Now that school’s in session, I get a little more time to work at home without kids underfoot. My kids are now at ages where I don’t have to supervise them all of the time. They’re better off doing a lot of things independently after school. The challenge, at times, can be deciding how much independence to give the kids during the school year.
Kids need to learn to do things independently of their parents. It’s hard to let go sometimes, but so necessary for your child’s development. When, how, all that depends on your child and your family’s situation – I’m not going to tell you when your kids are old enough to walk home from school or whatever else. You know your kids and your situation, so you get to decide. But there are plenty of other places to encourage your child to be more independent, even when you’re home.
Finding time for your kids to be more independent during the school year can be difficult. There are so many things that must get done. You may feel as though there isn’t enough time in the day. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do.
Walking To School
As soon as it’s appropriate, I recommend having your kids walk to and from school on their own. When this is appropriate depends on a lot of factors, but it’s great for kids to walk to and from school on their own. Consider these issues when deciding whether to allow your kids to walk or ride bikes to school.
- child’s age
- other kids walking to school in the area
- neighborhood safety
It’s not always easy to decide when to let your children walk to school, but it’s a great milestone for them. You can walk them to school for a time while getting them used to the route, but once you think they’re ready, let them walk on their own. Consider participating in Walk To School Day at the very least.
You may find that you disagree with other parents on when this is safe. I had a neighbor who couldn’t bear the thought of letting her daughter walk to school on her own, or even with my kids. The daughter was of an age that I thought was easily appropriate, especially with friends, but her mother wasn’t ready.
These things happen when you’re trying to let your kids be more independent. Other parents will disagree with you at times.
Don’t let that stop you. Children do better when they can express their independence, and sometimes it’s hard to give independence to your kids during the school year. This is one of the best ways once it fits the situation you live in.
I encourage independence in homework. My kids get a short break after school, but they’re expected to start their homework after that without being reminded and with minimal assistance. They can ask questions, but overall it’s their responsibility.
I often check math, for example, but I do my best to help my kids find the answer themselves. They’ll learn more if they solve the problems themselves, after all. Most times the kids understand the mistake as soon as it is pointed out. As they get older, I check less and less, although I’m always available for questions.
Those big assignments that some parents get a little overenthusiastic about – you can tell my kids handle those with only advice from me, not the actual work. My youngest had to do a family tree already this school year, which was intended as something to be talked about as a family, but the family tree she made for her presentation was all her work with only some advice on layout.
Sometimes kids will be disappointed when they see the grand projects others turn in. You can usually tell when a parent did more work than the kids. I always make sure my kids understand that they can be proud of what they managed on their own. Handling these projects independently will benefit your kids far more than having you do most of the work.
Working from home may in part be about being there for your kids, but it shouldn’t be about doing everything for your kids. Allowing them to take as much of the lesson from homework as possible is a big help. Don’t be afraid to help when it’s really needed, but also don’t get dragged into doing the assignment for them.
The ability to do their homework independently will be a huge help as they get older. You don’t want your kids expecting you to do too much of their homework as they go through high school or college. The sooner they’re comfortable handling their homework on their own, the more confident they will be about it. Just make sure they know you’re there when they really need help.
Do Kids Really Need To Do Their Homework?
The need for homework at all can be something of a controversy. While many parents demand homework for their children if teachers don’t already assign it, research shows that it may not be beneficial for early elementary students.
Worse, it might even be detrimental.
Consider the research and your individual child’s needs, and talk to their teacher if you disagree with their homework policy. You might change their minds or at least come up with a deal for your child.
Teaching kids to do chores well is a real pain. My kids can clean the kitchen fairly well and it is such a relief to be able to tell them that it’s time to clean up in there rather than always doing it myself.
Teaching them to do it, as I said, wasn’t fun. Much harder than doing it myself. Many times I’d have to do the job over later. But if they don’t try, they don’t learn.
But now that they do that and other cleaning without direct supervision on my part, life is so much easier. They don’t like doing chores, but they know it’s a skill they need, so there is a certain degree of pride in their own abilities there too.
My kids first experienced cleaning the floor, for example, with an electric carpet sweeper. It worked great on hard floors too. Carpet sweepers are much easier than vacuums for small children, but they allow kids to quickly clean up those inevitable spills they make all by themselves. This gives them a touch of responsibility plus the pride of doing it themselves.
Playtime should be one of the great times for you to give your kids independence during the school year. Children need play. It’s good for them. When they’re younger, it’s better for them than homework.
Kids love it when you play with them. They need the attention. But you should also encourage them to play on their own or with friends. They don’t need your help to have fun every minute.
Independent play at any age encourages your kids’ creativity. They can come up with ideas for things to do on their own.
Make sure they have lots of supplies for fun projects. I don’t mean just toys. Encourage them to make things as well. Here are some of the things I keep on hand for my kids:
- poster boards
- foam boards
- electronics kits (Snap Circuits are amazing!)
- Perler beads
Get better quality and more challenging items as the kids get older. I even have a soldering kit for my older kids.
As your kids get older, you can encourage independence by having them arrange their own time to play with friends. You don’t have to arrange play dates all the time with the parents – encourage the kids to come up with their own plans and then confirm that it’s okay. You probably made plans with your friends when you were a kid – let your children do likewise.
My oldest is getting into time for herself in a big way lately, which is driving my youngest a bit up the wall, as she’d rather be with her big sister. While it’s something of an annoyance for her siblings, it’s very healthy for my oldest. She’s doing things on her own, in her own way, whether she decides to close herself up in her room or go up a tree outside. Who doesn’t sometimes need time to be alone with their thoughts?
This kind of independence can take some rules. It’s not a great idea to allow computers or other devices that can access the internet into the kids’ bedrooms, for example. You can figure out rules for your family while considering both online safety and giving your kids some independence.
The Benefit to Parents
Parents benefit tremendously from having children who are capable of doing many things independently. It means you don’t have to be the entertainment or the boss all of the time. For me and my family, that makes the times we choose to do things together all the more fun. We aren’t usually being pushed to do things together, as that’s not the only way we function.
It’s much easier for me to work at home this way. I can work while the kids play, do homework, chores or watch television. I’m usually around them still so that questions can be answered, but if they don’t need help and are generally behaving, they don’t want my interference, as a general rule.
Letting go is hard, I’ll grant that. It was hard when my oldest started to wander a larger range outside. Letting them go to where I couldn’t just yell for them and expect an answer wasn’t easy. Cell phones as the kids got older helped, as I can send a text when I need them home, but some of the places they like to play don’t have much reception, so it doesn’t always help.
You also need to consider how much your children will need to be independent later in life. The sooner you encourage them to be independent, the better they’ll be at it. They probably aren’t going to live with you forever, and you need to know that they can handle things without you. Helping them build up good habits now will benefit them later. Don’t let school get in the way more than necessary.