Fall is finally here in Colorado! The air is brisk and the mountain aspens are turning shades of gold. John and I turned on our house's heat this week for the first time this season.
Around this time of year, reality starts to sink in that summer is gone ... and the long winter months are not too far ahead. This week, I'd like to offer a few thoughts about gearing up for the months (and years) of school ahead by doing something that most of us deem important, but often push aside to make room for immediate concerns.
I've been reflecting lately on the role of goal-setting.
My prayer is that as you set goals (both long- and short-term), your target destination will become clearer and you'll take steps toward it with more purpose and joy. When you know where you want to go, you'll be able to see your progress. So when February comes and you wonder if you're accomplishing anything at all, you can look back at the goals you set in September and rejoice in the advances you've made!
Go ahead and dream about the future
Remind yourself of the kinds of people you want your children to become. Me? I wanted my kids to become adults who get along with others, who like one another, who know their gifts and delight in using them, who love to learn.
As you think about this, maybe you'll want to consider what milestones (academic, spiritual, emotional and/or physical) might serve as markers on their journeys.
It's also helpful to remind yourself why you're homeschooling in the first place. Is it for the opportunity to help them become self-confident as they focus on their unique gifts? Do you want to protect them from violent or negative influences at your local schools? Do you hope to give them a superior education? Do you treasure the unique input you can have in their lives?
Going through this process now helps fortify you when struggles come ahead. Plus, it can actually be pretty exciting to clear your head of the day-to-day struggles and dream about the big picture.
Write it down and think of some steps
Writing a goal down makes a huge difference for me. When I physically write a goal, it adopts a more concrete nature in my mind and helps me make a more serious commitment to it.
After you know your big goals, think about what course of action will get your family there. If you want your artistic daughter to flourish in her creativity, what smaller steps will help her reach that? She may need some art supplies and opportunities to try different things. Is there an adult artist who can mentor and encourage her? Would art lessons help? Perhaps she needs freedom to let other subjects take the back burner at times.
As a side note, if you don't know what specific gifts your children have that you'd like to encourage, that's OK. Try a lot of different things and see what grabs them. It wasn't until my daughter Jonelle took an art class in high school that we discovered her strong artistic bent. And she ended up going to art school. If she hadn't taken an art class, she might not have discovered her passion.
Pray and prioritize so the most important things stay the most important
Chances are that all the goals on your first draft will be more than you can handle. Sure, you'd like to keep the homeschool area perfectly organized, and teach your kids to be independent chefs, and incorporate 30 minutes of exercise into each day, and go on a date night with your husband every week, and have each child become a virtuoso musician, and get your oldest child ready for calculus by freshman year of high school. That'd be great!
But which of those are really most important to you?
If you set your heart on all the goals listed above ... you're setting yourself up to feel like a failure.
So I'd like to encourage you: Focus. Decide which goals are most important to you and what realistic steps you can take toward them. Then go for them!
Seek for and listen to feedback that may sharpen your understanding of what goals you should pursue
When the kids were young, John and I prayed and dreamed about our biggest goals as parents. We decided we wanted to parent our children in such a way as to help them become mature, self-sufficient adults who loved the Lord and had the tools they needed to follow His calling for their lives.
One of the tools we felt they would need as adults was to be able to write well. One of the smaller goals John and I knew would lead to that was to read great books to them as much as possible. (Sound familiar?) Along the way, my kids took some mandatory testing, and I discovered they were behind in spelling. I had (mistakenly) thought that reading alone produced decent spellers. While we were right that hearing great literature would help our kids write well, we needed to broaden our plan for getting them to that big goal.
We decided that since the path to writing well included becoming a decent speller, and since our kids weren't currently on the path to becoming good spellers, it was worth it to focus specifically on spelling skills.
Invite your children to be involved
I must confess I didn't have my children often (ever?) participate in setting their educational goals during the elementary and junior high years (while we homeschooled). But what better motivation for your kids to progress toward their goals than for them to create and write those goals themselves? You may be surprised at what they come up with. Younger children may need more concrete, incentive-driven goals according to whatever structures your family has decided upon (e.g. "I want to keep all my privileges this week, so I'm going to do all my chores on time"). Your older kids might blow you away with what they're dreaming about. You may decide that some of their goals (e.g. "I want to become a child star in Hollywood") are not what's best for your particular family, but if there are goals you want to encourage your kids to pursue, then why wouldn't you help them come up with realistic action steps toward achieving them?
A word of caution
If you or your children tend toward perfectionism, please know that your self-worth is not tied up in how many goals you reach! Find creative ways to show your children that they are just as valuable to you and God even if they don't reach their goals on time ... or at all. Your goals don't have to manage you. If you and your children are honestly engaging the journey of learning how to be who God created you to be (a journey that—as you know full well—has many ups and downs), that's great. There are always consequences for our actions, and it feels good to achieve things, but we certainly don't want to foster an addiction to achievement in our children or ourselves.
May your children find their affirmation in your love, and may you help them grow to find their steadfast affirmation in the Lord!
You have lots of time
Remember, you have many years at home with your kids. You don't need to accomplish everything today, this year ... or ever.
May the Lord grant you wisdom as you navigate this journey!
Blessings to you and yours,