6 Must-Have Study Skills for Homeschooled Kids...And Suggestions for Teaching Them

Homeschooled kids have the opportunity to learn in many different ways. We can choose not to do some of the practices that don’t seem to work in traditional schools, and we can add in other resources and routines that do work. And most of the time these changes are good ones.

But every once in awhile, I’ll realize that there is a study skill that we haven’t covered because of the way we homeschool. Maybe it’s something the kids didn’t really need with the curriculum we were using. Or it’s a skill that was skipped over because I’m teaching kids one-on-one instead of in a large group. Or maybe it’s just something I’ve done for so long myself that I really just didn’t think about the need to teach it.

Study skills for homeschooled kids

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I’ll never forget my realization that my kids didn’t really know how to take notes. But, everybody knows what I mean when I say, “Take notes,” right? Apparently not. And that’s the kind of study skill that homeschoolers may one day really need.

Why do homeschooled kids need study skills?

Before I give you the list of study skills let’s talk about the phrase, “one day really need,” that I mentioned above. An argument against taking the time to teach some of these skills might be that your kids will never need some of these in real life. My answer to that objection? Well, maybe. If your child continues to college, these skills will be essential. Most of the time it will be assumed that kids know how to do these, at least to some degree (although my two college aged kids say that a surprisingly large number don’t!).

“But,” you argue,”my child isn’t going to college.” Okay, that’s fine. I certainly don’t think college should be the route every kid takes. However, some of these skills are ones that will also help kids in the workplace. So even if college isn’t their goal, I think these study skills are really important for homeschooled kids to learn.

Here are six critical study skills for homeschooled kids and ideas for teaching them.

Note Taking

If kids aren’t used to listening to teachers talk for the better part of an hour about the relevant information in the current lesson or chapter, they’re likely not used to taking notes while listening. Note taking is also important for reading a lesson or chapter and being able to record relevant information read. Note taking is going to be critical in college. And it’s also useful in job situations if you’re in a meeting or you have to have to pick the relevant information out of a work memo.

You can begin to teach note taking when kids are fairly young. I started with “Five Fascinating Facts.” I would read a lesson or chapter of science or history aloud, and the kids would record five facts from the material that I read. At the end, they would tell me their facts. This helped them learn what information was important and what was just “fluff.”

Narration can also help kids move toward note taking- especially taking notes on what’s read. Narration is when kids repeat back to you or write down the information read in their own words. Narration can be done when you read aloud or, as kids get older, after the kids read independently. It can be done orally or written. We generally start with oral narration of small sections and move to narrating longer sections of reading and producing written narrations.


Researching is much different now from when I was growing up. Then it involved numerous library trips, as well as the ability to use a card catalog, and an understanding of the Dewey Decimal System. At times it even required knowing how to use the antiquated microfiche machine to look at ancient magazine and newspaper articles. Now it literally involves powering up your computer or calling out, “Hey, Google.”

Even though it’s much easier to actually research now, kids need to be instructed in how to do it well. Googling a search term can result in literally hundreds or thousands of results- sometimes millions for popular, broad terms. So kids need to know how to sort through these to get the results that are relevant and how to pull information from the sources once they find them.

Teach kids that they need to have a good idea of what they’re searching for before they search. Instead of searching for “World War 2”- which literally gave me 3,730,000,000 results- they need to be more specific, maybe searching for the causes of the war, specific battles, important people, etc.

They also need to know that not all sources are equal. Wikipedia, although very comprehensive and often the first source that shows up, isn’t the most accurate. I’ve taught kids that they can go to the Wikipedia article and scroll down to find a list of sources. Those sources are going to be more accurate and better documented.

Parents don’t often want kids to search on Google because of the possibility of clicking on links that are problematic. I would encourage you to let your kids search, though. You can require that you are doing it with them. You can use a filter to try to block some of the bad sites. But it’s important that your kids learn the skill of researching.


Being able to read and then outline material, to listen and then format notes into an outline, and to outline ideas before writing are all important skills that kids are going to need- certainly in college, and occasionally in a work situation. There are two kinds of outlining- formal and informal. While the formal outline might be used much less frequently- likely only when a teacher requires it-, knowing how to outline informally can be really helpful.

In an outline kids are basically learning how to organize ideas in order- order of importance, chronological order, categorical order, etc. They need to be able to do this with reading material as well as with lecture notes. Being able to organize material in an outline can help them as they study for a test as well as when they’re getting ready to write a paper or a story or to begin a large project.

To start kids down the road to being able to do an informal outline from reading or listening, have them read a section or listen to you read and record a number of facts. The number isn’t very important, but there need to be enough facts to group and organize, so you’ll need more than the Five Fascinating Facts from above. After they’ve recorded the facts, help them think of helpful ways to group the facts. Organize them with headings.

To help kids use an informal outline for writing, give them examples so that they can see how the outline provides structure for writing a paragraph, essay, or story. Then create an outline together and have them use the outline for writing. After working on it together, kids can then try it for themselves. One reason I really like the WriteShop curricula for writing is because it guides kids with structure like this.

I’ve typically taught formal outlining in the context of a research paper. After kids have chosen a topic, I have them develop an outline BEFORE they start researching. This will guide their research. (Remember when I mentioned researching more specifically earlier?) Modeling a formal outline is really important. If you need some help brushing up on the rules of a formal outline, this article is good. And if you need some examples, you can find some here, as well as templates for formal outlines.

