Independent Study

Independent Study For Children & Youth

By June Nason, MsEd, © Copyright 2008.

Independent Study Has Helped Kids With

  • It has helped gifted students who are not challenged in regular classrooms and want to accelerate their studies.
  • It has helped students who want an individualized approach that allows them to delve more deeply into areas of special interest.
  • It has helped students who need to make up credits, or who have fallen behind in their studies and need targeted instruction and materials to fill in gaps in their learning.
  • It has helped students who feel frustrated, bored, disconnected or frightened in a regular school environment.
  • It has helped students who face particular challenges such as health issues, or the necessity of employment, thus making classroom attendance difficult.
  • It has helped students who feel frustrated because teaching strategies in the traditional classroom are directed toward the needs of students who are learning at a slower rate, thus slowing the pace of learning for the whole.
  • It has helped students and parents who are overwhelmed by the amount of homework associated with regular classroom instruction.
  • It has helped students who have had negative interactions with classroom teachers or with other students.
  • It has helped students who feel the need for more connection with parents and family.
  • It has helped students who are suffering from shock, trauma, or a significant loss.

Independent Study Can Help In The Following Areas

Spirit: Independent Study honors the individuality of the student, without excluding the benefits of the school system.

Body: The structure of Independent Study can be physically less stressful than conforming to routines that make up a traditional school day, such as sitting for several hours at a desk.

Mind: Independent Study students learn at their own pace and are not distracted by classroom problems and peer pressures.

  • Independent Study develops the child’s or youth’s curiosity.
  • It avoids the common feeling of some children & youth that they are wasting their time in regular classrooms where learning is slowed by misbehavior, social problems, and other students who learn more slowly.
  • Independent Study is good for children & youth who are very bright, self-motivated and yet easily distracted.
  • Being in regular programs can be very difficult for gifted students who are eager to learn.
  • Independent Study benefits gifted and talented children, as well as students who are behind in their academic learning, due to a variety of regular classroom conditions.
  • Independent Study helps students to learn the discipline of time management, self-monitoring and assessment, and promotes the development of independent learning abilities.

Emotions: Independent Study can reduce frustrations, stresses, and feelings of being unmet, unseen and unheard. Independent Study can also reduce the feeling of “overwhelm” and fear that can come from the expectations, work load, peer pressures, and disruptions associated with regular classrooms.

Social: Independent Study avoids problems of peer pressure and distraction; allows for choosing social activities that are most interesting and satisfying to the student.

Brief Description Of Independent Study

  • Independent Study is an alternative instructional strategy whereby students work independently and generally at home, according to a written agreement, and under the supervision of a credentialed teacher(s). Parents and family members provide additional support for their student as needed.
  • Public school districts can operate Independent Study as a program within a regular school, or as a charter school or an alternative school. There are some private schools that use an Independent Study strategy as well as online Independent Study programs.
  • Always check out the accreditation policies of an Independent Study program.
  • Not all school districts offer Independent Study as an alternative option. In some cases, parents can request a school district transfer, enabling their student to enroll in a neighboring school district that offers Independent Study.
  • The curriculum and instructional materials are provided by the public, state supported school system.
  • Independent Study students follow a school district’s course outlines – or state standards, and meet the district graduation requirements.
  • Independent Study offers flexibility to meet a student’s interests and styles of learning, within the context of required course content standards.
  • Independent Study students can achieve a state government education department approved High School Diploma and pursue a college education.
  • With Independent Study, parents can take back responsibility for their child’s or youth’s education by becoming more involved in their student’s education.
  • Independent Study is offered as an alternative to regular classroom attendance for children and youth by some, but not all, public school systems.
  • Outside California, Independent Study may have another legal name such as “Home Study.”
  • Independent Study education provides support and resources to parents and families.
  • The Independent Study teacher files reports on pupil progress with state education authorities.
  • There are now websites about Independent Study, Home Study, Alternative Education, and Home Schooling.
  • Independent Study is different from Home Schooling because Home Schooling parents most often receive no assistance, no materials, and no guidance from local school districts.
  • Students enrolled in Independent Study can receive all the benefits and services the school district has to offer: psychological services, counselors, sports programs, music programs, foreign language classes, school libraries, and special education service.

