How to Define your Homeschooling Goals: Start with the End in Mind

In homeschooling, you must determine where you want your children to end up before you decide what curriculum to use.

In my last post I wrote about the confusion that most newcomers feel when first confronted with the “night sky” of the homeschooling world.  The starry array has its beauty, its darkness, its bright stars, its moving comets and its constellations, with an occasional passing plane soaring overhead, just to confuse things. In the next few posts, I hope to help those considering homeschooling to make sense of what now seems like a bewildering multiplicity of choices.

Like any new star gazer, to make sense of the night sky and get any use out of it as a guide for your journey, you must learn to see the patterns of stars in the sky above. There are two broad ways to pattern choices between homeschooling resources. One can group them by educational philosophy or by methodological approach.  Let me define these simply.

  • Educational philosophy expresses the “why” or the “where” of education. It asks, “Why do we teach?” and “Where we’re trying to end up?” It is focused on the meaning and goals of the educational journey.
  • Educational methods are the means that we adopt to get to the philosophical ends that we’ve defined. What content do we teach? What delivery options do we choose? How do we measure success as defined by our educational philosophy?” Etc.

All homeschooling resources have a guiding educational philosophy as their basis. Some vendors are clear about theirs and explain it to the new buyer.  In others it’s either assumed (doesn’t everybody already know that this is the goal?) or it’s so underlying as to be invisible to the newbie. Many newcomers get caught up in the details of the methodology as a first step. I’d direct you to consider the “why” of homeschooling before even beginning to look at the “how.”

Since all resources have as their starting point their view of education, if we’re talking about picking a star to head for, I posit that job #1 is to figure out your educational philosophy for your unique family. Start with your direction, then choose a star in a constellation that rises in that direction.

Now, before you get overwhelmed (or stuck) let’s remember that we’re on a journey here, so our educational goals (and often our methods) will change with the different stages of the journey.  I mean, if you were taking a trip from east to west across America in the pioneer days, your first, short-term goal would be getting across the Appalachians (needing light loads and some warm clothing). Next, you’d need to truck across the flat lands to the Mississippi (via horses, by stage coaches) or even get there by water. Then you’d need to cross the prairies to get to the Rockie Mountains (time for a covered wagon full of supplies for this phase). Finally, you’d need to get over or around those imposing Rockies (mules are good for this!).

Each stage of the journey would have shorter-term goals (just to the other side of the mountain, that’s all) and equipment specific to that phase of the journey. You can might even decide to stop along the way and settle down just after crossing the Mississippi because you find that, hey, after all you like the flat lands of the Mid-West! You might veer north to Canada! While change and in-course corrections are always possible, having a long-term goal for which you are heading means that each leg of the journey, each short-term goal achieved, should also get you further down the road towards your overall goal of reaching the West Coast, as long as that’s still your direction.

So, with education we also have short- and long-term goals, and must try to start with the end in mind. But again: Where are we headed? Why are we going there? Once we know that, we can pick a guiding star to steer in that direction. I believe that you’ll best find your educational star to steer by if you sit down with your spouse and ask a series of questions, some of which have little to do with education, but everything to do with direction. Here you go:

  • What are we, as a couple and as individuals, most passionate about regarding God’s glory and Kingdom?
  • What are immovable constraints that will shape our family? (Such things as vocational choices, regional conditions, and money issues)
  • What is most important to us as parents? Finish this sentence, “My parenting would be a success if ___________.”
  • What do we value in life that we most want to pass on to our kids?
  • How big a family do we plan to have? How does that limit our time, energy, and financial resources?
  • Who will primarily do the teaching, and what kinds of gifts, talents, passions, and weaknesses does this person bring to the endeavor?
  • Where are we today? (How old are our kids, what jobs do we have, where do we live, etc.? All the stuff above.)
  • Where do we think we might be in 5 years? 10 years? 25 years? (Chart this one on paper, noting ages of kids, career, location, etc.)
  • What gifts, talents, and drives do we already notice in each of our children? (On one piece of paper per kid: profile them academically, spiritually, and socially as they now are.)
  • Which of the above gifts, talents, and drives do we think God wants us to steward and promote? What weaknesses have we identified, and how do we want to help strengthen each child over time, with God’s help? (Again, record these on the child-specific profiles.)
  • If we had to boil our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our children down into a couple or three theologically-informed sentences, what might they be?

Below are some examples that, while different, all have validity.

