Setting Goals and Accelerated Learning

When I was younger and I heard my teachers (or coaches, adult friends, guidance counselors) talk about setting goals, I would tune out.  It sounded so unnecessary.  I would think, why not just go out and do it?  Why bother setting goals?  It was such a cliche to me.

If there is anything that I have learned in my adult life (read: not much), it's that if you set your goals high, you just might achieve them.  If you set your goals low, or have none at all - well, you might just achieve that.  It's been true for all of my life choices, especially when it comes to school or career.  Goal-setting is important!  I now hope to apply it to my homeschool life with my kids.

I want my kids to learn joyfully, deeply, and efficiently.  It's the last quality that really requires some work; the joy and depth should come as part of the experience, and of course, should never be forgotten or sacrificed for the sake of efficiency.  The flexibility of homeschooling allows for efficiency to be part of the equation, and I want to take advantage of that, or at least experiment with it.

I've consulted with guides - including everything from our state standards to homeschool books - to see what my kids should be learning, more or less, by certain grade levels.   I want to make sure that all benchmarks are hit, and that I don't gloss over anything.  For example, my 5-year-old is strong in reading and social studies, but I need to make sure that she learns how to tie her shoes this year!  I also need to make sure that she understands number theory before she masters arithmetic.

[What could be the problem with missing some information?  I'll put it to you this way: I never learned subtraction with regrouping.  Yes, I am serious.  Yes, I still have trouble with this.  Yes, it's embarrassing.  As a kid, I memorized everything from the Greek alphabet to the Preamble to the state capitals, and I won my school spelling bee in eighth grade.  I had enough trivial knowledge to whip some butt in a Trivial Pursuit game.  But I still had to discreetly whip out the calculator when doing a problem such as 1123-789, for example.  I missed one key piece of information somewhere, and the absence of that messed up the processes that came after it.  I guess you could say that my learning goal this year includes learning subtraction with regrouping!]

Last year, Lolly moved through all of her second-grade level work.  This year, I hope that Lolly will get through second-to-fourth-grade-level work.  It's a goal that might not be achieved, but with me being disciplined, and Lolly being motivated already, I am setting the bar high.  As for Toot-Toot, who is solidly in her so-called Terrible Twos, my goals are to make sure that she uses her manners (fingers crossed), to start her on basic addition and subtraction, to teach her some beginning sight words, and to teach her how to write all of her letters, assuming that her fine motor control will make her feel comfortable with that.  (So far, she legibly writes about a half-dozen letters.)  We'll also do music, art, and the extras.  I think we can do it.

Before you think that I am a crazy homeschooling mom, or just another bragging Tiger Mom, let me say this: if learning is enjoyable - and I think it should be - kids can and will want to learn.  Kids are like sponges when it comes to new information, as we all know.  Years ago, kids often didn't learn their alphabet until ages 5 or 6, when they started school.  Now, most kids learn their alphabet by ages 3 or 4, at preschool age.  Yet most kids have the potential to learn even earlier, by age 2, if given personal attention and the time to learn it.  How many times have you known kids to be curious about what adults do, and want to copy them?  It's practically their way of life.  If kids see adults reading (a special privilege, they might think), most kids will be interested in learning how.  Further, in homeschooling, we're able to work without the distractions that most teachers face in their daily classroom routines.

So why the push to teach kids to read so young?  Why not just wait?  Partly, it's because I want my kids to share my love of reading as soon as possible.  Partly, it's because once kids have unlocked the key to reading, everything else in learning becomes easier, both for children and for parents.  They've unlocked a world!  (An added bonus is a safety issue: wouldn't you want your preschool-aged child to be able to read and thoughtfully comprehend a sign that says "Danger" or "Exit"?  Or even "Push the button if you need help" or "Be careful if you come into contact with this"?)  Lolly is able to be more independent and to do more in-depth lessons because her reading skills are strong.  Without that, she would be limited by the time that I had, which she must share with her younger siblings.  Writing is another big skill.  Wouldn't we want our kids to have another way to articulate their feelings (or have privacy in a diary, or express gratitude in a note, or connect with friends from far away)?  Writing does that, of course, and what a gift to give to a young child!

So this year, I am setting the goals high, and I am forcing myself to become more disciplined and organized in my planning.  In homeschooling, the success of my kids, in part, rests on my ability to get my act together.  I need to get to work.