Laura Sandefer

March 15, 2013

At Acton Academy, “independent learning” is the first level of lifelong learning. From 1st grade through 5th grade, our students gain the skills, knowledge, experience and character traits to earn the badge, “Independent Learner.” In middle school, they begin the path to becoming running partners. (Note the growth into interdependence from independence.)

An Acton parent recently asked if being an independent learner means shunning authority. Great question. To the contrary, an independent learner knows how to embrace what or who is worthy as an authentic authority in life. In addition, it is viewing oneself as trustworthy and capable.

Family life is rich with opportunities to support what we are doing at school. We parents, however, will have varying levels of tolerance for letting our children learn to do things on their own. What I am comfortable doing, you may not be. (What Jeff is willing to do, makes me need to sit down and take a few deep breaths.)

While having differences in how to encourage independence, we likely agree on why: hovering over our children does long-term damage to their confidence and well-being.

With that in mind, I want to share my list of ideas of ways to help your child become an independent learner at home. Some of the ideas are for the very young and others for ages 10 and up. This is offered to you simply as a catalyst for your own ideas. It is not a recipe.

Note: The key phrase to use often in this process with your child is: “I trust you.”

Our family list:

  • Pick out what to wear each day. (I have to bite my lip often so as not to criticize the choices made on this one.)
  • Plan a dinner menu listing all ingredients. (Ideally includes online searching for recipes; assisting with the grocery shopping and helping prepare the meal.)
  • Pack own school lunches. (I don’t know why this is hard for me to let them do!)
  • Sort and do laundry including folding and putting away. (Give instructions on the machine once.)
  • Plan a full Saturday for the family. (Then you must stick to their plan.)
  • Find your way home from an unfamiliar part of the neighborhood. (We did this in what we knew was a safe place – I was still nervous.)
  • Place order at a restaurant. Eye contact with waiter required.
  • Figure out tip and total the bill.
  • Walk the 3-mile loop of the Lady Bird trail alone. Designate a meeting place.
  • Call to make own hair cutting appointment. When there, describe desired cut to hair dresser without any input from parent. Deliver the tip afterwards.
  • Pump gas. (I had a friend in college who had never pumped her own gas!)
  • Settle own dispute without a parental referee. (Our boys created a signed contract for each other and it hangs above their beds.)
  • Learn to make 3-4 dishes to build a cooking repertoire. (Ours were scrambled eggs, pasta, French toast and homemade soup. I figured that will make them great college roommates and able to eat pretty well with very little money. This is also great for me to be able to say, “Charlie, will you please make dinner tonight?” And be very happy with the results.
  • Keep up with a personal whiteboard calendar to know what to expect each day/week/month.
  • Plant something and take care of it. (Planting is the easy part. The tending is the key. I love my animals too much to turn over all care of them to my boys – even though they are “theirs.” They are doing the feeding and cleaning the yard up – sort of – but I definitely micro- manage on this one. We all have our limits!)

Please share your ideas. We need each other’s encouragement on this “letting go” experience.

Extra reading if you are interested:

Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy; also her website:

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Middle School

6th-8th Grade

acton academy, highschool, modern school,montessori, private school in san diego , private school in la mesa

Middle School is where young people rapidly start owning their education. Middle school is the perfect time to develop intellect and character while gaining a deeper sense of self and the real world. Students have a broad palette of topics to study and pair in-depth academic exploration with real-world connections to experts and local apprenticeships. Middle School is about deepening a passion for individual subjects while broadening your understanding of yourself and your future.