  • Example #1: Bill was an Olympic athlete who won a silver medal, and Judy was, before kids, a triathlon competitor, first in her state. As this couple talks and prays, they realize that glorifying God in the public arena through stewarding carefully the gifts and talents of each family member is most important to them as a family value. Given this focus, a small family is planned so that there will be enough time, financial resources, and mobility to carefully steward the development of each child to his or her fullest potential.Now: we start with longest term goals and work down to today:
    • One supportive, educational, long-term goal to the above could be to work towards attaining a sports scholarship to a university, for the purposes of making the most of gifts and talents that their 5 yo has early demonstrated as a gymnast.
    • To this end, this talented first child will need a flexible academic program that leaves plenty of room for practices and meets throughout junior and senior high school years.  Since gymnastics is an individual sport, he doesn’t need a school setting in order to further his goals, and homeschooling gives us the flexibility to control his schedule and provide Christ-centered tutoring.
    • However, we all know that injuries happen, and there is life after sports fame, so Bill and Judy also want to prepare their children to serve God in other sports-related industries, such as becoming a sports therapist, or journalist,.
    • Since their eldest child is now five (but showing clear talent in gymnastics even at this tender age) they should probably choose curricula that will serve God’s purposes as they now understand them by allowing them to build a solid foundation in the 3 R’s while still giving time for abundant gymnastics lessons and practices.

    Please note that, so far in this process, no curriculum decision has been made. What has been established is clarity about the why of a couple’s homeschool journey. This kind of guiding star enables this couple to pick a point and begin to head for it.  I chose this as my first example because of the obvious (perhaps over simplistic), clear direction that this couple has. Not all couples have this.

    But, also notice that such sports-oriented plans are sometimes more subject to change because of injuries or lack of enough talent to make the cut. These wise parents have a two-part approach: they plan to give their kids a solid education and Christian values that back up a possible failure of the ambitious desire to have their student excel in the sports world to the glory of God.

  • Example #2: Bob and Sue both grew up in the same Mid-western, farming country. Bob’s dad owned the regional tractor dealership and farmed. Bob had seven siblings; five still live close by. Sue grew up in the town near Bob’s farm, but she was an only child. As they talk, Bob and Sue realize that their central focus is family unity and generational discipleship. Bob and Sue both envision having a large family, being involved with both sides of a muli-generational family that lives nearby and comes from a strong Christian background.
    • As they talk and pray, the defining, long-term goal for this couple becomes the hard work of developing a family business so that Bob can be a hands-on dad, much more available than in many other vocational contexts. A secondary benefit that they see in this is that involvement in the business can both train kids in valuable skills and bring generations together as they work together to the glory of God.
    • To this end, the general academic direction of the children will include not only basic academic subjects, but a strong emphasis for each one on some aspect of the family business, determined by their emerging, God-given gifts and talents.
    • There will need to be some time left in each day for Sue and the kids to assist Bob in the business, especially during its early years of development.
    • As they talk, they realize that between business demands and the number of planned children, their curriculum will need to be pretty simple to execute: open, point, and shoot. Academics are not the focus for Bob and Sue right now: they are the means to the greater end of family unity and business success.
    • Since Sue’s eldest child is now five, with a 3 yo brother and 1 yo sister, and Sue plans to be pregnant next year again, the curriculum and methodology they choose will be very basic and easily accomplished in short lessons.
  • Example #3: In a third family, John has chosen a military career to the glory of God, so he and Martha have chosen to homeschool knowing that frequent moves will otherwise disrupt the social and academic courses of the children.
    • As they talk about their future, they realize that Martha is going to have to be the prime mover in homeschooling and discipleship of the children, since John is going to be deployed overseas, sometimes for a year or two on end.***May I stop this hypothetical example to say THANK YOU to all the heroic military families reading this? THANK YOU for serving so selflessly so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have!***
    • There will definitely be some times when this family will enjoy sweet fellowship and support on military bases, but also the couple can anticipate periods where Martha will be isolated from real-life support. One long-term goal that they identify is to make computer technologies and long-distance communications a budget priority from the get-go.
    • The curriculum and other family rhythms are going to need to be comfortable for Martha, who will function as a single parent for significant portions of the children’s upbringing. But, they are looking hard at ways that John can actively lead his family, and help and support his wife and growing children as the years unfold.
    • Besides academic lessons, this couple is going to need to determine how their kids’ social needs are going to be met. Will the curriculum, the Internet, the social media outlets, or local church attendance be means of grace or avenues of sin to such kids? For instance, do they want to promote Internet relationships so that moves don’t disrupt them, or limit these in favor of a series of short-term, local friendships whose longevity or not are seen as part of God’s sovereign plan for each of their kids’ shaping and ministries?
    • The vocational choice here doesn’t really dictate curricula choices as clearly. Martha’s personal learning style, degree of personal discipline, strengths and weaknesses academically, and personal passions have much more influence for the choices that this couple makes.
    • As they look at their eldest, a 5 yo daughter, they plan to be in their current duty another three years, with John home for at least the next two years. This means that they can now go on to learn about the diverse array of homeschooling resources out there (which I’ll try to profile in my next post). What they now know more clearly, though, is that Martha will be the “lead duck” in choosing the curricula that she is most in faith for as they start out.
  • Example #4: In this last example, Paul and Sarah grew up in (different areas of) East-Coast affluent suburbia and are comfortable in that lifestyle. Paul has a good job as a white-collar administrator for a large, stable firm, and Sarah enjoys cooking, home making, crafts and girlie stuff. Since they met at college and decided to settle in the same area, their parents don’t live close. Both are Christians and go regularly to a Bible-believing church, but it’s not the center of their world. Neither of them have have discovered driving passions to help them define unique long-term goals, since their life has fallen neatly into relatively easy, predictable paths. But, all of a sudden, they’ve realized two things: their son’s Kindergarten teacher is atrocious, and they themselves didn’t get a very strong education. In fact, they’ve never really thought about education much at all.  Having been educated in the public school system, they’ve always assumed that their children would do likewise. Now, this curve ball in their otherwise placid life has them scrambling.
    • The motive for this couple to homeschool is circumstantial: they cannot in good conscience leave their son in his current educational setting, and it is mid-year, which is the wrong time to attempt entry into a Christian private school. The seek a quick answer to the burning question, “How do I homeschool? Where do I start? What do I buy to use to teach?”
    • Paul and Sarah have advantages in this crisis that some other families lack. They have money and Sarah has availability. Their eldest child is not very far into the school years. There is time for them to learn all that they need to know. What they lack is an overall understanding of their choices, and the places that those choices will lead them. Given the tight time constraints, the best single thing that they can do is to look around their church family or friends for a mentor who knows the homeschooling world well. (Actually, even if their kids were much older, this would be the wisest course for someone who had a sudden need to homeschool, for whatever reason!)
    • Paul and Sarah can take their mentor’s curriculum recommendation and purchase a program that will finish out the school year. With that mentor’s help, Sarah can begin to set up her daily rhythms and begin to learn to teach their son. They should, however, realize that just because they have begun at the short-term end of the stick doesn’t mean that they won’t need to set those long-range goals if they are to succeed in homeschooling (and I would add: in life!).
    • After the crisis is answered, Paul and Sarah can begin to pray and talk about their long-range and short-term goals.
      • Shorter-range questions are like these: Should they continue to homeschool after this year? If so, why will they be doing so? (There are options! Christian private school is one; secular private school is another, or they could continue to homeschool.)
      • The bigger, more far reaching question awaiting this couple is, “Where are you headed?” To answer that, they will need to work through that starter list of probing questions above. The good news is that the crisis will have clarified certain boundaries, and the catapult into homeschooling will have at least acquainted them with a mentor and some homeschooling jargon!

