School at home has become wildly popular due to the global pandemic safety issues, but it’s always been an option. However, with the rise of this popularity, parents need to consider all the options, and one of those choices is Independent Study. You may be asking, ‘Isn’t that just homeschool?’ It’s a reasonable question, but there’s a big difference between independent study and homeschool. Homeschool parents are a hundred percent in charge of choosing, creating, and implementing their students’ curriculum. Meanwhile, independent study parents don’t make any decisions because their students follow the school’s curriculum, but they do so at home. The time frame for each school day may be more flexible, like a homeschool, but those assignments go back to teachers who grade them just as though your student was in the classroom. While this takes much of the burden off of parents, it also limits their ability to give the advantages of a homeschooled education.
Independent Study Vs. Homeschool: How To Choose
Selecting your home learning method is important for families. When you choose to have children learn at home, it allows you to be more directly involved in the process regardless of whether they do independent study or homeschool. However, there’s a big difference between parent and school-led teaching.
With online options, there are computer-based independent learning opportunities as well. Traditionally, this method involved pencil and paperwork, but the opportunities have changed with technology, and kids can now do similar programs without the need to use physical textbooks and paper. This is ideal for ecological reasons and can be a good way for parents of tech-savvy children to help them keep up without the need to ever go to the school’s physical location.
Parents who are uncertain about putting together an age and grade-appropriate program can certainly benefit from independent study options. Typically independent study involves a parent monitoring and keeps a student on task to complete assignments, quizzes, or tests then turning in that work either by mail or by scanning and emailing it for grading. Doing this gives parents more time and can significantly reduce stress levels. For those parents limited in the understanding of subject matter material, hiring an online tutor or expert in the subject can be an inexpensive option. I personally hired a physics professor from Serbia whose English speaking skills was excellent, for around $8 USD per hour. I used Upwork to place an ad.
Alternately, homeschooling is entirely outside the school system. Children are registered in their district as students, but they learn entirely at the parents’ discretion. While there are many resources to aid in curriculum creation, the responsibility ultimately lies with the individual parent. This gives more freedom, doesn’t leave the family tied to a traditional school calendar, and allows parents to think outside the box when putting together lesson plans.
There’s nothing wrong with either method. Simply put, parents and children can benefit from both arrangements but selecting the one that suits your family and child best depends on your circumstances. For example, some states require parents to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Without this paper, those parents can still offer independent study to their children and keep them at home because the degreed teacher, and not the parent, is responsible for curriculum and grading.
Suggested Independent Study Programs
Middle school and high school students especially can benefit from independent study. By placing the curriculum choices and grading in the hands of the teachers at your local school district, you older learners will be doing all the same tasks and assignments as their peers from the comfort of home. Particularly for parents who have trouble with some school subjects, the advantages of this sort of learning are obvious.
The higher levels of the school have individual classes either through correspondence or online and different teachers who specialize in each area, which benefits students. By allowing teachers to put all their efforts into a single subject, students get more targeted learning in that area, which is vital to expand their knowledge beyond the elementary levels. An older kid who doesn’t thrive in the classroom environment may still be well suited to independent study. Those who are socially awkward, bullied, chronically ill, or extremely distractable may do far better from the comfort of a home desk or kitchen table.
California has an outstanding system for getting its schoolchildren into independent study. The California Department of Education makes this option easily available to all students and parents, while also being very clear that it is optional. The state offers a step by step guide for enrolling in this manner, which parents in other areas will doubtless find helpful as well. If your area doesn’t have such clear instructions, contact your district and ask how to enroll your student in an independent study through their school, or choose a school online that offers a similar program.
BYU offers courses from the middle school (junior high) level through high school and beyond. Options like playing the guitar and learning Spanish are often less available to homeschool students. However, by enrolling in individual classes through the BYU website, you can give your home learners a more versatile education.
Another superb option is Portland’s Delphian School. They believe strongly in tailoring the courses to the individual student’s needs. While this doesn’t mean the curriculum is unique, it does give each student the option to gear their education toward their strengths and weaknesses. Unlike BYU, Delphian also has a physical campus for students. You might also check out Seton HomeSchool, Citizens High School and American School of Correspondence.
Homeschool Curriculum Suggestions
For parents and guardians who are new to homeschooling, getting registered isn’t too difficult, but putting together a curriculum can be challenging. Often this is why parents opt for independent study. However, there are numerous online programs that either provide a full curriculum or offer individual pages to help design the classes your kids need.
First, you’ll need to determine their grade levels. For some, this is simple as their kids have followed a more traditional format. However, life long homeschool families may have a little more difficulty because self-paced learning can affect the ‘grade’ level of subjects differently. For example, one student may be reading on a fifth-grade level while doing math and science that is more suited to a third-grade child, or vice versa.
One of the wonderful things about homeschool curriculums is the ability to tailor them to the student. A child who struggles doesn’t need to work on the same projects as their peers, nor does one who is advanced for their age. Instead of worrying about what a traditional school says is correct for the child in question, you, as the parent, can give them work that keeps them engaged and learning regardless of the developmental stage.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match subject levels. If your child needs more work on pre-algebra, but they spell and write at a college level, then give them work that fits with their needs instead of pages that needlessly frustrate them. The hands-on approach means there’s always time to address a given subject, and it’s okay to spend less time on something they’ve mastered.
While some parents prefer to create everything themselves from scratch literally, you don’t have to go that route. Below you’ll find a quick list of resources for curriculum for your k-12 students. Use as much or as little of each subject as you feel your child needs.
K-12 Curriculum Resources
- Freedom Homeschooling- This free to use online resource offers ten individual subjects from language arts and life skills to physical education, overall packages, and religious (bible) study.
- Time 4 Learning- “Time4Learning is an award-winning online education program for preschool through twelfth grade that uses multimedia activities to teach standards-based curriculum” This spectacular, free resource uses an automated system to guide students through grade-appropriate subjects from preschool to highschool.
- Oak Meadow- This cost-effective paid program is especially useful for kinesthetic learners. If your kid tends to fidget and needs to be physically involved in every lesson, this program will help you give them the lessons they need.
- IXL– This paid-membership program has won multiple awards and offers targeted analytics to help teachers and homeschool parents track child progress.
- Khan Academy- Khan is an online learning resource that teaches subjects for learners of all ages, including post-high school. With lectures, lessons, and skill tests, it makes a straightforward program to use on its own or to bolster other offline learning. Rather than having a full grade by grade curriculum, your student can take individual units as needed, or follow along with an entire school year worth of a given class. The explanations are easy to understand, and the instruction videos are of high quality.
Finding the best way to teach your children at home is a very personal choice. It’s vital to consider your children’s’ needs, but equally crucial to consider your own capability and time commitment. In a perfect world, no parent would struggle with putting together a full curriculum for their students, and they’d have all the support they needed, but that’s sadly not the case in real life.
For some parents, simply being able to have their child at home doing the classwork assigned by a teacher is perfect. They can help keep their student safe and on track with fewer distractions and have more time to handle other concerns. Other parents homeschool because they don’t want their kids to take a public school’s limited curriculum.
Whichever path you take for home learning, your child can succeed. Moreover, they can do it all from the comfort of home during these uncertain and trying times.