Success With Independent Study

  • “My Husband and I chose to educate our children through Independent Study to individually give each of them what they needed on an academic level. Happily, they are both experiencing great success. The added bonus however, is that our lives have become more family-centered and balanced. In the past, the public school, with its homework and many demands, set the tone and speed at which our family moved. Too often, it was a crazy whirlwind of rush-rush-rush, and quite frankly, unmanageable chaos. Now, we have time to linger over meals, really talk with each other, read good books, take weekly hikes and outings, and visit with family and friends. Each of our children pursues sports and activities fully and passionately. There is a renewed sense of purpose and energy in each of us now that we, as parents, lead the way for our children.” Theresa Schroth, parent.
  • “I like Independent Study because I never hear any of that noise that I get with public school. It enables me to do a lot of work. I am able to study what I want to study…”Wesley Schroth, 6th grade student.
  • A young gymnast was able to maintain a rigorous training and competition schedule because she was able to complete her assignments at home in the mornings, on weekends and on training breaks at the gym.
  • A family enrolled their 5 year old daughter in an Independent Study program because their religious values were in conflict with all the holiday themes at regular school.
  • Two successful High School girls were harshly teased by their peers about their appearance. The pressure was so bad, they did not want to go to school anymore. Independent Study enabled them to continue succeeding with their course work in the safety and protection of their homes. They could choose their friends and make time to socialize with people they enjoyed.
  • A 16 year old young woman is on a fast track to graduate high school and begin her career education. She is very bright and can complete a lot of work in a short period of time. She is having a great time.
  • Two high school Independent Study students are collaborating on a special project and are creating an organic garden on the Independent Studies school site while earning elective credits.

Independent Study Is Appropriate For Ages

  • All ages - Kindergarten through 12th grade

Children & Youth’s Reactions To Independent Study

  • Students are calm, happier and less stressed about education.
  • Students enjoy learning and feel they have some control over their education.
  • Students enjoy the responsibility to be well organized.
  • Since most Independent Study students rate very well on standardized tests, they appreciate their program.

Extra Care Is Needed

  • When students who are new to Independent Study are far behind their grade level achievement levels.

Contraindications: When Independent Study Should Be Avoided

  • Children & youth that are in the habit of power struggling and resisting parents will not do well.
  • Independent Study is not very helpful to children with emotional and disruptive behavior problems/habits.
  • Independent Study does not work when the home environment is chaotic, with no suitable place to study, concentrate and complete assignments.
  • For Elementary age children, Independent Study should be avoided if parents are working during the day. Having Daycare staff or babysitters supervising the student usually does not work.
  • Independent Study does not work when children & youth have very complicated intellectual, physical or developmental challenges.
  • Local school districts have special teachers who visit homes when a child or youth is medically ill or recovering from surgery.
  • Independent Study is less effective when parents have difficulty learning how to be supportive of their children or youth’s learning by engaging them with curiosity and enjoyment.


  • At one point in history all pioneers home schooled their children. When children were forced to go to school by the government, reading levels were lowered.
  • Independent Study started in response to parents and educators being concerned that very bright students were dropping out of school because they felt schooling was irrelevant. Bright students felt slowed down by the usual rate of progress in schools and by the distractions of some student behavior. Alternative educational programs started to become a popular way of helping such students get a usable education.
  • Parents, educators and politicians were concerned that some home-schooled children & youth were not learning enough skills to allow them to choose their own careers. Programs like Independent Study were started, allowing parents to be very involved in their children or youth’s education with the help of qualified teachers, modern curriculum and good educational materials.
  • Many parents have become very dissatisfied with, and even frightened of, what happens to their children or youth when they attend modern traditional schools that do not reflect home values.
  • Many parents of Independent Study students are concerned that modern traditional schools have a hidden curriculum of compliance and obedience.
  • Many parents are concerned that modern traditional schools take away time from family relationships. They find family life enhanced by Independent Study programs.

Basic Concepts And Components Of Independent Study

  • Students are self-disciplined, self-motivated, and want to learn.
  • Parents are willing to get involved with their child’s or youth’s education.
  • The Independent Study teachers are inspired and qualified.
  • The Independent Study teachers are curriculum experts, have good one-on-one communication skills, and can teach students and parents how to learn.
  • Resources, materials, teaching/learning aides, and books are available through the program.
  • Independent Study is completed through legitimate, accredited public school programs – with all the resources of the local school district, state education departments, etc. (availability of art, music, gymnastics, science labs, advanced foreign language classes, psychological services, and counseling).

