We all want our kids to reach their full potential and be as independent as they can be. Teaching independent work is such an important addition to homeschooling. Independent work is a significant daily living skill because it teaches responsibility, following directions, and gives your child a sense of achievement. Independent work skills sets your child up for success throughout their life.
Here are my 5 tips to consider when adding independent work into your homeschool routine.
Make Your Independent Work System Accessible And Easy To Use
Task bin systems are amazing, but in a homeschool setting, we do not always have the space that a large classroom has. I like using a 3-drawer system because it cuts down on the space I need. I recommend keeping the same activities in the 3-drawer system for about 2 to 3 weeks, especially while they learn the concept of working independently. You want your child to feel that sense of accomplishment. Changing activities too frequently, especially in the beginning, can add frustration that you really do not want to bring to the process. We want this to be a positive experience and to build self-confidence.
Remember To Teach The Concept And Use Visuals As Reminders
We do not learn through osmosis. You MUST teach your child the expectations and the process. Visuals will serve as a reminder. When you start independent work with your child, it will not look independent at all. You, the teacher, will be a physical prompt that will have to be faded out. You will need to stand next to them to teach them to sit down and do what is expected, then start taking a few steps back, until you are no longer needed. Start out with visuals from the beginning with the steps they need to follow. These can be on a dry-erase board, it does not have to be fancy. I recommend adding a “help” card and even a “break” card to the system. This can help students with communication limitations ask for assistance and serve as a reminder for students with enhanced communication abilities that it is ok to ask for help and for a break.
Use Previously Mastered Skills
It is crucial that you do not add new concepts into an independent work system because the student needs to be able to work on these without help. If you have to stop and teach the concept, it is not independent. There are several things that I like to use for independent work bins. A favorite in our house is the Easy Matching Weekly Workbooks by The Autism Helper. I differentiate these based on the boys’ abilities. For Ben and George, they are matching it, page by page. For Davyd, who is older, I remove all the pictures and put them in a bin. He must now read what each page asks and look for the pictures that match. This adds a special following directions bonus to the process. I also love to use the file folders from our last unit on the Leveled Daily Curriculum. Ben and George are now on Language Arts and Math Level 1 so their independent work is sometimes the file folders from Level 0.5.
Include a Fun or Preferred Task
Work is more enjoyable when it is fun. This is why people choose careers in areas that interest them. Remember this when choosing activities for independent work. We do not want this to be a chore. I choose at least one activity based on my sons’ interests. George loves his letters, so I make sure one of his activities is alphabet related. Ben loves math and dinosaurs, so one of his activities includes these. Davyd loves to draw, so I like to give him an art project that he can do independently. He tends to spend a long time on these and that is great because we are increasing the time he is able to work independently. Make sure the preferred task is not something that will distract your child so they will not be able to complete their work. For example, if I gave George letter beads to string, this would be a bad idea because when I give him strings he stims on them. He would not be able to focus on the task at hand. The goal is for your child to complete a task that they find enjoyable so they will look forward to doing the work.
Remember The Big Picture
Independent work helps develop independence. I like to believe that most children can achieve some level of independence. We must push for that and try different things to make this happen. If that does not happen, it was not for lack of trying. In previous posts, I mentioned the importance of chores, which are essential daily living skills. Chores give the same sense of accomplishment that independent work does. Chores can lead to job skills. Davyd has learned recently that he loves to cook, and his little brothers now take an interest in helping him. Davyd got a quesadilla maker for Christmas and loves making dinner for everyone. George likes to help by making homemade salsa. Ben also likes to try his hand at making quesadillas too. Learning tasks like these leads to independence, the desired outcome of teaching your learner to work independently.
I know as a mother it is hard to watch your child struggle, but this is why it is so important we add independent work to their schedules. When I taught special education, I would encourage parents to let their child struggle. Do not automatically open a juice box for them or a bag of chips. Always let your child try first. If they need help, you just created an opportunity for them to communicate that they need help. It is hard, but it gets easier and it is always worth it.
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