Goals for our children as they learn is a wonderful way to look at their progress. As I set goals for my children, I first look at their individual talents and their interests.
My son needs an outside motivator. He needs to see at the end there is going to be something that he works toward. Reading the Narnia books with the goal of getting to watch the movie, for instance, helps him to complete his reading. It can be something simple, but it has to be something that interests him.
My next daughter, who flourishes in art and has dyslexia, needs a creative way to express herself. Allowing her to use her art to draw out her math problems or illustrate her vocabulary words motivates her to work toward achieving her goals. Combining educational goals with her creativity helps her to be successful and enjoy the learning process even when lessons are tough.
My last daughter has multiple learning issues, and I find myself creating hands-on activities to meet her goals. I have learned through her that the world is more abstract than I realize. I need to make it more concrete and tangible for her. I find new ways to use play-doh, games, and puzzles. Meeting her where she is and using manipulatives helps her meet her goals. Also, breaking down a goal into smaller goals has helped my daughter.
I’ve learned I have to think outside the box.
- Reading a description at a museum is reading (and history, and sometimes science as well.)
- Growing food in a garden teaches not just science but also problem-solving skills. Go a step further and prepare a meal with that food, and you have Home Ec.
- If our goal is to read a novel. I let them pick the book. If they are interested in the topic, they are more likely to glean more information. If the skill is reading, then it truly doesn’t matter what they are reading just that they read it. If the skill is to learn the content, we often use audio and videos.
- Use a museum as a scavenger hunt and take advantage of the free resources that they provide for teachers. Many military bases have museums for a nominal fee that cover WWI & WWII battles, aircraft, ground vehicles weaponry. I’m seeing museums offer Sensory Friendly rooms or sensory sensitive exhibit times as well. Download our free museum guide and checklist to help your next museum visit go smoothly.
- Take advantage of the Parks and Wildlife Agency in your area. Many offer free materials to do unit studies on things like plant identification, water conservation, taking care of our environment, and more.
- Use your library. Mine has computer classes open to the public and offers gardening classes for all ages.
My children are younger (7 and 3). My 7-year-old has autism, and my 3-year-old has some developmental delays, too. Some days, trying to get everything done can be a real challenge! One of my big goals this year was to help my children be more independent. To do this, I have had to get a little creative and flexible. I have to discern when to stick with our plan and when to give a little. This “dance” takes time and energy to maintain, but when you see it through, you can accomplish your goals and so much more. Here are some of the ways I help my kids be independent…
- Use visuals such as checklists, schedules, reminders to knock, and labeling drawers and bins.
- Enlist their help and praise what they do right. If something needs to be fixed, it is done with little fuss. The focus stays on the positive (most of the time).
- Give some freedom to make decisions. My 7-year-old son can choose where he keeps his markers as long as they are put up. He sorted and organized the cup cabinet himself. This “buy-in” gives him ownership and he’s more likely to maintain the system.
- Rewards are great motivation. I always start out with a bigger reward for smaller tasks and then start decreasing the reward and increasing the expectation. By the time it becomes a habit, the reward is intrinsic!
- Sometimes money talks. When I was having some extremely challenging behaviors like talking back and leaving dirty socks on furniture (yuck!), I created a money system to let him earn money for positive behaviors and lose it (or get charged) for the negative. He figured it out really fast, and the negative behaviors disappeared (or greatly diminished). By the time he made his goal (he wanted to buy a movie), behaviors were manageable without continuing the system. Now all I have to say is, “Do I get a dollar or are you going to _______?”
For each of my children, I have had to be creative in different ways to help each with various goals. Below are some ways I have helped all three of my children over the years work in accomplishing a goal or set of goals we set for them.
For my oldest, his biggest struggle was reading and writing. We took the slow-and-steady approach to help him get better at these skills while at the same time not making learning so difficult that he would shut down on me. I wrote about this process in a previous article called Slow and Steady: The Key to Homeschooling Success which includes a link to my interview with Andrew Pudewa and how I used his curriculum IEW to help my son eventually reach the goal of learning to write. We took one little step at a time and trusted the curriculum would help my son learn all the basics he needed.
For my middle son, one subject he struggled with consistently was math. Not so much the concrete computations, but the theoretical aspect of the subject. I learned very quickly I had to make sure math was presented to him in a language he would understand, which meant I often had to change the subjects in a word problem from something he didn’t relate to (like a piece of produce) to something he was used to thinking and talking about (like superheroes). As he got older this became more difficult and after doing a year of Geometry using a hands-on approach with the Patty Paper curriculum we moved to less theoretical math and dove into a course on stewardship and then the following year we moved onto advanced logic in place of upper-level algebra and trigonometry/pre-calculus.
With my youngest, I had a different issue in achieving a goal, and that was teaching her art without actually teaching her. I had been advised by a variety of professional artists that she should take some time to develop her skills using the basics she already knew and therefore create her own style. Therefore, to help my daughter have content to draw and a regular schedule for her to use her artistic skills we used a curriculum that led her through the process of writing a magazine over a year for her language arts credit and then she created the art for her magazine to keep working on her art style. In the end, she finished a well-written and well-illustrated magazine at the end of the year.
Last summer, I was really struggling with motivating one of my children who struggles with learning anxieties. She quickly gets overwhelmed by anything that takes effort and then shuts down. From there, every subject seems like a fight. I read a book that was extremely helpful: Self-Reg by Dr. Stuart Shanker.
The book helped me to see how allowing my daughter to have more control over her school and schedule (even when she didn’t appear ready for that control) could help with stress. I allowed her to set some learning goals and tell me what she wanted my help with. I set a few guidelines for her to work within and then respected the schedule she created for herself, even when her schedule took longer to accomplish the work than I thought she needed. The results were amazing!
Writing is a specific subject area that creates a great deal of stress for my daughter. So using this idea of letting her have more control over the areas where she is overwhelmed, I allowed her to create display boards of topics that interested her rather than writing papers. The result was that she wrote several strong paragraphs for each display board willingly and with no anxiety. She actually wrote more than I would have required if she’d been assigned to write a paper on the topic!
Our kids with wide ranges of academic and developmental abilities have just as wide a range of goals to achieve and unique gifts to share with the world. Sometimes, it just takes a few creative methods to help them achieve those goals and find success.