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What does my homeschooler need to learn this year?
If you previously had a child in a brick-and-mortar school, you may have gotten a list of "Learning Objectives" from your child's teacher at the beginning of the school year. This is a schedule of things the teacher is likely to cover, and that your child will hopefully learn, in the upcoming school year. When you're homeschooling, though, that list is noticeably absent. You can peek under your pillow in hopes that the homeschool fairy granted you a special request, but chances are that those 'learning objectives" are now on your agenda to decide.
This can make new homeschooling parents understandably uneasy. Where do I start if I don't know exactly what I'm supposed to be teaching? What if I miss something? What if my child falls behind?
After several rounds of deep-breathing, the next thing to do to calm yourself when thinking like this is to realize that taking your child's education into your own hands is actually freeing. All those "standards" that apply to the mass education system can now be seen as "guidelines" for you to customize according to your child’s individual needs.
Grade Levels and Homeschooling
This may come as a surprise, but for families who’ve been homeschooling for a while, "grade levels" become less important. In fact, it's not unusual for a homeschool parent or student to have to stop and think when asked what grade their child is in. That's because grade levels, while an important way for traditional education to organize student progress, may or may not be the best way for parents to gauge how their child is performing. Although grade-specific homeschool guidelines can be a tremendously helpful tool when deciding what to cover in any given year, the truth is that your child is the ultimate compass to follow when determining what's appropriate to learn and when.
Homeschooling Ages and Stages
A more accurate way to decide what your homeschooler should be learning might be by looking at their specific development. Is your five year old asking what specific words on signs spell or can easily recognize his or her own name in writing? It might be time to begin teaching reading! Is skip-counting a breeze for your student? Multiplication might be just around the corner.
Interestingly, though, children reach those milestones at all different ages. While one child may be ready to tackle phonics at four or five, another child may not be developmentally ready until closer to seven or eight. Some twelve year olds are perfectly able to grasp algebraic expressions, while substituting letters for numbers can be confusing for many full-grown adults who haven't had the preliminary math knowledge or who struggle with problem solving.
Knowing what to teach and when in your homeschool can depend heavily on the age of your child, the developmental stage he or she is in, what their previous instruction has been like, and what their unique learning differences and learning styles are. For many homeschoolers, an age-level homeschool overview is a less stressful and more organic way to plan out their student's year. Understanding your child’s biological development naturally leads to better understanding what they will be ready to tackle. It also helps you make sense of specific roadblocks to learning that you may run into.
Embracing Your Unique Learner
To prepare for the coming homeschool year, it's a good idea to step back and take an "inventory" of your individual child. Take note of your child's:
- specific passions and interests
- learning style
- emotional maturity
- specific skill gaps
- motivation for learning
Your inventory of these areas will help you determine if your student should stay on a traditional grade-level path, or if a more customized learning path would suit him or her better. The good news is, unless you are planning on putting your child immediately back into a traditional classroom after this year, veering away from standardized learning schedules is not only acceptable, but can often be the key to helping a child eventually reach their overall educational goals.
Standards, by definition, are about deciding what a category of people should accomplish by a given time period. As a homeschooler, you aren't teaching a category; you're teaching your child. And, doesn't your unique learner deserve a unique educational path? Congratulations. That's exactly what homeschooling offers.