Parents often ask me for one thing they can do to improve their homeschool program. As there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there is one important thing many parents can do better: set goals. Improving in this one area can drastically increase the effectiveness of your program. By setting goals you give your program a specific direction, a way to measure improvement, and can help you select the best curriculum for your child.
I break the eleven core subjects that Washington State requires to be taught into three categories: skill-based, and content-based, and the few that over-lap both. Skill-based subjects include: writing, reading, and occupational education. Content-based subjects include: language, science, history, social studies, health, and art and music appreciation. Math and spelling are the two subject that I consider both content and skill-based; I will expand more on that later. The subjects that I have listed as being skill-based are those that can be taught through virtually any subject area. For example, it doesn’t matter much what the student is writing about, so long as they are writing on a regular basis, in a variety of genres. These subjects can be easily integrated into the content-based subjects for practical application. Yes, there is still some amount of content taught in these areas, but they are primarily subjects that must be practiced and applied to master. The content-based subjects are directed by what the student needs to learn, and don’t have a particular demonstration of skill. I consider math and spelling to be both content and skill based because the student cannot advance forward in more content, if they have not mastered the right set of skills. The reason this is important to understand is so that you can set appropriate goals for each subject.
So, now that you know what to focus on in each subject, how do you set goals? I start with content-based subjects. What is great about homeschooling in the elementary grades is that there really are no content requirements. As long as you are studying history, it can be any time period or area of interest. Decide what you want them to walk away with. Do you want them to be able to recall important dates and the significance of the events in history? Or do you want them to understand the events that lead up to a significant moment in history? Whatever content you decide to cover, give it a purpose. This is your goal. Decide how you want them to demonstrate their knowledge, and tie it in to the skill-based subjects. If you want your student to write a research paper, then your goal for writing will be to learn how to write a paper. Break it down into small steps so you don’t miss anything important along the way. In this example, reading goals will incorporate how to read non-fiction text and take notes. Spelling and language are both worked in through important terms or vocabulary words the student learns along the way.
If you’re struggling to know what goals to set, consider using the Common Core standards to help. I can hear your audible gasp from here! I agree that the public school system is not the best when it comes to setting developmentally appropriate expectations, or reaching those goals in effective ways. But the basis of the Common Core is quite sound. You don’t have to follow the grade level for the standards, but you can use it give you ideas and set the order of skill building goals. If your child is 7 years old and hasn’t yet mastered what the Common Core lays out for Kindergarten, that’s ok! You can start there and move forward at your child’s pace.
Goal setting can also look like setting a completion date for a program. It can be reading a certain number of books, writing a number of journal entries, typing so many words per minute, or getting your student to work independently on a subject. Goals don’t have to just pertain to academics. They should include life skills and personal accomplishments. Then celebrate the completion of these goals together! Setting goals, making plans, and following through are critical executive function skills. This is the beauty of homeschooling; we can nurture and develop all areas of your child’s development. So, what are your goals?
One of the most common questions I get asked is whether to choose testing or assessing at the end of the year. Washington State Law states that every child eight years old and older must be tested annually, or assessed by a Washington State certified teacher. My answer to the question comes only through knowing the child. I’m hoping I can shed some light on this topic and help you determine the best option for your child.
You may first be asking, “What is the difference between a test and an assessment, anyway?” The test refers to a standardized test such as the California Achievement Test (CAT) or Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), among others. The test asks a variety of questions, with multiple-choice answers. The test scores are compared to other students in the same grade. An assessment (also called non-test assessment), doesn’t involve the student directly. A teacher will take sample work from all subjects and assess the student’s progress through the year, and evaluate their skills and academic level.
A qualified teacher usually administers standardized tests over a 2-3 day period. Each subject is tested separately, and timed. Some students do just fine with the pressure of a timed test. For others, test-taking anxiety interferes with their ability to perform well. Because the test is timed, the student may not be able to complete the test, leaving some questions un-answered. As a result, those answers will be marked as incorrect. All of these factors, and more, affect the accuracy of the test results. This is one reason these tests are not favored by many. However, they can give a glimpse into the approximate grade level the student is working at. Over years, you can also track progress, as well as see the subject areas that need more focus.
A non-test assessment must be completed by a Washington State certified teacher. Every teacher will have their own way of approaching assessments, however the purpose of the assessment remains the same. The teacher will examine work samples from the student, and write a written commentary on the student’s skills, and areas of improvement. This can be very helpful information for parents in planning the next year. The lack of pressure placed on the student to perform makes this a favored option for many homeschool families. One thing to note is that for an accurate assessment to be made, it is important for work throughout the year to be well organized and stored (such as in a portfolio).
