Published: 03rd August 2020
Why self-study is essential for inculcating the habit of finding answers
Self-learning is probably the single most important skill for a successful life. Regardless of whatever hallowed portals one has studied in, one will never know everything one has to
With physical schools still months away, acquiring the ability to self-study is now crucial for children and, frankly, for the parents too, if only to ensure sanity. However, the process can be simultaneously befuddling and intimidating for those unfamiliar with it. Some also think it means the parents do the assignments for the child. Absolutely not. Self-study is acquiring the ability to learn something oneself – this CAN, and should, be taught to any child.
Self-study should, broadly, be similar to school — the key word being similar — not identical. Discipline and a plan is crucial. An adult should look at the syllabus and the subjects and draw up a course of action. This plan has to entail a time-table. Home-schooling gives you flexibility which should be taken advantage of. Tailor the schedule to the specific child. Be realistic. If the child detests waking up early, do not start the schedule at 6 am. Allow for proper meal and leisure breaks — some children like a longer period of study followed by a long break — others prefer shorter ones. The plan should be goal-oriented rather than time-oriented keeping the child’s inherent strengths and weaknesses in mind. Prepare the timetable in consultation with the child — listen to what he/she says. If you get their buy-in on the plan, it is much easier to enforce it. Is the child strong in Maths but not in Social Studies? Ensure that more time set aside for the latter, and also that it is preceded or succeeded by a subject he/she likes.
Adult supervision is crucial to successful home-schooling and the key is consistent enforcement. Make no mistake — it is a definitely a heavy responsibility for the adult — until it becomes an in-built habit. It also entails your being the parent and not a friend — a most unfashionable statement these days. Unless the child is sick, you must insist on the achievement of the goals for each day. You should be extremely methodical yourself and operate your life in tandem with the child’s. It might mean you have to skip your TV program or phone time. The child takes in everything around the environment. If you are talking on the phone within earshot, you can be assured the child is listening to you and not studying — even if the book is lying open. If you have agreed on mealtimes, ensure that meals are served at that time. Ideally your child should not have a telephone, but if he/she does, please confiscate it for the entire duration of study time. If a device is required for study itself, give them a desktop or laptop for use and let it be in a visible place where you can steal in a look periodically. Do remember that the computer has an unimaginable number of distractions within it. They are just children and temptation beckons constantly.
While one can be flexible with the apportionment of time between subjects, it is a good idea to ensure that the child studies for a certain duration uninterrupted. What that exact duration is will depend on the child’s age and temperament – set it, or ramp up to it, keeping in mind the expectations of life outside the home. The real world is demanding. Please note that at home, the child often needs less time to study the same material since there are less distractions and ancillary activities. So, there often is time for more leisure.
Most of our textbooks are not designed for self-study and will lead to doubts. Do NOT provide the answers. Encourage the child to research and find the answers themselves — they might require some reference books — get it for them. Others might still require hand-holding. If they need assistance, provide it, but in a manner that can make them self-sufficient over time. Under no circumstances should you just answer questions yourself. Teach them how to find it — it CAN be very frustrating initially but will give excellent long-run payoff.
Periodic testing is important to ensure that the material is, in fact, being assimilated — do NOT rely on the child’s word. It is important that this is done. Unless specific portals designed for self-study are being used, you might have to design a test. You can derive inspiration from the textbooks but ensure you modify the questions from those printed. If you have access to online self-study portals, they will usually have tests that can be automatically evaluated. However, it is important that you check to make sure that the child is not circumventing any systems to show a seemingly good performance. Make sure the child sees and knows that you are supervising them.
Portals and systems designed for self-study are much more user friendly than make-shift sites. Some that work for school children are HeyMath and AhaGuru. HeyMath gives absorbing Mathematics assignments, especially for younger children, operating in conjunction with the child’s school. AhaGuru has courses in Science and Math for children from Grades 7-12 intended for complete self-study, including a mentored learning program, where doubts are cleared by a subject expert and tests are conducted online. AhaGuru’s pedagogy is based on a thorough understanding of where children stumble and how to avoid that in the first place, thus demystifying and making Science and Mathematics enjoyable. Khan Academy is an excellent resource for ALL subjects and is completely free. It is perfect for doubt clearance – one can see short videos that illustrate specific points. One can also elect to study a topic fully in small, manageable installments.
Self-learning is probably the single most important skill for a successful life. Regardless of whatever hallowed portals one has studied in, one will never know everything one has to. What one needs is the ability to find answers. The habit of self-study is the perfect foundation to inculcate this quality.
Lakshmi Anand was home-schooled for much of her life in several countries and systems. She graduated at the top of her class with an MBA from The Pennsylvania State University. She worked at AccuWeather.com for many years before moving to India. Now a freelancer, she has published many pieces in leading periodicals. Lakshmi’s son and daughter are adept at self-study.