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Independent Work

Independent Work

Many home schooling teachers wonder how much parental help with schoolwork is too much. Some would like to sit with each individual student, but simply do not have the time. A number of us have children who seem not to do anything on their own, while other students seem to fly through assignments with little teacher input. While we all know about — and love — the individual attention that home education affords, we wonder just how much is too much, or too little. Each home schooling parent must make up his or her own mind, but here are a few ideas to consider for some basic subjects in the early elementary grades.


Handwriting is a subject that virtually all children can tackle on their own. If you find your Pre-K, K, or 1st grade student really struggles with small motor coordination, take heart. My experience is that practice does indeed make perfect, or pretty perfect. Handwriting may be the ideal subject for young children to start the school day, leaving Mom a bit of time to finish her morning chores.


Many children are able to tackle the daily exercises in their spelling worktexts by themselves. It’s usually a good idea to read through the word list and ensure that the student knows the words. I find it helps to sit through the first lesson or two with the child to make sure he or she understands what is expected, but then most children can handle the work alone. If you find that is not the case, consider what you can do to help the process along. For example, some younger children struggle with ABC order. Have the child make a bookmark with the ABC’s written on it that he can use it as an aid until he masters the process.


Seton introduces vocabulary as a formal subject in the 3rd grade, and many students find this to be relatively easy and lots of fun. The worktexts again follow the same pattern in each lesson, so once students grasp the basic idea, and mom makes sure they can read the words, they will often work independently.


Phonics is an essential building block when children are still learning the basics of reading. During the early stages, Mom is wise to make sure that the student pronounces the sound correctly, and can recognize it at the beginning, middle or end of a word as required in the lesson. In the later grades, phonics becomes more about word study incorporating advanced sounds, spelling, vocabulary, and word parts. Many children can finish their daily phonics lessons on their own with just a bit of occasional direction.


Some kids just get math. I remember when my daughter Laura first learned addition requiring “carrying.” I explained that with 28+ 36, we add 8 + 6 and get 14, so we put the 4 in the one’s column and “carry” the 1 ten to the ten’s column. Then we add 2 tens + 3 tens + the 1 ten we carried to get 6 tens, so our answer is 64.

She looked at me with a puzzled expression. “Why can’t I just say that 20 + 30 = 50 and 8 + 6 = 14, so 50 + 14 is 64?” Like I say, some kids just get math. Others need more help, but years of teaching math have convinced me that repetition and daily review will lead to success in this subject.

When the student is still using workbooks, it is a good idea to make sure that he or she understands the concept being practiced each day. Do the first several problems together. If she seems to know what to do, assign the rest of the page. If she still seems shaky, ask her to finish a section on her own, maybe a row, and then bring it to you. This will help you to determine if she still needs you.

Once the children start the Saxon books, it is a good idea to review the beginning of each lesson where the new concept is introduced. Do the practice problems together. The daily “problem set” is intended to be completed independently. Do not worry if a student does not master a particular concept right away. The Saxon method calls for concepts to be practiced over weeks, even months, giving the child plenty of time to gain mastery.

It is a good idea to correct daily some or all of the math assignments to make sure that the independent work demonstrates proper understanding of the concepts. There are a couple of ways to do this. If you trust your student’s intentions, let him check his own work with the answer key. If you have a few children around the same age, you can allow them to check each other’s work with the answer keys. My children loved it when I allowed them to check their work using a calculator. They thought it was fun, but they were learning a necessary skill at the same time.

Review time

Repetition and review have gotten a bum rap from the educational establishment in recent years, which have nicknamed them “drill and kill.”

I could not disagree more! After more than two decades of teaching my own children, and now helping my grandchildren with their schoolwork, I am convinced that repetition and review are essential keys to lifetime learning. By reviewing spelling or vocabulary words, and math facts, children gain mastery over them, and oral review actually makes it fun.

You can purchase math flash cards, and make your own from index cards for spelling, phonics, and vocabulary. The children may carry homemade study cards in their pockets so you can catch a review opportunity when it presents itself:

  • when Mom is doing the dishes or folding laundry;
  • during car rides to various activities;
  • having a daily review session at the end of the school day or before bed.

Keep this review a bit light-hearted. When a child reviews spelling for example, have him study the cards and then give them to you. When the child spells a word correctly, hang on to the card. If he misspells it, hand the card back to him. Now instead of reviewing twenty words, perhaps he needs to take a second look at only eight. Tomorrow, he may need to look at only three. By test time, on Friday, he will feel confident because he knows he can spell the words.


  • Make sure your children understand an assignment before assigning it as independent work.
  • Encourage your children to accept responsibility for their assignments, as they are capable.
  • Subjects that follow a similar pattern every week are good choices for independent work.
  • Review and drill content for children to gain mastery.

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About Ginny Seuffert

Ginny Seuffert has been a leading writer and speaker about homeschooling and Catholic family life for more than two decades. She has given hundreds of talks at conferences and written three books. Meet Ginny | Ginny's Books
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