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8 Tips to help your child become an independent learner

Ally Hirschlag is a producer/actor/writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY and buys way too many toys for her cats. She contributes to several publications, including Bustle, and The Nerve, and enjoys writing about all things woman. In her spar...

As a parent, when should you help your child with homework, and when should you step back?

All parents want their children to do well in school, but sometimes that desire can lead to too much parental involvement in homework. If you see your child struggling, you want to do what you can to help, but what you may not know is too much help can have adverse affects on their ability to learn.

Today's world rewards self-motivated, independent learners, especially when so many businesses exist online, and thus rely on internet-savvy employees. As a result, schools have begun to refocus learning techniques towards the self-starter mentality. Students who have the facility to look at a problem and figure out the solution almost entirely on their own are on the path to success.

However, despite having access to these independence-geared learning tools, some children have a more difficult time with this less collaborative way of learning. While your instinct as a parent may be to rush in and help them figure things out, that may not be the best solution in the long-term. The key is to help them develop strategies to tackle these independent learning projects, rather than act as a hovering aid.

How to help your child become an independent learner

1. Have a self-serve creativity zone at home

This works especially well if your kids are on the younger side. Child/Teen development specialist Dr. Robyn Silverman says creative exploration is a known path to problem-solving. If they have a corner filled with blocks, coloring tools, counting apparati and other various crafting materials, they will be more inclined to pick up and experiment, rather than run and ask for help.

2. Define a homework routine

Kids who have a clearly defined homework routine, including a set time and place, tend to have more success in school. Zac Stowell, a fifth-grade teacher at Northgate Elementary in Seattle, told the Washington Post, “When you work in small increments — uninterrupted focused time, with breaks in between — you're able to get more done."

Working independently can sometimes lead to more procrastination and lackadaisical work methods, but if you impose clear-cut guidelines around when, where and how the work should be done, it usually ignites productivity.

3. Give kids freedom to work in their own way

There usually isn't just one right way to solve a homework problem. Allowing your kids the freedom to find their own way to the answers is better than dictating how a problem should be handled, even if it takes longer.

4. Rewards and positive reinforcement

It's great for kids to know they have something fun coming to them when they finish a homework project. You might want to split it up if they have several things to complete in a night — like some fruit gummies for the math assignment, and an hour of video games when everything's done. Just make sure the rules are clearly outlined before instilling a rewards system.

Dr. Silverman says, "praise your children for the effort they put in, the work it took to get their grade or the improvement you see in their results because of their work ethic and persistence."

5. Self-evaluations

Your kids feel proud of the work they've done when they turn it in the next day. Ask them to rate how well they think they did on their assignments on a scale from 1 to 10. Make sure they know they won't be punished if they feel like they didn't do a great job on something — it's just a way for them to reflect on their work, and recognize where they could've done better.

6. Remind them that struggling is good

You want your kids to be confident in their abilities as independent academics, but they should also know that no one got anywhere without struggling. Susan Kruger, the president of SOAR Learning said to the Washington Post, "we want our students to make mistakes. It's the only way they're going to be able to innovate and adapt to the world and the way the world changes."

If your kid is having a particularly hard time with a problem, remind them that it's totally OK. You can then help them approach the problem from a different angle that might yield better results.

7. Talk about future goals

Some assignments may seem pointless or boring to your kid. In those cases, tell them that while they may feel that way now, the skills they acquire while doing them could seriously help them achieve their career goals down the line.

8. Always talk to the teacher

If there's a truly insurmountable problem, encourage your kid to ask their teacher for help first rather than you. That way you remain the supporter, and they learn how easy and important it is for self-motivated learners to be able to ask for help.

This post was brought to you by X-ACTO® Pencil Sharpeners.

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