Description Of A Typical Session

  • The teacher completes legal enrollment procedures, gets records from past schools, and notifies the state of student’s enrollment.
  • The teacher completes an inventory of student’s strengths, interests and needs.
  • The Child and parent attend a weekly one-hour meeting with the teacher. Youth attend a weekly one-hour meeting with the teacher(s) - without the parent.
  • The teacher evaluates, responds to, corrects, and discusses the past week’s completed learning assignments.
  • The teacher records information about the completed learning assignments with state education authorities to ensure compliance to state standards.
  • The teacher and student (and parent, if in attendance) develop the coming week’s learning assignments.
  • The teacher loans appropriate materials to child or youth and parent.
  • The teacher checks to make sure that the new learning assignments are understood by the child or youth.
  • The teacher instructs the parent on how to best support the student in getting the learning assignments completed.
  • The teacher is occasionally available by telephone for brief consultation.

Major Differences Between Independent Study and Home Study/Home Schooling

  • In Home Schooling, parents take total responsibility for providing their child’s or youth’s curriculum and education.
  • Unlike Independent Study, parents who are using Home Schooling provide their own materials, teachers, guidance, training, curriculum, and educational opportunities. Happily, there are many Home Schooling resources available today and some are free of charge.
  • Parents using Home Schooling must prove to state authorities that their child’s or youth’s at-home educational program and accomplishments are meeting state education requirements. Some states have educational departments that are becoming very involved in this process.
  • Since state education requirements for Home Schooling differ so much, parents are advised to contact education authorities before beginning Home Schooling. There are many resources available on the Internet.
  • Be very careful to determine which companies are more interested in profits than in children & youth.

Fees/Costs In 2007 - Averages

  • It is free. Supplies and teacher salary are paid for by taxes to school district.
  • Families pay transportation costs to and from supervision sessions with Independent Study teacher.
  • Parents pay for private lessons in art, music, gymnastics, or their child or youth can drop in for those classes at local schools free of charge.

Average Time Per Study Session With Teacher

  • For Elementary and Junior High/Middle School: One hour per week supervision time with the program teacher/guide.
  • For High School: one half-hour per week supervision with a teacher per course.

Average Length Of Independent Study Time At Home

  • Check with your local Independent Study School for specific time requirements.
  • In California, students in Kindergarten need an at-home program of 15 hours a week; Elementary/Middle School age = 20 hours a week minimum; Secondary = between 20 and 30 hours a week.

Estimated Length Of Time Before Improvements Can Be Expected

  • Almost immediately, to a few months

Suggestions To Make Independent Study More Effective

  • Children & youth have to want Independent Study. They have to want to do their learning and school work at home.
  • Home School must be voluntary.
  • Elementary and middle school students need a lot of parental support. One parent needs to be at home supervising all the time. Babysitters are less effective.
  • Parents and the students need to have a good working relationship where the student is open to their direction, instruction and suggestions.
  • Parents need to be patient with their kids.
  • Children & youth who are resisting their parents, and who power-struggle, will not do well with an Independent Study educational approach and would do better in school.

Other Methods That Complement Independent Study

  • Community service
  • Activities offered by local Home Schooling Associations
  • Community Sports and Activities
  • Music Lessons

Nature And Length Of Training To Be An Independent Study Teacher

  • Independent Study teachers must have 3 to 4 years of university education in Education.
  • Independent Study teachers are encouraged to have Postgraduate degrees in Education or related fields.
  • Independent Study teachers are encouraged to have experience in regular classrooms.

Professional Associations To Contact For Names Of Local Independent Study programs

  • The are currently none.
  • Contact your county or state department of education.
  • Home Schooling associations occasionally will list Independent Study programs.

Number Of Certified Education/Home Schooling/Apprenticing Practitioners In U.S., Canada, And Mexico

  • The number is unknown at this time.

What To Look For When Choosing The Best Independent Study Program/Teacher

  • Talk with parents of other children & youth in the program.
  • Make an appointment and visit the program.
  • Choose teachers who are curious about your child or youth.
  • Choose teachers with whom you are comfortable.
  • Choose teachers with whom your child or youth is comfortable.