Summarizing Reading

Summarizing is one of those skills that, on the surface, seems like it would be easy. How hard can it be to read and then summarize what you read? Turns out it can be really hard if you’re not taught how to do it and given lots of practice. Summarizing is critical though when students are reading information in college as well as in a job when they may have to read through information and then sum it up.

There are two key things that can make summarizing difficult: (1) Choosing what’s really important in the reading and (2) keeping the summary succinct. All too often when you ask a child to sum up what they just read, you get a long, rambling explanation that might leave out important information and instead focus on one particular, non-important part that the child found interesting. While this kind of disjointed recitation can show that kids were actually reading and processing information, it’s not really a summary.

To teach summarizing, it’s a good idea to start with keywords. Read a paragraph aloud to kids. Have a written copy that they can follow. After reading have the kids come up with five to ten keywords or phrases that really show the main idea of the paragraph. Doing this together means you can model to the kids how to do this. After you’ve collected your words or phrases, have the kids use those to write their own summary of the paragraph- without looking back at the source.

Skimming and Scanning

Have you ever asked a child a question and instructed them to read through their chapter and tell you the answer. You sit and wait. And wait. And wait. You glance at said child to see what could be taking so long. And by tracking the child’s eyes you can see that he’s reading the entire chapter over again. This is an indication that he doesn’t know how to skim read and/or scan a chapter for important information.

Skimming is quickly reading over material to get a general idea of what it says. Scanning is being able to quickly read over material to find specific information. These are skills that can be critical timesavers in college or in a job situation.

Being able to skim material and have a grasp of what it’s about can really help when college kids have chapters and chapters of material to go through each week. Try as they might, sometimes it doesn’t all get read. So when it’s time for class, kids can skim the material to at least have a good idea of what’s going on in the chapter. In a workplace situation, a worker may need to skim materials he hasn’t had time to read fully. Scanning can help college kids look for answers to a set of questions. And it can help an employee who’s looking through job information trying to find out about a specific policy or incident that has come up.

Teaching kids how to skim involves teaching them how to use the structure that comes naturally in a book. It’s especially effective in a nonfiction or textbook-style book. But they can learn to skim fiction too. (Because haven’t we all forgotten to read that chapter before literature class?!) Teach them to look for chapter titles, section divisions, and paragraph structure to pick out important concepts. In textbooks they can look for words in bold print or italics. Textbooks may also have chapter summaries or vocabulary words listed at the end of the chapter. Fiction books won’t have as many cues, but they may have chapter titles. And the paragraph or section divisions can give kids a little bit of structure to skim through what’s happening in the story.

I would start teaching skimming by modeling how to do it in a chapter. After seeing it done, kids will have a better idea of what they’re doing. And kids need to be fairly fluent readers before they begin either skimming or scanning.

Scanning is important when it comes to using information to answer specific questions. As with skimming, begin teaching it by modeling it. Look at a question. Think about what the question is really asking. Then scan the reading to look for words that would indicate that information is present. Again, it’s easier to do this with nonfiction. Section headings and bolded words can really come in handy when you’re looking for specific words that indicate an answer to a question. But you can do it with fiction as well. It just might be a little more difficult to scan for concepts when you don’t have a textbook structure.

Using a Syllabus and Creating a Schoolwork Schedule

One thing that really surprised my homeschooled kids who have now graduated and gone to college is the fact that so many college kids don’t seem capable of reading a syllabus and using that to break up assignments and plan a schoolwork schedule. Because we work toward complete independence in schoolwork by the high school years, my kids were prepared. But kids who have been in traditional schools are likely used to receiving assignments one day at a time. And when they are given a syllabus of all the assignments due for the entire semester and then they have to break that down and schedule how they’re going to accomplish all of it, they panic.

I think one of the best ways to prepare kids to use a syllabus and plan how to complete their work is to give them written weekly assignments as soon as they can independently read them. (And even younger kids can begin getting simply worded assignments or assignments with pictures.) If you’re only ever doing schoolwork by telling kids each day what to do, they aren’t going to learn to read an assignment sheet or budget their own time. If they’re given a weekly sheet of assignments they can see how the breakdown of schoolwork happens, and they’ll start learning how to do that on their own.

The other thing I think is critical is to work toward independence from the very beginning of your homeschooling. If your goal is to create lifelong learners, then having kids take responsibility for their own learning as soon as possible is really important. There may be subjects that are best done together. Because we used a unit study/literature-based approach, I always did a number of subjects with the whole family. Other subjects are more independent- like math and reading. When the kids are really young, they’ll need help with these, of course. But as they get older, let them take more and more responsibility for those independent subjects.

As my kids have reached high school, I’ve tried to be much more hands-off. My kids are given the teachers’ guides and lesson plans and the responsibility to complete them. They have the freedom to schedule their days and to plan how to complete all of the work. I do make lesson plans for the subjects that don’t have them available. And then my role is more of a mentor and an overseer that holds them accountable. I have had kids I needed to be more hands-on with. But the goal is always to move them to more independence.

Study skills for homeschooled kids

Ensuring that your homeschooled kids have these six study skills will help set them up for success- whether they’re headed to college or to a job.

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