Sunday, January 6, 2013

Watching My Son Grow: Goal Setting

I have always be a "do-er". I am a list maker, a goal setter, a strategic planner. I also believe in letting kids be kids and letting play and natural exploration govern their learning. So how do I strike a balance between these two philosophies with my son?

Introducing... "The Rowan Station"! It is a kid-height bulletin board in our kitchen that helps Rowan focus on things we (his father and I consult on these things with Rowan) think he needs to work on. They are interests that come up (Soon he will be taking violin, for example. I never would have picked that instrument- Rowan picked it. (I am more of a drum girl, myself.) I look forward to rusty hinge noises during practice for the coming years- groan!), as well as developmental milestones, and age-appropriate topics. We pick five- it seems like a reasonable amount of things to juggle and maintain interest without being overwhelming. With five things, we can switch from topic to topic, so nothing gets boring or seems like we are drilling him (what could divert enthusiasm faster?).

Right now, as Rowan approaches his third birthday, this is what he is working on:

1. Phonics. He knows his alphabet, and is about halfway through knowing the sound of the consonants. It's very exciting, and we cheer him on and tell him how close he is to learning to read himself. He is so excited to learn to read. We go to the library weekly and check out a huge tote bag full of books. We get him picture books as well as young adult chapter books that aren't overly scary. Right now, besides picture books, he is hearing stories from Rudyard Kipling, Maurice Sendak, and Roald Dahl. He loves books and memorizes the shorter ones so he can tell the stories to himself when we are not reading aloud. It is adorable.

2. Manners. Oh my. How this mama wishes that manners were an innate quality humans have. But alas, my preschooler is a beastie with no sense of propriety. Manners is an umbrella term we are using for respecting others and being a good citizen, family member, and friend. What are "bad manners"? Littering, crowding people, watching people in the bathroom, staring at others while in a restaurant, chewing with your mouth full, picking toe jam or your nose at the table (ugh!), and interrupting conversations (particularly with shouting, whining, or demands). We are focusing on giving people space, privacy, and table manners while eating right now.

Rowan scored very high in problem solving
in his preschool assessment. Here he is,
piecing a puzzle together.
3. Numbers and Counting. We are spanning the bridge between knowing the memorized sequence of numbers in their order and using that to actually count objects properly. We have him in the kitchen when we cook, "helping us" by counting out tortillas, for example.

The first three items are things we are actively working on, daily (and Rowan is right there, on board). The last two items are things that he is ready to do, according to all the experts, but is not doing as well as he could be. We have them on the list as a reminder to the adults that we should be putting the idea out there and raising the bar gradually on these items.

4. Getting Dressed and Undressed. He has shown no interest in actually doing it himself, which surprises me. He is so eager to be a "big boy" in other areas. We ask him to put on his jacket and after we get the zipper in the right position, to zip it up. He can put on his own frog boots (although he still has not mastered which foot!) but it is harder for other shoes without pull-up handles. He shows no interest in dressing himself, but wants to pick out his own clothes. I think the next step will be that he gets to pick out things if he is willing to put them on (or try).

5. Potty Learning. We would love for him to be actively trying, but right now he isn't. We ask all the time if he wants to sit on the potty, but right now he would rather use a diaper. He actively poops in his diaper instead of trying the potty. Sigh. We are not pressuring him- what's the point? There will come a time when he is ready and it will be a quick process when that time comes. In the meantime, it is something we keep reminding him of because he is at the age to start sometime soon.

If you notice (in the first picture), he also has a small calendar on the board- to teach him about the passage of time. He is curious about it and uses the words "today", "tomorrow", and the days of the week incorrectly at times. So I wanted to show him what they actually mean by using a calendar. I put events on there that will help him mark the passage of time (birthdays, Friday Family Fun Night, potlucks, storytimes, etc.), and we have him cross off the days as they pass. I am hoping that by using a visual aid, he will come to a better understanding of this abstract concept.

How do you teach your kids (both academic subjects at home and life skills)? Do you set goals, either privately amongst adults or including the child(ren)?


  1. I found a very useful flash card set at a used bookstore. They are called Good Citizenship flash cards by eeBoo. They have cartoons of animals demonstrating responsible behavior. There is no religious cards, and have been a help to me with guiding my children.

  2. Our son has always been fascinated with calendars, so we got one of those magnetic ones - I believe we bought it at Borders or a similar store. It has magnets for all of the major holidays as well as magnets with fun stuff on them. He LOVES it! He loves resetting the calendar each month and putting on the holidays and special events.

    I am not sure I would put in writing where my child could see it that we want him/her to work on potty learning (assuming your child can read it). I think potty learning is something that is very personal to each person. Our youngest has taken longer to reach several different milestones, including potty learning. When she was ready to do it, she just..did it! Your son will know when he is ready. :)

    We have had to speak to our son about manners, and that is one thing I would feel happy to write down. When he does something inappropriate, we remind him that it is showing poor manners (or poor listening ears). We remind him that he needs to be nice, helpful, and a good listener. If he does not, he gets no computer time for the rest of the day (computer time is his favorite activity).

    We then sit down before bed and discuss it again gently, reminding him that if he wants computer time the following day, that he needs to use his manners/helpful hands/listening ears.

    Academic subjects are different. I appreciate that you feel there are certain skills that you feel should be learned by a certain age. I prefer to scaffold on what each individual child already knows. For example: our son was able to recognize the letters of the alphabet and a few familiar words. We then set a goal for him to recognize 10 site words. We didn't give any sort of time frame, we would just introduce them one at a time and then look for that particular word in one of his books.

    Once he mastered those words at his own pace, we added more. Now he is 5 years old and reading at a low 2nd grade level. There was no forcing, no expectations, no time frames. It was just a natural extention of doing what he enjoyed and challenging him to go a little further with it over time.

    You asked if we set goals even privately. We did fall into that early on, but when our youngest came along and was not on the same time table her older siblings were, we had to throw out any expectations and realize that she was going to do things on her own time table. It taught us a lot about deciding for our children when WE think they are ready for something.

    Having said that, as I said above, we do keep challenging them to reach further and deeper each day. We like to use themes (like Winter Animals, for example) and then create lessons or learning opportunities for the kids based on the theme.

    We will gather books (from our home or library), videos (library or free online), and our own toys (we have tons of miniature toy animals that can be used to act out things we may read about or watch). Then combine math (how many of each animal? If I take 4 away, how many are left? How many have fur/feathers/4 legs/fly/swim/lay eggs?) and writing ("Draw a picture of a winter animal and how they adapt to winter, then write a sentence or 2 below to describe it"). Create crafts (what about a beaver dam, or a bear den or winter bird nest?) or paint as a fine art.

    There are so many ways to incorporate skills into a theme, we just adapt the skills to build upon what the child already is familiar with.


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