Throughout the alma mater that is school, children are taught and encouraged to develop their learning skills, in order to grow up to be competent, well rounded and, even though we don’t like to admit it, highly employable individuals. A big part of becoming such a personage is that children must be taught how to be independent learners. Of course, some parents find it easier (or more comfortable) to guide their child in every task that they complete but it is important to remember the bigger picture; the child must learn to show initiative and be self-motivated to learn in order to succeed.
What is independent learning?
Independent learning, also known as self-regulated learning, is not about leaving the child to its own devices in the hope that they figure out biomechanics all by themselves. To make your life easier, academics have exhausted the theories and tools necessary to guide your child into the ‘independent learning ‘r’ us’ world.
The basis of successful independent learning stems from understanding how one learns. Meyer et al., 2008 suggest that children learn through a mixture of cognitive - memory, attention and problem solving; metacognitive - the ability to recognise how one learns and the people who enable them to learn in this way; and affective skills - motivation is considered to be a priority here and is thought to be a leader in independent learning, as well as an outcome of it. It is therefore important too for the parent to be an enabling agent, encouraging memory training (practising times tables) and aiding in creating an environment that promotes independence and motivates to keep on exploring.
Being an independent learner allows the child to increase academic performance and grow in confidence. Such motivation allows the child to take responsibility for his own learning and subsequently, enjoy the full glory of success and achievement. The child must be able to see how their learning at school applies to everyday life. For example, when practising counting, involve your child in helping to count the items on this week’s shopping list.
Help your child to help themselves
Whether it’s English or Maths, it is the parents’ and teachers’ responsibility to create a relaxed learning environment. In this way, a child is free to explore, subsequently making them curious about words, numbers and those much needed effective interaction skills. This then means that a child grows curious and the parent can feed such curiosity by surrounding the child with a variety of books and interactive games.
A parent needs to approach the child’s learning in the way that Bruner (1957) suggested all those years ago: suggestion is a good way to help a child learn; we must create an environment in which the child feels pleasure and comfort from learning. The parent is only present to facilitate the transition from simple to more complex concepts. Eventually, the child will have enough cognitive skills to approach new and more complex challenges on their own.
Praise process, not achievement
We often forget the reason why children learn in the first place (no, no it’s not for good grades), and thus create unnecessary pressure. In order for the learning environment to remain interesting, the parent must relieve the child of the pressure of grades. Often, parents praise the child for solving a mathematical problem or writing an excellent essay. The important element here is the process - if the child gets the problem wrong, the parent or teacher must encourage them to try again. Eventually, the child will figure out the correct answer, which will lead them to a great sense of pride, as well as being motivated to tackle, not turn down, difficult tasks. This is all because they have seen the product of their hard work and this, of course, is the ultimate praise.