Monday, May 16, 2011

Independence

One of the things I want for my children, is for them to be independent. When they move out, I want them to be able to take care of themselves. I don't want my son living on frozen pizzas and Ramen noodles until he finds a girlfriend who cooks. I don't want my daughter to need to call her dad or take the car to the shop every time her car needs something simple, like an oil change or new battery (I've seriously known people who could not change the car battery). I want them to be capable of doing that stuff on their own.

I can cook & bake( just ask anyone who knows me). I can do some work on a car, not a lot, but some. I can sew. I don't enjoy sewing, but I can do it. I can fix basic stuff around the house, except this house. The house we live in right now hates me. The people who owned it before us had no idea what they were doing & did a really jacked-up job on quite a few things. I even have trouble changing doorknobs here, because the holes aren't actually round & so the old doorknobs are stuck & need to be beaten with a hammer & pried out. However, in a house that isn't this one, I can do (at least some) basic home maintenance & repairs. I can clean, organize, take care of animals, balance a checkbook, plan & stick to a budget, use push mowers, reel mowers, and ride-on mowers, shovel snow, make my own cleaners, grow a garden, etc. I don't have to depend on someone else to do things for me, usually. I like the fact that my husband does some of this stuff, so I don't have to do everything, but I also like knowing that I could do it if I needed to. That is what I want for my kids. I want them to be fully capable of doing things on their own, not needing to run to someone else.

So, the question becomes, how to do it? How do you build that independence in your child? Now, I know that everyone has their own ideas on this topic. Here are mine:

I think that independence needs to be built. You don't suddenly become independent one day. There is no magic age at which independence arrives. You start by laying a foundation. You then build upon that foundation incrementally.

I believe that independence requires responsibility, and the more responsible a child is, the more independence they can handle.

I start the foundation with chores. Helping to clean & maintain their home is the first step. I start with simple tasks, assisting me. As they improve, they do them on their own, and as they grow older & are capable of more, I require more from them. Right now, my kids are 7 & 13. My son (7) folds & puts away his own laundry, helps load & unload the dishwasher (the silverware & unbreakable dishes), dusts, cleans his own bedroom, does general straightening up in most rooms of the house, helps clean the kitchen on nights he doesn't help cook, helps cook dinner (alternating schedule with his sister), sweeps the deck & patio, wipes down the bathroom sink (alternating schedule with his sister), helps pick up the yard, helps take out garbage & recycling, washes windows, and is learning to wash dishes. My daughter (13) washes & dries laundry, folds & puts away her laundry, loads & unloads the dishwasher, washes dishes by hand, helps clean the kitchen on nights she doesn't help cook, cooks, dusts, sweeps & vacuums, sweeps patio & deck, picks up yard, mows grass, wipes down bathroom sink, cleans bathroom, cleans her own room, cleans the upstairs hallway & the stairs, shovels snow, general straightening up in most rooms of the house, takes out garbage & recycling, washes windows, and scrubs the floors.

That is only one step, though. Having regular chores to do and being expected to do them correctly, helps build responsibility & independence, as well as teaching them important life skills. They are both also learning other important skills. They are learning about healthy living (eating healthy, exercise, proper hygiene), how to cook & bake, computer basics (in this day & age, this is important), proper care & use of appliances & tools, basic home maintenance, animal care, how to clean, organizational skills, time-management, and personal finance. My daughter is learning to work on cars. She is also learning to sew. My son will learn both of those when he is older.

Of course, that is not all we are doing to build responsibility & independence. We start granting them more decision making opportunities as they show more responsibility. As they show they can be trusted, we expand their freedoms. They must continue to show responsibility & good decisions to keep their freedoms.

They get a say in their school materials. They get a say in their school courses. They don't have the final say, but their opinions, wants, and thoughts are taken into consideration. They write or dictate their wish lists starting at about 2 years old. I may suggest they add more to the list, may ask questions to help them when they get stuck (i.e. "Wasn't there a book you really wanted?" or "Are there any games you want?"), and always have veto power on any item I feel is inappropriate (or if I happen to know that someone already got it for them). Once they can tell me what they want, though, I feel they should be making those lists.

We also work on independence in schoolwork. As soon as they show they can work on a subject independently, I allow them to do it. I check in with them, am always available for questions, and will often go over new material with them & ask questions about their work. However, if they can do their Math without me sitting there going through every problem with them, I think that's great. I think that not allowing them to work mostly independently, in a subject they have proven they can do alone, would be holding them back. I do look for materials that are less teacher intensive, so they have the opportunity to use it independently, especially as they get older. I try not to push them toward independent work, before they are ready, though.

It isn't always an easy task, building responsibility & independence in my kids. Their ADHD & my daughter's Bipolar do make it a bit of a challenge. The Giftedness helps balance it out some, but not completely. Finding exactly what works for them can be hard. We often change schedules a few times each school year, as things change. Finding the best study environment for each child is not easy, mainly because it changes depending on subject. We go through this process together, though. They make suggestions about what they think will work, I make suggestions about what I think will work, and we decide together what plan to put into action.

With the school plans, we start with me planning it all and work toward them being in control. In the early elementary years, I work with them on everything. I sit with them while they read, watch each step of their Math problems, ask lots of questions as we go along, and tell them what I have planned for each subject as we get to it. Then, I tell them at the beginning of the day what needs to be done in all subjects. Then it's the work for the week, and eventually, the whole term or topic. The goal is that, by the time they graduate, they are autonomous enough that I am really just there to answer questions & grade their work. That way, when they go to college, they are already used to being in control of when, how, and where they do their course work. That way, they don't need or expect their professors to hold their hand through class.

I don't just tell them what has to be done. They have a list. With us now splitting the year into terms, they have a list of the entire current term. Everything that needs to be done during the whole 15 weeks. If any of the work has due dates (besides the end of the term), it is written on the list next to the assignment. This allows them to see exactly how much needs to be done. It also teaches them organizational skills. They refer to their lists throughout the day and mark off assignments as they are finished. As they start doing subjects independently, their lists allow them to plan how much work to do each day & plan long-term assignments. They also get to choose the order in which they do their work. They often use their lists for this, determining order by amount of work (you don't want to start a subject with 1 1/2 hours of work 20 minutes before lunch time).

Our method teaches them time-management & organizational skills, and allows for the building of independence & the increase of personal responsibility for their own education. It might not work for everyone, but it's working for us.

This is still a work in progress for both my kids. Neither has reached a state of autonomy, yet. Though, I find that the biggest obstacle, with my daughter, is motivation.

I know that not everyone sees it this way. Some people expect their kids to be doing  most (or all) of their work independently, right away. Some don't allow their children independence until high school. Some feel that using a system, in which mom is doing all the organizational work, will teach the kids organization & independence. Some don't bother to teach their kids the skills they'll need for life, figuring they'll pick them up somewhere. Some prefer to use programs that have all the planning done for them, so they can just open & go. To each, their own.