laptop. My children now watch me practice what I preach, with much more severe consequences. The consequences of my failure, should I fail, is not lost on them either. It has been great for my daughter and my wife. She has lived up to the challenge, and has paid the price a few times. She is becoming an owner of her education.

    My wife and I revisit our focus, and our, “keeping the main thing the main thing” often. We remind each other that academics are secondary to character in our home schoolhouse. If we fail in character, and discipleship, all the good academics in the world won’t overcome the consequences of making bad life choices based on a worldly perspective. But if God instills into them sound Biblical moorings, then they can, and will, overcome our failures in academics.

    I must say though that when I saw this article it scared me a little. I thought that you were going to give me all the reasons why independent learning (a phrase I frankly had not heard of until reading this post) was a bad decision. I agreed with everything you said, and am encouraged.


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