Empowering a Child towards Becoming an Independent Learner, a bold experiment

Ideally, by the time our children reach middle school, we should be able to exercise just nominal oversight over their academic tasks. During this time, the children should have developed the discipline needed, to generally, stay on task. Hence, it is essential that we have prepared them well and have allowed and provided them the opportunities to test their readiness.

To help our 5th grader transition for less stressful middle school life, me and my husband decided to take few steps back at overseeing his school work. We gave our 10-year-old son full responsibility of managing his time. This includes allocating time for schoolwork, house chores, family activities and playing video games. Now, you have to understand that my boy is a serious video game aficionado! So much so that for a brief period before, I did amateur attempts to integrate his obsession of video games into some of his academic learning. DSCN0430

In several meetings with teachers before, I mentioned that perhaps a large number of our students would benefit greatly from a video game inspired blended instruction versus sole reliance on highly structured curriculum. I know my kids would have enjoyed taking on new lessons all the time if the learning vehicle is video game based. That’s another topic, altogether.

For more information about video-based inspired learning, check out Gabe Zichermann’s brutally honest, yet thought provoking TED talk about Gamification.

Trust me when I say that, during our “academic empowerment” experiment, there were moments when I wanted to jump in and micromanage my son’s activities. Sometimes, the fear of being looked upon by others as the negligent mom fleetingly comes to mind. Nevertheless, I am glad that I held my ground.

Just recently I received an email from my 5th grader’s teacher informing me that lately he’s been struggling at homework completion for Reading. In particular, he neglected, a few times, to log his reading activities on his notebook. Know that even before the teacher’s email, I already knew that my son had been laxed with his responsibilities lately. Much as I wanted to send him a prompt reminder during this time, I did not. The email, however, prompted me and my husband to re-strengthen our goal for our son and tweak the strategy a little. More than anything else, we saw the teacher’s email as a perfect opportunity for brainstorming and reviewing of expectations with our son. Here’s my response to his email.

Hi Mr. Teacher,

Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Anticipating his promotion to middle school, we have been experimenting, checking Young C’s preparedness towards assuming bigger job, by allowing him to learn how he’d manage his time and create a balance in between academics, house chores, family activities, and his love for video gaming. I apologized, it was quite risky, but considering he had a jolly strong first semester performance, we in the family thought, it was worth a try.

 Last week, he and I spoke about his level of writing, and how he probably would benefit from us revisiting the mechanics of the art. Believe me when I say, it was hugely tough on my part not to jump in right away, make necessary corrections and implement a concrete supplemental lesson plan right there and then. I knew, however, it would defeat the purpose of the exercise, so I just let it go; at least temporarily. It’s easier to help a child catch up with academics if the issue does not involve behavioral concerns.

I didn’t want to prematurely stepped in as I wanted C to understand the importance of responsibility and accountability early on before he starts middle school next year. Rest assured, however, now that we know where our student stands, maturity-wise, we will certainly adjust our home education strategy accordingly.

Very respectfully,

 Mommy C

Like I said in my email, it’s easier to help a child catch up with his academics if the issue does not involve behavioral concerns. Note, however, that we are able to take this risk because our son had an excellent first semester performance. As far as his academics are concerned, he is solid. Hence, the sensible step we had for him next was to help him gain empowerment so he could effectively manage his academics even with minimal oversight.

Luckily, this school year, our student has outstanding educators from his school who rally around him. My son’s teachers actually understood my family’s parenting perspective.

Having the willingness to embrace the mess helps me focus on what’s right for my son. Embracing the mess is one of the three rules devised by Ramsey Musallam to spark learning. I, however, see that it also has parental application.

To learn more about Ramsey’s learning approach, watch the following video from TED.


Learning is not just an art; it is also a discipline. Therefore, before we study anything, we need to understand the art of learning. Much as we wanted to stay by our children’s side and help them at every step, we have to slowly loosen the reign and let them to gradually develop not just the skills, but more so, the right temperament for managing their academic responsibility with very minimal parental intervention. This is why it is imperative that early on, we help our kids at getting the tools they need, and aiding them at  acquiring the skills required to make it on their own.

As parents, we’ll remain as their loving guide and support system. Know, however, that our only role as parents is to help our children get ready for a life of their own.

My brood had more than sufficiently proven that they are very bright students. As they develop their skills, both emotional and mental, I tell them that they shouldn’t judge their individual successes based on just numbers and letters. Instead, focus on the bigger picture while being calculatingly mindful of the fundamentals. The role of the structure should be no more than just a guide, a reference-check. Structures shouldn’t limit a child’s imagination and capacity to challenge the extent of what he can become.

Unfortunately, the current system of education has remained stuck in the 50s. Therefore, I had to remind my children that in as much as I tell them that grades are no more than a collection of ink on paper and is not in any way indicative of a person’s overall ability, garnering sound scores may be a safe bet in certain cases, as skewed as it may sound.

If grades, to be specific, the incessant desire to achieve high remarks, get in the way of learning, don’t be scared to give our students the leeway to get below expected grades on their report card, anyway.

I can’t say this enough, that if we focused our thoughts and energies toward helping our children achieve the one thing every parent wish for their kids, which is happiness, then the path would be clearer for all parties. No doubt, the present state of education needs revolutionizing. Meantime, we do the best we can as parents to give our kids a fighting chance for a better future.

Preparing our intermediate students to sufficiently face the rudiments of the middle school academics can be quite challenging and surely messy. This is the mess, I believe, that we parents should lovingly embrace, nonetheless.



Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about revolutionizing education.


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