Before you go, let me flesh out for you what I mean in that last starting question above: “If we had to boil our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our children down into a couple or three theologically-informed sentences, what might they be?”

I’ve actually given you examples in the profiles above. Did you catch them?

  • Bill and Judy’s crystallized vision for their family might be stated as: “We want to glorify God in the public arena through stewarding carefully the gifts and talents of each family member.”
  • Bob and Sue might say, “Our vision is to build family unity and generational discipleship, expressed through the means of a successful family business, run on Christian principles, to impact our community and serve our neighbors to the glory of God.”
  • John and Martha believe that God has called John to the military. They would say, “We believe that serving and supporting John as he serves his country to the glory of God is the primary calling for our family. Secondarily, we believe that God provides grace and help for those in need, and as the father of this family, I (John) believe that I should diligently seek God’s will in supporting and loving my wife, and children, even when my vocation takes me away from home.”

Here are some other family visions that I have heard over the years:

  • Our family is an outpost of the Kingdom of God. We want to build a loving, warm, stable family into which the world may come when invited, on our terms, so that our children may learn to recognize evil, minister to the hurting people of this world with compassion, and become equipped to answer the enemies of God in the gate of the city when they become adults.
  • Our family lives in the inner city because we feel a call from God to minister to broken people. We live conscious of the fact that not a single sparrow falls to earth without God’s permission, and so we trust Him for provision, for protection, and for the souls of our children as we function as His ambassadors here.
  • Our family is called to be overseas missionaries. As such, we homeschool so that we may instruct our children academically fulfilling our call to minister on the front lines of God’s ongoing battle for the souls of men and women in this place, where Christian witness is practically non-existent.

Inspiring, aren’t they? If you are just beginning this process, or if you’ve been in it for awhile, I would LOVE to see: what is God calling your family to? What’s your guiding star? What is the end that you have in mind as you begin (or are working through) your homeschool journey? Do share!

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