Last Updated September 13th, 2018

How Much Independence Do You Give Your Kids During The School Year?

How Much Independence Do You Give Your Kids During The School Year?

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
  • distance
  • traffic
  • 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.

walk to school

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.washing dishes

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:

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.

Alone Time

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.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated November 18th, 2013

How Can You Encourage Your Kids To Be More Independent?

How Can You Encourage Your Kids To Be More Independent?

It’s interesting sometimes to talk with other parents about what the right age to allow children to do simple things such as walk to school alone or other such activities. I walked alone in kindergarten, but that was normal then. Most parents I know these days are amazed that my kids walk to and from school together without me at all, under a quarter mile, nice neighborhood and lots of people around because they’re taking their kids to school or picking them up after. I know some who swear their kids won’t go anywhere on their own until their senior year in high school, which I find horrifying. How are they going to learn all they need to do as independent adults with only a year of doing things on their own? I believe it’s vital for kids to do things independently much sooner than that.

I know this is a difficult subject for many parents. We hear too many awful stories on the news, and certainly some families live in situations where keeping a close eye even on older kids is important. Not everyone lives in safe neighborhoods, after all. Most, however, really aren’t that bad.

Send the Kids Out to Play

Sending your kids outside to play once they’re old enough is one of the easiest ways to encourage independence. Start in the backyard when they’re younger, and let them play out front when they’re older. Exactly what ages these are depend on the individual child, the neighborhood, and

If you don’t have a yard, if you’re in an apartment or condo, for example, don’t give up. Even if you have to take your kids to a park to play you can encourage independence. Simply don’t follow them around much, and decrease your participation as they get older.

None of this means you can’t play with your kids outside. Just don’t let it be the only way they play outside. Encourage them to go outside to play alone, with siblings or with friends. You know, the kind of things you probably did as a child.

Encourage Your Kids to Walk Places

Having my kids walk to school is the easiest way to have my kids go places without me. It’s a short distance. Not everyone lives close enough to their children’s schools to allow this, of course, and some schools have policies that make it incredibly difficult to just let kids walk to school.

But what about other places kids can walk? Friends’ houses. A nearby store. A park. Are there age appropriate places your kids can walk without you?

It’s really easy to get things started if your child is fortunate enough to have a friend live really close in the neighborhood. Mine sometimes play with the neighbor’s daughter, and that’s a really easy walk to allow them at a fairly young age.

Independence Can Take Many Forms

Encouraging your kids to be more independent isn’t entirely about sending them out to do things away from home without you. It’s also about what they can do when you’re around or they’re home alone.

Cooking is a vital skill for everyone, but some parents get really nervous about teaching their kids even the basics. I know parents who can’t believe I let my 4 year old use a butter knife with her play dough or to butter her own bread. I see it as a low risk activity – it’s really hard to hurt yourself seriously with a butter knife. My oldest is learning more about cooking by helping me with a meal or dessert once a week.

Sure, my kids have hurt themselves in the kitchen in small ways – minor burns from the toaster oven, for example; but nothing serious and they’re more careful now. My two oldest can handle enough basic cooking chores that they can feed themselves even if I’m asleep, busy, not home or just not in the mood to cook at the moment.

The two oldest also have pocket knives. Just basic ones, but they’ve had some fun whittling with them. Giving kids a pocket knife at an appropriate age used to be a normal thing, and it encourages the kids to get comfortable with knives and their proper use. It takes a little teaching and attention, but knowing how to use a pocket knife is a good confidence builder, which encourages kids to be more independent.

Think about the age appropriate skills your children should have. Do they have them? What more can your kids do?

But Is It Safe?

Nothing in life is completely safe. Nothing. However, most kids are plenty safe going out and playing in age appropriate ways. If you have a situation where things aren’t so safe for your kids, then of course you shouldn’t encourage them to do things that are too dangerous. But you can still encourage other forms of independence while protecting your kids in other areas.

I like to keep in mind that things like kidnapping, a major fear of many parents, isn’t all that likely for most kids. Most kidnappings are by people the kids know, not strangers, yet stranger kidnapping is what many parents worry about. Kids are far more likely to die in a car accident than be kidnapped by a stranger, yet the vast majority of parents quite calmly drive their kids wherever they need to go. The perceived risk isn’t as great because we all trust our own driving skills. If there are custody issues, that’s an entirely different matter, and yes, you may need to be more careful then. But most parents and most kids? Odds are kidnapping will never be a problem.

I don’t believe in teaching my kids about stranger danger. They can talk to people they don’t know, just not go anywhere with them. My kids still know about stranger danger, as I’m not the only influence in their lives, but they know to be cautious about people talking to them from strange cars, and if they are in a situation where they do feel threatened, they can ask just about anyone else for help and they’ll probably be fine. They know that having someone they know help is best, but if that’s not an option, most people are good and will help. I’ve talked to them about when my car broke down in the middle of nowhere, before cell phones were common, no call boxes in the area and a long walk back to the nearest town, so I took a ride with a man who offered. It was absolutely scary, but better to go with the guy offering the ride than one who might demand it, and it all turned out fine. Not the kind of thing I’d recommend doing, but the best choice out of the few I had.

You can certainly have your kids carry a cell phone when they do things away from home. Nothing wrong with that and I certainly wish one had been available the time my car broke down. A cell phone isn’t a guarantee of safety, but it can sure help them get out of a bad situation more quickly.

What Do You Think?

How do you encourage your kids to be more independent? How will that change as they get older?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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