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How Can I Help My Child be an Independent Learner at Home

By Zach Lahn on November 29, 2021

At Wonder, “independent learning” is the first level of lifelong learning. A parent recently asked if being an independent learner means shunning authority. Great question. To the contrary, an independent learner knows how to embrace what or who is worthy as an authentic authority in life. In addition, it is viewing oneself as trustworthy and capable.

Family life is rich with opportunities to support what we are doing at school. We parents, however, will have varying levels of tolerance for letting our children learn to do things on their own. What I am comfortable doing, you may not be.

While having differences in how to encourage independence, we likely agree on why: hovering over our children does long-term damage to their confidence and well-being.

With that in mind, I want to share my list of ideas of ways to help your child become an independent learner at home. Some of the ideas are for the very young and others for ages 10 and up. This is offered to you simply as a catalyst for your own ideas. It is not a recipe.

Note: The key phrase to use often in this process with your child is: “I trust you.”

Our family list:

  • Pick out what to wear each day. (It’s difficult not to criticize the choices made on this one.)
  • Plan a dinner menu listing all ingredients. (Ideally includes online searching for recipes; assisting with the grocery shopping and helping prepare the meal.)
  • Pack own school lunches.
  • Sort and do laundry including folding and putting away. (Give instructions on the machine once.)
  • Plan a full Saturday for the family. (Then you must stick to their plan.)
  • Find your way home from an unfamiliar part of the neighborhood. (We did this in what we knew was a safe place.)
  • Place order at a restaurant. Eye contact with waiter required.
  • Figure out tip and total the bill.
  • Call to make own hair cutting appointment. When there, describe desired cut to hair dresser without any input from parent. Deliver the tip afterwards.
  • Pump gas. (I had a friend in college who had never pumped his own gas!)
  • Settle own dispute without a parental referee. (Our children created a signed contract for each other and it hangs above their beds.)
  • Learn to make 3-4 dishes to build a cooking repertoire. (Ours were scrambled eggs, pasta, French toast and homemade soup. I figured that will make them great college roommates and able to eat pretty well with very little money. This is also great for me to be able to say, “Hudson, will you please make dinner tonight?” And be very happy with the results.
  • Keep up with a personal whiteboard calendar to know what to expect each day/week/month.
  • Plant something and take care of it. (Planting is the easy part. The tending is the key.)

Extra reading if you are interested: Hidden Dangers of Helicopter Parenting by Michele Borba and Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

[Blogs or portion of blogs may be adapted from the blog of our partner school founder and advisor, Laura Sandefer.]