mathematicians are people too

Tips for Setting and Achieving Homeschool Academic Goals

Great post on how to set and meet academic goals in your homeschool. Good ideas for unschoolers and project-based learners as well as more traditional homeschoolers.

On the home/school/life Facebook page, a reader named Liz said she was new to homeschooling and would like to hear how other families approach their academic goals. Do they set daily goals, weekly, quarterly, or yearly goals? I thought I would begin by trying to explain how I set academic goals for my boys, and then I invite you, other homeschoolers, to please explain how you do this in your homeschool. Hopefully it will help Liz and many other homeschoolers starting out on this journey.

My boys are still young, but so far, I would say that I have set certain priorities – one or two academic goals – for each year. In order to do this, I have to remember that my boys have a long education ahead of them, and we don’t have to teach everything at once. If I were planning to put them in school, I might have to change tactics, but even while focusing on a few core subjects each year, I don’t abandon all other subjects, so that’s still not much of an issue. Let me explain…

By focusing on just one or two subjects each year, I give myself plenty of time to experiment, try different resources and see what works. And it alleviates the panic I might feel, if I were trying to teach every subject in depth. By giving myself a whole year to, say, make sure the study of art is part of our homeschool, it slowly becomes part of our weekly routine, so the next year when I’m going to focus on incorporating more Spanish lessons, I’m not worried how I’m going to do art. That’s already there. I’ll explain more about this later.

Before I did any of this – before I even began homeschooling “officially”– I sat down and considered what my priorities would be for my boys. At that time, they were only five- and two-years-old.

What surprised me is that this list of priorities is still my core priorities. It has given me something to come back to when I worry about a bad day or week. It reminds me that in actuality, I have created a daily life that incorporates all these things, so even on the worst homeschooling days, we’re still doing pretty good.

Here’s that initial list I made:

  • Imagination/Play/Motion– Let them use their imaginations and be in motion as much as they need to be.

  • Literature – Immerse them in books and storytelling.

  • Exploration/Nature – Let them explore the world and get into nature as much as possible.

  • How to find answers – Encourage them to ask questions and teach them how to find answers.

  • Spend quality time together – Use our time wisely. Don’t over schedule the kids or myself. Allow for plenty of time at home for free, unstructured playtime.

  • Teach responsibility– Explain why we (mom and dad) need to work and why we all need to take care of our home.

This may not look like it covers many academic goals, but it does. When you create an environment where learning is part of your daily life, and exploration, questions and creating are honored, your kids will cover many points in a typical course of study by themselves. For those homeschoolers who choose to unschool, this will meet their goals very well. For homeschoolers like us, who don’t unschool, I find it fairly easy to fill in the gaps with a few hours of formal lessons each week.

Here’s a few examples of how I’ve prioritized our learning each year:

  • When my eldest son was six, seven, and even eight, my first priority was helping him learn how to read. This doesn’t mean that I pushed him. On the contrary, I went at his pace, but we worked on it first and a little bit everyday. We also studied math, science and various other subjects. (My son loves science, so it feels effortless to learn a lot about science.) What I’m speaking about is that I put more of my efforts into finding the right resources for reading, which didn’t come as easily to my son. Now that he’s nine, he’s reading quite well. I think it’s because he was ready to read, but it helped me to make that my focus. I wasn’t panicking trying to teach everything at once.

  • Before my eldest turned six and my youngest three, I didn’t do any formal art lessons with them. My boys are very creative, so they had fun painting and doing projects of their own, but I wanted them to learn the fundamentals of art and also about the most significant artists. So that year, I decided to build it into our schedule by making Fridays “art day.” I spend just a little time “teaching,” and then we make some art. Right now all I require of them is to listen to me for a few minutes and look at some artwork online. The art making is completely optional. However, they usually want to make art, and even if they choose to do something of their own design, I’m very happy that art is now a regular part of our routine. We’ll continue to use Fridays as the day we delve into the arts in a formal way. Over the duration of their entire education, I know we’ll cover a lot of ground.

  • Now that my son is reading well, I’ve decided my priority this year will be math. Again, it’s not that we haven’t already been working on math, and he is not behind in math, but I am putting more of my efforts into math. I started this summer. I made a list of math games we would play, I found art lessons that incorporated math, and I checked out some math books from the library, such as The History of Counting and Mathematicians are People Too. Since the new school year began, I have done math lessons with my son everyday, and we do more of it too. (I used to do it two to three times a week.) If I’m going to spend time researching strategies to teach, it’s going to be on how to teach math, and I’m not going to worry as much about the other subjects. (But remember, we already have a good footing in reading, and we have literature and art embedded into our schedule. And science is covered because it’s my son’s first love. We also get a lot of social studies through reading, watching documentaries, and going on field trips.)

