How We Developed Our Learning Objectives to Measure Progress
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We’re about to launch into our first “real” year of formal homeschooling. It’s only pre-k, but I still felt it was important to establish our learning objectives as well as a method for tracking progress.
I’m just going to own the fact that I am a Type-A overachiever, and not apologize for the specificity or detail of these objectives. If you’re like me, then you probably deal with anxiety at least in part by having a solid plan. It’s these sorts of plans that help me sleep at night.
We developed some good habits for tracking progress during the preschool years. But now that we’re in pre-k, I wanted a better system for measuring progress. When it comes to next year, I want to be able to look back and at least see a baseline and end-of-year assessment as a means to see how far we’ve come.
The beauty of homeschooling is that you can set your own learning objectives. And these don’t have to look like traditional school objectives — we included a lot that were specific to our family.
In this post, I’ll walk you through exactly how we made our list, how I assess both measurable and less tangible qualities, and how I set some over-arching goals for the year. I also have a freebie for you so you can make your own learning objectives and adapt them for your own use.
Why is it important to set learning objectives for pre-k?
Learning objectives aren’t about re-creating “school at home.” They’re also not about trying to finish the whole math book in a single year.
These objectives mainly focus on larger goals such as exploration, critical thinking, creative expression, and life skills. And that’s why homeschool is awesome — you can flex and adapt to make the plan suit your family and your child.
But before I went out and bought curriculum, scheduled field trips or travel, or thought about unit studies, I wanted to identify my big goals for the year. It’s totally backwards to buy a curriculum or a resource without knowing how that resource fits into your overall goals and vision for your homeschool.
Pre-K is all about PLAY. But I knew that I wanted to keep her more or less at grade level, should we need to return to public school in the future, for whatever reason.
I knew that I wanted to make sure we were hitting a few key goals during the year, even if we chase after those goals through art, music, nature, and free play.
And I wanted to have an easy-to-access resource, should we need to provide proof of progress to an outside authority (including curious family members!).
Last, I wanted to define my big goals and have a system in place for reviewing them regularly so that I could make sure that we’re accomplishing our goals over the year. These opportunities for reflection can help us pause, notice areas that need work, and then course-correct if necessary.
Maybe a certain resource is no longer working for us. Maybe our child needs a little extra practice with a particular lifeskill. Maybe we’ve ignored a certain topic area that we had hoped to cover this year.
Most of all, this exercise gave me a chance to identify the life skills that we wanted to cover this year, including age-appropriate chores, family rituals, health and self-care, and social-emotional growth.
In other words, this isn’t about sitting your child down with a stack of workbooks and printables.
For me, defining learning objectives was about determining what is most important for our homeschool and our family, for directing our learning opportunities, and for identifying the areas where we might need a little extra help.
If you’re not a homeschooling family, this exercise is still useful — simply focus on those skills and concepts you want to address outside of school. Are there certain topics or skills that you want to make sure are addressed, regardless of what is taught in school?
If you find this totally overwhelming, you can just skip this post. Your child is going to learn whether or not you take the time to write down your pre-k learning objectives.
Identify your major pre-k learning goals
These are different from learning objectives, and have to do with bigger goals like creating wonder, exploring the outdoors, and learning how to care for our bodies and our homes.
These goals have to do with why you’re homeschooling and how you want your homeschool to feel. What is the most important thing you want to do in your homeschool? And I don’t mean “learn how to read three-letter words” or “skip count by tens.”
Rather, I’m talking about how you want to feel as you’re homeschooling and the activities and habits that you want to make an integral part of your day. Is it nature hikes? Read-alouds? Time outdoors? Art appreciation? Travel?
What are your family values and priorities? Maybe there is a religious component that’s important to you, or perhaps cultural heritage is really paramount.
Perhaps you’re in the unschooling camp, and you simply want to make sure that your days are full of self-led inquiry and discovery. That totally counts.
The important thing here is to identify the really top-level goals for your family, and use those as guides when you select your learning objectives. Your objectives should serve your bigger goals. They are a tool to help you, not something to bind you to a set path that isn’t in alignment with your larger reasons for homeschooling.
Define your pre-k learning objectives
I started with a blank spreadsheet, and I started by doing a brain dump of all the broad topics that I want to cover this year:
- family connection
- writing & storytelling
- critical thinking
- science & nature
- gross motor
- fine motor
- health & well-being
- life skills (including cooking, home maintenance, and safety)
- art & creativity
- foreign language
- history & geography
- social and emotional
I know that looks like A LOT. But I knew I wanted to at least touch on a few aspects of each of these topics over the course of the year.
Next, I went through these categories and added my ideas regarding what I wanted to cover. For example, under “safety,” I knew I wanted to make sure we were solid on crossing the street and road safety, water safety, and how to behave around dangerous objects like knives, stoves, and even guns (*shiver*).
Some topic areas were easy — I can make my own objectives for family chores and health. For more difficult topics, I looked at the scope and sequence for various curriculum options that I already owned or even just googled the learning objectives for pre-k and kindergarten in our state.
Then I went through and cherry-picked the ones that I agreed with, and skipped the ones I didn’t think were necessary.
