Encouraging Children to Become Independent Learners

Do you have a child who needs to become a more independent learner? After all, most of us ultimately want our children to be self-directed, independent learners. We can’t (and shouldn’t) be completely in charge of their learning throughout their elementary and high school years. If our children go to college, they will need to have developed the skills necessary for taking charge of their own learning, keeping up with assignments, setting aside study time, completing projects, and writing papers to submit on time. But how can we as parents and teachers encourage our children to develop these skills?

teen girl with a stack of school books


One easy (and inexpensive!) way is to teach your children to use planners! My daughter is in 10th grade this year, and (to be honest) I’m just now teaching her to use a planner to keep up with her own school work. But I started keeping my own planner when I was in about 5th or 6th grade, so it’s definitely a skill that can be taught at younger ages.

How can using a planner help your child become more independent and responsible? There are several ways! And we’ve created a 2019-2020 Student Planner to help you do the job!


Want it for free?

We’re sharing our 2019-20 Student Planner with you (and your children or teens) for free!

This planner can be used from now through December of 2020, so download it now for free, and start teaching your children and teens to use it! By the time this academic year is over, you’ll be surprised at how much more independent they will have become. (And you won’t have had to spend any extra money to help them achieve that goal!)

Click this link to go to the store for our sister site, Only Passionate Curiosity, and download your free planner!


Using a planner can help your children develop necessary skills for independence!

Time Management Skills

Time management doesn’t just mean teaching our children how to be on time when they have places to go (although that is important). It also means they know how to plan to get their work done, plan study time, and plan ahead when tests, papers, or projects are due.

Keep Up with Assignments and Tests

A planner is the perfect place to write down assignments and test dates. This year I’ve made my daughter a simple syllabus with assignments, projects, and test dates included. Because our schedule changes sometimes, I like to plan just a few weeks or a month ahead of time–but not usually more than that. With that in mind, the syllabus I’m giving her only includes about a month’s worth of work. If our schedule gets thrown off, we can pretty easily rework our plan. I don’t want to schedule the entire year because that would be a lot of reworking if we got off schedule!

Learn to Plan and Schedule Work to Do on Certain Days

I’m having my daughter look at the syllabus and write down her assignments for each week along with any test or project due dates. I’m also letting her look at the work that’s due each week and decide what assignments she wants to complete each day. In other words, I’m allowing her to choose to do one lesson in each subject each day or to do all of the lessons in one subject in one day and all of the lessons in another subject the next day or whatever combination works for her.

Allowing her to choose which subjects to do on which days is important at the high school level since that’s something she’ll need to know how to do when she goes to college. Because she’s great at English, she may very easily do all of her English lessons in one day, and that’s fine. I’m sure she’ll quickly realize that she needs to spread math out over the entire week because that’s a difficult subject for her. But all of these are the kinds of things she needs to experience for herself.

Plan Ahead for Special Projects, Papers, Etc.

I’m also having her write down projects such as art projects, pieces she needs to memorize, and papers she needs to write. If she knows she has an art project due in 3 weeks, she needs to learn to set aside enough time on enough days to get it done. If she has a poem or historical piece to memorize, she needs to learn to set aside a few minutes each day to practice it. If she has a paper to write, she needs to learn to keep track of the various necessary tasks leading up to writing the final draft of the paper.

I remember one time in particular when I was in college that I failed to plan ahead and ended up writing an entire research paper in one weekend. I got it done, but it was a horrible, tiring, stressful weekend! I knew how to budget my time better than that, but for some reason, I let that due date slip up on me. (Probably because I worked full time, went to college full time, and was married and worked a second part time job–along with my husband–as youth director at our church on the weekends. I was too busy!!) That was definitely a lesson well learned! From then on, I made sure to do a much better job keeping up with individual tasks I needed to do before another research paper was due.

Organizational Skills

A planner–especially one with a calendar in it–can be extremely valuable for teaching our children organizational skills. For some children, organizational skills come naturally. For others, they can be a real struggle. No matter which category each of our children falls into, organizational skills are necessary for success in middle school, high school, college, and real life.

Plan for Activities and Commitments

While most calendars don’t provide enough room to write down assignments, it is a good idea to have our children write down bigger things like test dates and project due dates on the calendar. They should also be taught to write down activities (such as church commitments, club meetings, sports activities, outside classes, etc.) on the calendar.

Work Around Jobs and Special Events

Keeping track of commitments and activities on the calendar makes it much easier for them to see for themselves if they have time to participate in activities that weren’t previously planned. In other words, if one of our children is invited to go to an all-day activity with a friend but sees that he has a big paper due just a few days later, he will (hopefully!) realize that he either needs to turn down the opportunity or re-work his schedule to make sure he gets his paper done on time.

And if our students have part-time jobs, it’s even more important to keep up with activities on a calendar! Not only will writing down their work schedules on their calendars help our children make sure they get to work on time, but it will also help us know when they will be at home or at work so we can plan accordingly.

Ability to Use Time Constructively

Learn to Use Free Time Wisely

It may sound strange to our children at first, but a planner/calendar can help our children learn to use their free time wisely. They need to learn to set aside time for things like doing laundry, cleaning their bedrooms, washing the car, and doing other housework. They may even want to plan specific times for taking a break, reading books for fun, or even playing their favorite video games. There’s nothing wrong with learning to schedule some just-for-fun time on the calendar. In fact, I think there are many of us as moms who could greatly benefit from developing that habit!

As our children are developing time management skills, organizational skills, and the ability to use free time wisely, they will make mistakes. They will fail to plan and get everything done. They will forget to put things on their calendars or forget to write down reminders to study for a test or work on a project. It will happen, but it’s ok!  That’s part of the learning experience.

Make Mistakes in a Safe and Supportive Environment

Of course we don’t want them to make mistakes or to fail, but we need to keep in mind that it’s much better for them to make mistakes while they’re at home with us than during college when the stakes are much higher!  You’ll need to respond with grace, but you’ll also need to allow your children to suffer real-life consequences. You don’t want it to be too easy to fail to plan well, or they’ll have no motivation to learn better.

So the bottom line is, we need to be sure to keep a positive attitude and encourage our children to do the same. They need to know it’s okay to make mistakes and that we support them and will help them as they get better at these skills. With our support and guidance, they’ll become self-directed, independent learners who know how to use their work time and free time wisely.

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  1. My kids are still too young to use a planner, 10, 8, 5, 3, but I write down our routine in a notebook. They know they can look at the notebook to see what they are doing or what is coming next. I include pagenumbers on anything they are doing on their own. I’m teaching my 8 year old daughter to read directions first and if she can’t understand them then come to me and I will be happy to help her. This not only frees me up when I’m working with my Kindergartner, but it also teaches them independence.

  2. This is something that I’ll be working on with my 9th grade son. He doing pretty good with taking ownership of his schoolwork the way I schedule it. But, I need to start involving him in the planning process more.

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