  • For my six-year-old, my priority this year for him is teaching him how to read. I’ve started the same program with him that I used with my older son. If it doesn’t go well, we’ll try something else. I also do math and handwriting with him, but we usually do reading first in case he has an off day, gets grouchy, and loses concentration. I don’t push. But by keeping reading as his priority, I feel certain we’ll at least accomplish one significant thing this year.

  • This year I am also making more effort to do Spanish lessons. This is mostly for my older son who wants to learn another language, but my younger son benefits by listening in when he wants to. Like the year I incorporated art, this priority is just about making the effort to carve out a little more time in our schedule. Now that my son is nine, he seems ready to take on more. So this is another benefit of doing yearly priorities – the ones that my son hasn’t been ready for usually slide to the back burner.

I can see ahead where I will have a year when we study writing and grammar more in depth, and another year when we will focus on history. Maybe one year when my son is older we will take on a more rigorous and systematic curriculum in science, especially if he is going to continue in this direction for a career. Though we’ve made strides in all these areas, by putting my focus on one or two subjects each year, I feel good that over time, we’re incorporating a wide variety of lessons. And just because we shift focus, that doesn’t mean we are abandoning all other subjects. It’s just a subtle shift and a little more concentration in one area, and once we gain momentum in one subject, it’ll be that much easier to continue with it.

Now, please, share how you approach your academic goals. Because one size never fits all. :)


Stuff We Like :: 8.21.15

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

Shelli's taking a break from her busy week of birthday fun to round up some of the things that are making her homeschool life happy right now.  

at home

I’m in the midst of planning my soon-to-be-6-year-old’s birthday party, and I thought this nature-themed party I found online was adorable.

We just finished a short “staycation” of sorts, and we renewed our love of taking day trips to places we’ve never been before. We took three within a week and a half, and it was very relaxing to come home, sleep in our own beds, do minimal preparations for the trips, yet we have a handful of new memories to cherish. If you need some inspiration to take your own day trips, see Seven Reasons You Should Take a Day Trip.

I’m not much of a cook, but finding Alton Brown’s salsa recipe has given me another feather in my chef’s cap. (But I use only one jalapeno, 2 garlic cloves, 1 Tablespoon of dried ancho chili powder instead of fresh ancho chiles, and cilantro is always a must.) And that salsa made this Crockpot Mexican Tortilla Lasagna from weelicious.com even tastier.

 

at home/school/life

on the blog: I think these Gold Rush readalouds all look great.

on instagram: I love this quote.

from the magazine: There is so much practical inspiration for planning your homeschool year in this excerpt from our first issue.

 

documentaries

We are still making our way through Wildest Africa Series 1 and Series 2, and I don’t think we ever watch it without saying, “This is so good,” and “I never knew that place existed,” and “Other documentaries about Africa never show you this.”

We also began our first documentary about human history with a docudrama about the history of archaeology and ancient history in Egypt. Egypt is fascinating, and it’s so well acted that it feels like watching a movie.I’m happy to say that my eight-year-old is enjoying it, and up until now, he’s had little interest in history that didn’t have to do with animals. It’s probably a little hard for my five-year-old to understand, but since watching documentaries is a daily ritual for us, he’s patiently watching it too.

 

in our homeschool

I finally managed to get Mathematicians are People Too, Volume 1, from the library, and now I understand why everyone wants to check out this book. My 8-year-old and I are thoroughly enjoying these mini-biographies of famous mathematicians.

One of my goals this coming school year is to get my 8-year-old to start reading silently to himself by finding books he’ll really love to read. Well, my husband took care of that by buying him several vintage comic books for $1 each in some antique stores we shopped at while on our day trips. I would have never guessed that all the cartoons I grew up with – Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck and others– would someday motivate my son to sit down and read without being asked! So check in some antique stores, if you’re looking for some fun comics. (But be sure to check their prices. Some vintage comics can be quite pricey!)

My 5-year-old is all about birds lately, and I’ve been delighted to spend every evening with him perusing our iBird app in lieu of reading a bedtime story.

 

reading list

I'm thoroughly enjoying reading, for the first time, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum to my eight-year-old. I watched the movie multiple times as a child, and though the book is different, it's proving to be just as delightful.

I'm a little jealous that my husband snatched the first Harry Potter book to read to my son. I wanted to read it to him! Oh well. From their glowing reviews, I can tell I'll enjoy it whenever I get the chance.

As for me, I recently finished reading the adult novel Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, and I loved it. It had been on my bookshelf for only 15 years. Why did I wait so long?

Speaking of neglected books, I'm determined to read those other books that have been on my bookshelf awhile, so I just picked up Lalita Tademy's Cane River, another adult novel that is fiction yet rooted in extensive research of Tademy's family history. It’s a family saga of four generations of women born into slavery in Louisiana.