Last month I had an aha! moment. It happened while reading Anne’s post on how she’s tackling this year’s goals. The short story? She’s forgetting results.
This makes sense in about a thousand ways. Results are outside of our circle of control, after all, and it makes so much more sense to focus on what we can do rather than on what we want to happen, as if meeting our goals is something that occurs because the stars align and everything falls into place.
The aha! moment occurred when I realized that this is exactly the fatal mistake homeschoolers make at the beginning of each school year. We set goals that are based on outcomes. We set goals that don’t match our ideals because they are all focused on the curriculum rather than on the actual child in front of us.
We set out in September, full of ambition and armed with our lesson plans and checklists. This year, we think, Johnny will complete the fourth grade math book, get halfway through the Spanish book, learn 300 spelling words, and be at the fifth grade reading level. He will read these books, check these boxes, complete these tasks. He will finish the fourth grade. (Whatever the heck that means.)
(No really. What does it mean?)
And then we wonder why by mid-winter we’re all tuckered out. Why burnout looms red hot, threatening us with thoughts of giving up the whole project because this is not what we signed up for. This is hard. This is not delightful or joyful or even remotely interesting. It’s drudgery.
Is it any wonder?
What if our goals for our kids looked more like Anne’s goals for herself? What if we focused on the process and threw the results to the wind? We don’t want to become outcome-based educators after all- we’re after something far better than that. We’re after delight. Wisdom. Knowledge. Joy. We’re after capturing the spirit of a life well-lived, but we don’t get there by keeping our eyes fixed on the end of the math book.
Instead of focusing on the outcome–the completed curriculum, the number of facts or poems memorized, the quantity of assignments completed–what if we threw the spotlight on the process instead?
Rather than setting a goal to finish a particular math book, we might set a goal to work with numbers every day for 45 minutes. All of the sudden the book is not our master. We may use the book (and in fact are likely to), but we are still making progress on our goal if we take some extra time to make sure a lesson is really understood, or to fill a day or a week or a month with math games instead of bookwork.
Rather than listing books we need to get through (as if the “getting through” is any indication that the child has learned something), maybe we go broader. After all, there isn’t any merit in getting through the book. The merit is in the thinking. The growing. The process.
My hunch is that by throwing the spotlight on the process of learning itself, most of us would far outpace the goals that are set in a typical grade-level curriculum. As parents, we have the ability to fling wide the doors of the whole wide world, after all. That’s so much more inspiring than setting our sights on the end of a set of written lessons.
Do you set goals for your kids based on outcomes or processes? What does this look like for you? I’d love to chat about it with you in the comments.
Sarah Mackenzie is a smitten wife, a homeschooling mama of six (including twins!) and a devoted reader of Modern Mrs. Darcy. She writes about a life drenched in books, babies, and grace at Amongst Lovely Things.