How to tell if your children are thriving

by bledsoe on November 25, 2008

I'm generally a pretty strong proponent of having goals.  I don't necessarily have written goals for every aspect of my life, but clear goals are a big part of the paid work I do and I will often have conversations with myself in which I ask what my goals are for a particular task or activity.

A few days ago it occurred to me that I was generally pretty pleased with how the Maker's homeschooling had been going for the past few months, since I again took over the primary homeschooling duties.  And since my goal-oriented self is rarely happy with a vague "things seem to be going pretty well" analysis, I decided to try to write down what my goals were a few months ago (or maybe what they have become) and why I felt pleased with my progress.

[I realize that the standard approach to goal-setting is to establish your goals first and then work toward them, but better late than never.]

Here's what I came up with:

Goal 1: I want the Maker to feel happy and successful in "school."

I was concerned that my son was in fact feeling very unhappy and unsuccessful with his school life, and that was probably my single biggest concern. I wasn't worried that he might not be a straight-A student, or that he wouldn't be the most academically gifted 8 year old on the planet. I knew he was a perfectly intelligent boy but was concerned about him feeling generally negative and unhappy with anything associated with school or learning.

One reason I feel good about our progress toward this goal is that we don't have nearly as many arguments as we did a few months ago.  In fact, I'd describe the Maker as a generally agreeable boy.  Also, he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself more, which I attribute to the fact that he has a good bit more input into the school activities than he did before.

Pleased with progress toward Goal 1: check.

Goal 2: I want the Maker to work out of his strengths (or natural learning styles).

Some of his natural learning styles are just normal kid learning styles: he'd rather do something active than to have to sit in a desk and listen to me talk at him, he doesn't have a tremendously long attention span, etc.  Others are specific to him: he loves to build things, he has an unending supply of ideas for things to do, etc.

So I made it a point to try to have him do things that built on those strengths.

Pleased with progress toward Goal 2: check.

Goal 3: I want to feel satisfied that the Maker is competent enough with "academic" areas that he would be able to function well in a traditional classroom.

I'm generally a proponent of child-led learning, especially for younger kids. You look for things that a kid is already interested in, and you help them to explore that area; it's more of an unschooling approach than a traditional "school at home" approach, and it often means that the child's learning progress doesn't match that of kids in traditional schools. They may be more advanced in some areas and less advanced in others.  That was okay with me, but I was and am aware that the Maker may attend a regular school at some point, and I want him to be able to function in that environment.  So here's my assessment of his skills in a few standard academic areas:

Reading: He can read pretty well from books written at his age level, especially if he likes the books (e.g., the Magic Tree House series, the Geronimo Stilton series, the Guinness Book of World Records).  He also loves being read to (e.g., Robin Hood, Hiawatha).

Writing: He doesn't like writing just for the sake of "practicing writing."  He does, however, frequently engage in projects that involve writing, such as writing a poem for his mother or making a calendar for the month of October.  I think he does a fine job for an 8 year old.

Math: We occasionally do "math work" like practicing addition with flash cards or working problems from a workbook, but we also do less formal stuff like Jello math or Halloween math or Pattern Blocks, and often these activities stimulate much more interesting (and mathy) conversations than the standard math work.

Music: His piano lessons are going great.  His teacher says he's doing very well, and he enjoys playing.

Pleased with progress toward Goal 3: check.

Goal 4: I want the Maker to enjoy reading.

(See Goal 3 above.)

Pleased with progress toward Goal 4: check.

As the past few weeks have gone by, a thought has occurred to me on occasion: The Maker is thriving.  I'm not sure exactly how to quantify that, and I'm pretty sure that wasn't one of my specific goals a few months ago, but it's definitely one of my goals now, and I'm pretty pleased about progress toward that one, too.  I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on how you can tell that your child is thriving, or whether you have other goals for your children and what they are.

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