Resources And Websites

  • A-Z Home’s Cool: This is a list of California home school organizations with state charters. See their website: http://homeschooling.gomilpitas.com.
  • California Department of Education’s Independent Study Program: See their website: http://www.cde.ca.gov. This site is designed for schools wanting to run an independent study program as well.
  • California Department of Education Manual for Independent Study outlines curriculum and instruction for independent study teachers from the California Department of Education…useful information for community resources to enhance curriculum. See: http://www.cde.ca.gov.
  • California Consortium for Independent Study: Website for Independent Study Teachers and a state wide organization interested in the advancement of independent study programs. See: http://www.ccis.org.
  • Currie, Carol. “History of Homeschooling.” EzineArticles: This website has various links and information to read more about Homeschooling. See: http://ezinearticles.com.
  • Emery, Kathy. “Alternative Schools: Diverted but not Defeated.” (July 2000): Paper submitted to Qualification Committee At UC Davis, California.
  • Hill, Elizabeth G. “Alternative Education California.” (2007). The Legislative Analyst’s Office. Website: http://www.lao.ca.gov. The history of alternative education in California. Independent Study is one of four alternative options for education mentioned. Page 6 has information on Independent Study.
  • Home School Association of California provides information regarding the legalities of Homeschooling: website: http://www.hsc.org.
  • Stephanie Hood’s article on Public Independent Study Programs and Charter Schools can be found on the Gifted HomeSchoolers Forum website. See: http://giftedhomeschoolers.org.
  • Gordon, Edward E. and Elaine H. “Centuries of Tutoring: A History of Alternative Education in America and Western Europe.” History of Education Quarterly 32, no. 3 (Autumn, 1992): pp. 379-381.
  • Miller, Ron. “A Brief History Of Alternative Education.” (1996). The Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO). See: http://www.educationrevolution.org/history.html.
  • National Home Education Research Institute has a wealth of information available. See: http://www.nheri.org.


Helpful Tips For Parents

  • Acknowledge effort and success. Avoid taking responsibility for getting the child or youth’s assignments completed.
  • Have a calm uncluttered study space if possible.
  • Have regular learning times if possible.
  • Complete the assignments as soon as possible: Avoid last minute rushing.
  • Provide time to practice.
  • Chart and acknowledge effort and accomplishment.
  • Keep emotional contact with your child or youth while they are doing their learning assignments: Avoid isolation while learning.
  • Avoid doing the assignment for the child or youth. Express faith that they will figure out how to do it.
  • Become a life-long learner yourself. Take a correspondence course and work on it while your child or youth works on their assignments.
  • Avoid telling your child or youth about the academic areas in which you had difficulty. Rather, become a learner and take a course and get more comfortable with those trouble areas. Your comfort will help your child or youth.
  • Do not feel guilt or shame if you or your child or youth has had difficulty learning in one or all academic areas. These emotions might reflect your own lack of support in the past. These emotions are not helpful to your child.
  • Work to get your child or youth’s school programs based on your child or youth’s interests and not solely on memorizing textbook/computer program information.
  • Be aware that textbook publishing companies pay large amounts of lobbying money to politicians who are in charge of educational programs.

Biography Of June Nason, Author

  • June holds a Master’s Degree in Education; plus many other certificates.
  • She has 30 years of experience, teaching over a thousand children.
  • She started learning how to be a teacher while enrolled in alternative education as a youth.

June Nason’s Personal Statement

Independent Study can be one the best learning strategies for children & youth who have unique traits in their personalities and intellects: they are extremely motivated and self-directed; they thrive on the independence; they can learn better in the quiet of their own homes.

As an Independent Study supervising teacher I’ve had the opportunity to be of service providing quality education to children & youth and their families. The program allows them freedom and independence while meeting the educational criteria mandated by the state and local governments. I have been able to serve students who have a lot of ambition and intelligence and whose needs were not being met in regular schools. However, Independent Study is by no means the best educational strategy for all students.

To Contact June Nason, Who Contributed This Chapter

June Nason; c/o Valley Oaks School; 540 Vallejo St.; Petaluma CA, 94952; Email:JuneNason@GrowingUpEasier.com

Marie Mulligan’s Comment About Independent Study: I used an Independent Study program with my sons while living in Mexico for a few years. While making family life richer, the boys learned well.

Rick Geggie’s Comment About Independent Study: I am sad that this option was not available for my family. Independent Study is not suitable for all families and all students.

For me, Independent Study offers something that can help children & youth grow up much easier. Having paid attention to the home schooling, Independent Study, Alternative Education movements for over 45 years, I am convinced that Independent Study offers the best of all worlds.

For many of the reasons listed in this chapter and for many other very complex reasons, Independent Study will become increasingly popular as time goes on.

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