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Goal-setting and young teens

We’re in the thick of homeschooling high school, with a junior getting serious about looking at college and next year’s freshman thinking she might go back to homeschooling. Thinking about homeschooling my younger child again sparked me to think about what we’ve done that’s successful, and what we might change.

Goal-setting helps kids understand that their education is for them, not for their parents!

Goal-setting helps kids understand that their education is for them, not for their parents!

Amidst the complexity of homeschooling high school, one success does stand out. I think it was at a homeschooling conference where I  heard the advice that young teens need to be taught goal-setting. At that point, my son was largely unschooling, following his own interests. He was doing great at that, but I knew that once he entered the high school years and what he did started to “count,” homeschooling might get more complicated.

So I made a decision (in fact, I set a goal!): Once a week we sat down together and went through a goal setting curriculum I’d found online. [Goal Setting for Students, in case you’re interested.]

The curriculum was not a great fit for homeschoolers. It was very school-focused, of course, and every time they used sports as an example in the text, my sports-averse son would swear it was the stupidest thing he’d ever done.

Focusing on goal setting at that age, however, turned out to be an incredibly important step in preparing my son for homeschooling high school.

Lesson #1: We set and meet goals all the time

This was the first thing my son and I took away from formal goal setting studies. It’s the most basic part of goal-setting, yet I realized personally that I had never been taught to do this in a formal way.

For my son, it was an introduction to meaningful reflection—the process of thinking about your thinking. [I wrote on this topic on my KidsLearn blog here.] This is not something that most teens do instinctively, so at first it’s a bit like being a kid walking in his dad’s shoes.

Lesson #2: Goals allow us to focus our actions and prioritize

If you never think formally about your goals, you can find yourself spending a lot of time spinning your wheels. The decisions we make on a daily basis reflect whether or not we are focused on our goals. Homeschooling high school offers many more choices than school does, so having specific goals allows students to make decisions about which direction to go.

Lesson #3: Big goals can be broken down into a series of steps

Big goals, which are often quite distant from a teen’s everyday life, can seem too complex. But when broken down into steps, big goals become more manageable. The path you have to take can also appear more flexible once you start seeing that each step can be modified according to current needs and desires.

Applying goal setting to homeschooling high school

Once we had the concept of goal setting down, we had the foundation to do the work that is now paying its dividends. We went over all the ways that our son could spend his high school years, and how each choice might apply to his eventual goal of making it to a good university.

Goal-setting needs to emphasize that there are many ways to get to any destination.

Goal-setting needs to emphasize that there are many ways to get to any destination.

It became very clear to him that his choices would have a direct effect on whether he meets his goals. And more importantly, it became clear to him that they were his choices, not his parents’. Once he stated his goals, it would be up to him whether he met the challenges facing him or not.

When kids attend a high school, their success depends in part on how self-motivated they are. But successful high school homeschooling requires self-motivation. At the time in life when their biology is telling kids to rebel against their parents and strike out on their own, it’s nearly impossible for a parent to “force” a teen into anything.

Once a teen has set his or her own goals, however, there is no forcing involved. The essential vocabulary of our conversations about school work has changed.

In a non-goal-setting household, a parent might say, “You have to do this or you’ll get a bad grade.” The threat of punishment in the form of grades is how the parent attempts to force compliance.

In a goal-setting household, a parent can say, “So what grade do you need to get in this class in order to meet your goal?” In this case, the student’s behavior is turned back to his or her own stated goals.

In a non-goal-setting household: “If you don’t do the work you need to do, I’m going to make you go back to school.”

In a goal-setting household: “You chose to homeschool so this is the path you’re taking. If you feel that was the wrong choice, should you reconsider school as an option?”

The word choices are only slightly different, but they always turn the decision-making back to the student and his or her goals. Conversations that might have turned immediately emotional and adversarial become productive conversations about goals and priorities.

Nothing in parenting is easily resolved; teens are going to argue, they are going to change their minds, and they are going to make mistakes. But getting goal-setting vocabulary into your homeschool in the early teen years can help students become more successful when independence is what they crave.

Posted in Education, Homeschooling, Parenting.

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