It took me a few hours to do this from scratch. But, if you keep reading, I have a freebie for you that will simplify this process ENORMOUSLY. 😉
Find curriculum to fit your learning objectives
After sitting on my learning objectives for a few weeks and re-reading to make sure they still rang true, I was ready to go out and buy some shiny new curriculum.
When assessing whether a particular resource was a good fit, I could check the scope and sequence of the text against my own defined objectives. Obviously no resource will be a perfect fit, but if something is generally aligned with our goals, I know we can make it work.
This proved valuable right away. For example, I had originally planned on using All About Reading Pre-Reading, but after checking their scope against my learning objectives, I realized we were already ready for Level 1.
Similarly, I realized that Kate Snow’s excellent “Preschool Math At Home” is too basic for us, and we’re ready for something more robust for pre-k.
I also realized that I’ll need to create a few of my own unit studies. For example, I know I want to do a unit on the human body and the basic functions of at least four organ systems (i.e., “The lungs help us breathe. Our muscles move our body.”). I also want to make sure she can name the basic parts of her own body in English and Spanish, explain in age-appropriate terms how boys and girls are different, and introduce concepts like consent and good touch/bad touch. There’s no pre-made resource for this out there, so I know I’m going to have to look for books and printables to meet this objective.
In other words, use your learning objectives to make smart purchases for your homeschool year and to help you schedule out your year in a logical sequence.
Create a baseline
A few weeks before we planned to start homeschooling, I spent an hour going through each learning objective and making a short note about where my daughter stood in relation to that skill or objective. There were several where I simply put “not attempted” — for example, we haven’t even talked about basic map concepts like continents verses oceans verses islands.
Here are some examples from my spreadsheet:
You’ll notice that my comments (at right) are short, simple, and to-the-point. I note anything that I think she needs to work on or that she does exceptionally.
Summarize your assessment
After I finished making my notes, I wrote a short paragraph summarizing her strengths, areas for improvement, and our family goals. I went into more detail about any particular areas that I want to emphasize. For example, she does a great job counting to “30” except that she always seems to skip the number “16.” I made a note to work on this.
At the end of my summary, I made some general comments regarding my goals for the first half of the year:
“The main areas I would like to focus on in our first half of the school year are: performing routine chores without complaint; developing tolerance for putting marks on the page without fear of a mistake; encourage joy of discovery and exploration in scientific and mathematical topics; and support exploration of music and art as an enjoyable means of self-expression and joy. I would like to increase daily independent play, engage in daily nature walks, go out as a family to “real” nature at least once a week, and increase the amount of time we spend in free art, reading, and guided art appreciation. Finally, I would like to increase the sense of family connection, ritual, and rhythm, hopefully finding more peace and connection as a family unit.
You’ll notice that there isn’t anything in there about finish a certain textbook or reaching a certain page in the workbook. It’s all about crystallizing the ideas, themes, connections that we’re aiming for this year.
I wouldn’t have been able to zero in on those specific goals without first going through the more concrete learning objectives and baseline assessment, where I started to notice a pattern with certain strengths and weaknesses.
Repeat your assessment at regular intervals
I encourage you to re-visit your assessment half-way through the year and at the year’s end. You can easily notice areas of improvement as well as areas for increased focus.
These assessments can help you decide if you need to switch something up, if you’re ready to move on to a new challenge, or if you want to shift focus. And by the time the next school year rolls around, you’ll be all set to plan your new goals.
It’s important to remember that none of these objectives are set in stone. You wrote them, and you can change them at any moment if they no longer apply.
Combine pre-k learning objectives with sample work and POOF: instant portfolio
I have a shelf on our family desk where all the kid artwork and scribbles go. About once a month, I sit down and write a little note on the back of the pieces I want to keep, including the skill demonstrated, the topic, and any other notes to remember. I add the date, and then slide these works into our hanging file-folder for the year.
My system was inspired by an awesome post over at IHeartOrganizing, and I adapted it to make it our own.
We have a plastic bin with 12 hanging file-folders, and each folder holds the work for that year. Since every item has a little note on the back, it’s easy to see why I thought it was important at the time.
For works that don’t fit into a file folder, I take a picture and save the file to a folder on my computer, like this: “Education –> Child’s Name –> Pre-k 2019-2020”. This is also where I keep the assessment spreadsheet and any other relevant documents about goals, planning, and notes.
By the end of the year, your portfolio is totally made for you. It’s ready to be shared with homeschool assessors, if that’s a requirement in your state. You can even share it with curious family members, or simply enjoy it as a family keepsake.
Ready to start planning your own pre-k learning objectives?
I have a google document that you can save so you can edit to suit your own family and needs. I have four tabs to remind you to repeat assessments at regular intervals, but you can re-visit more or less often to suit your needs.
The most import thing is to EDIT this to meet your own needs. Your child will have their own strengths and areas for improvement. Take your time, establish your own family priorities and goals, and then dig into these objectives with a critical eye. I won’t be offended if you cut out whole subject areas because they’re just not on your radar this year.
Update: I recently stumbled upon this excellent resource by World Books, which provides sample learning goals by grade level. This is another great resource to supplement your planning!
Ready to dig in?
You’ve got this, mama.
I’d love to know if you found this resource useful. Send me an email at [email protected] or leave a comment below to let others know how you measure progress in your homeschool!