In the end, there is no wrong way to meet this state requirement. Based on the personality and experiences of your child, you can decide which option would best meet your needs. There are local and online teachers and websites that offer tests or assessments; you should be able to locate someone in your area and within your budget.
“Summer”: the most beautiful word to every student! Warm sun, free days, and no school mean the best days of the year. For parents the word is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. What do you do with the kids all summer? Do you take time off completely? They earned the break, after-all. But what about the summer slump? Will all that hard work go to waste? How do we know when to work through the summer, and when to take a break? For every family the answer to those questions will look different, so here are some things to consider when making your summer plans.
Flexibility is the beauty of homeschooling. You have the freedom to choose your days throughout the year to suit your family’s schedule. The best time to determine your schedule is at the beginning of the school year. Having a plan ensures that you allow allocate enough time for schoolwork throughout the year. Sometimes it can be hard to know how much time you need. This requires observation and experience to know your individual children, and your curriculum. The beautiful thing is that adjustments can always be made at any time. Once you have determined the amount of time needed, you can decide how you want to spread that out over the course of the year. You can work at a regular pace throughout the summer, take the standard eight to ten week break, or modify the summer vacation with short breaks dispersed throughout the year.
Reading, writing, and math are the three skills that need the most attention throughout the school year. These skills strengthen through time and use. Content is not the main focus when looking at preventing the atrophy of these cognitive muscles. What is important is that the child has consistent time devoted to growing and advancing in these areas throughout the year. So, if you decide to take the standard summer break, include a minimum of 30 minutes of reading per day. The books should be an appropriate reading level, and allow your child to pick ones that captivate their attention. Writing is a little lower on the critical skill scale, but it is simple to incorporate into the day. Daily journaling, letter writing, and creative writing are great ways to engage your child in writing. The writing doesn’t have to be profound, or even edited! The point is just to exercise the writing muscles and keep the mind fresh. Math is a critical skill that should not be over-looked during long breaks. Again, just fifteen to thirty minutes per day practicing math facts, playing math games, or even working through a workbook will help keep those skills sharp. This works out to be an hour or less of “school” work per day. This can be broken up; it does not have to be done all in one sitting. Naturally, the more fun and engaging you make this, the less resistance you will receive. All of these things can be done together and provide opportunities for quality time together.
For those that choose to take their breaks throughout the year, time off is important for preventing burnout for you and your child! Taking a week or two off at a time will not result in great loss of momentum or skill. Free time is just as important for learning, as studying is! I always love to see children so captivated by their books that even on break they don’t want to put them down. Reading for pleasure is a great gift, and a wonderful family activity that can be incorporated into daily life without feeling like work. Allow you and your children guilt-free time away from school. Having a plan in place from the beginning will give you the peace of mind needed to enjoy these short breaks, and put all your energy when it is time to work.
There is no one right answer to the summer break dilemma. Make a plan, follow through, and enjoy the fruits of your labor as you sit back and enjoy your break, whenever you choose to take it!
With all of the schooling options out there, choosing the right course of education can be a confusing and difficult process to navigate. Public school, private school, or charter schools – So, why choose homeschooling?
Homeschooling is an opportunity to choose the content and method in which your child is educated. You are in complete control over which curriculum you choose. With the plethora of publishers out there, it is possible to assemble an entirely customized program for your child. Consider your child’s interests, learning styles, and personality to determine the most effective course. This freedom also allows you to incorporate your faith and family values into your child’s education.
Homeschooling affords you the flexibility to determine your pace and your schedule. Working at your child’s pace allows them to maximize their learning, and reduce performance-related anxiety. Pacing allows your child more time to practice a skill, or to delve deeper into a subject that has captured their interest. Learning doesn’t happen at the same speed for every subject, and this freedom makes homeschooling a truly personalized experience. Creating a daily schedule that works around you will make your day more enjoyable. If you prefer getting work done first thing in the morning, then do it. If you’re not a morning person, that’s ok too! Consistency and routines are key, but you don’t have to restrict yourself to public school hours. You can also choose your vacations and holidays!
Fun. How often is the word “fun” used to describe a schooling experience? While homeschooling, it can be the word used to describe every day! Books are simply one method of learning, but there are many others that are even more effective and enjoyable for both parent and child. Consider how to incorporate all the senses into the day. The options are endless – Games, experiments, music, field trips, and so much more can greatly enrich the learning process. Fun and laughter bring a joy to schooling that relaxes the body, and frees the child up to learning without anxiety or pressure.
For many parents, choosing to homeschool is a necessity. The public school system is a success for many children. But for those who are being left behind, whose needs are not being met, this can have a lasting and devastating impact. Homeschooling a child with special needs means you can create an environment, a program, and a schedule with complete freedom to do what is best for your child!
No matter what your reasons, homeschooling can be an enjoyable and successful experience for you and your child!