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?