A goal-driven curriculum

I've written quite a bit about curriculum planning through the years.

Even if you're fairly low key about this in the early years (and you absolutely can be, though setting even a basic pattern for your planning can help you as you get into the later years), it seems obvious to me that planning and record keeping becomes more important in the high school years because more is on the line.

These are the years that set the foundation for post-secondary studies, if your student goes that route, and I'd like to have my ducks in a row for that possibility.

There are two main parameters, or pillars, I use when planning a student's curriculum.

Two guiding principles form the first pillar of my curriculum planning, those principles are our family values and our core educational objectives.

Here are my educational goals from a post I wrote five years ago:

When our children graduate our homeschool we want them to have:

  • An understanding of who they are, their gifts that can be used to help and serve others, their place (one of love and mutual need) within our family and community.
  • A strong foundation in our faith of loving God, following Jesus, loving people and their unique place within the church.
  • A working, hands-on knowledge of successful home and family life.
  • A healthy body, spirit and mind to fulfill whatever it is God has for them to do.
  • A basic knowledge of the world through the lenses of history, geography, nature, science, math, music, art, language (& other disciplines). Learning in these disciplines to be taken to the point necessary for further studies if they should so choose.
  • The ability to process information, solve problems, communicate and make sound decisions.
  • A respect and appreciation for and comfort in the natural world.
  • A life long sense of adventure and hope.

In short, we want our children to have what every good parent hopes to instill:

the roots our children need to feel secure and the wings they need to fly.

Charlie's Bunion, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN 04-23-14

Somehow, through the years this simple list has become our de facto educational goals. Which is funny considering it took me about 10 minutes late one autumn evening to write them out after a particularly stressful time of seasonal transition and insecurities about our children's education.

There hasn't been any need to add to this list since it covers all the bases and emphasizes our strongest family values.

The second guiding pillar of my curriculum planning is knowing my child and meeting their unique needs for this particular school year.

I do this by asking myself some basic questions:

  • Who is my child? (answering this includes knowing their personality, interests, love languages, etc.)
  • What does she need right now to help her succeed?
  • What might she need in the near future?
  • What knowledge, skills and aptitudes need work?
  • What are her strengths? What are her weaknesses?
  • What are her goals? (immediate or longer term)

As my children have gotten older I work collaboratively with them to answer these questions, and build a curriculum around that.

The overarching educational goals (pillar one), together with the answers to these questions, are the starting point for me to create an individualized course of study, or curriculum, for each of my students.

A shift to a goal-driven curriculum

For the first time in our homeschool history one of our kids has a driving, fairly long-term goal that they are working towards. And this self-directed goal is shaping her curriculum and schedule this year.

Céline's goal is to go to C2E2 in April.

Céline has been dreaming about this since before our hike, and it was on the hike (during those long days in Virginia no doubt) that she determined to set this as a goal for herself when we got home.

What is C2E2? You can click the link above but basically it's a comic convention in Chicago that brings together "the latest and greatest from the worlds of comics, movies, television, toys, anime, manga and video games".

Like other comic conventions, C2E2 is a celebration of comics, movies, TV, pop culture, gadgets and gizmos of the sci-fi variety. It's a place where people go to get their "geek" on, to cosplay as their inner super hero, to hob nob with animators, writers, producers, costume designers, and actors from the world of comic books and pop culture.

What is most fascinating to me, the parent, mom, and non-comic reader, is how uniquely Céline this goal is.

I would never have imagined it would be a goal like this that would motivate Céline to get a part time job, just as I could not have anticipated a role playing game project would fuel the desire to learn Japanese.

The desire to go to, and participate in, C2E2 is somewhat similar to a project, but it's more of a goal (I see projects as producing something) in which small projects and other activities will help her meet that goal.

C2E2 means researching a cosplay character, sewing a costume, making travel arrangements, buying plane tickets and booking a hotel.

Céline is responsible for all her costs associated with the trip: her costume, her flight and hotel arrangements, her event ticket, her food while she's there. It's all on her dime. This meant getting a job.

We've assisted her along the way, helping her find a job, driving her to the fabric store, being a sounding board for costume ideas, reviewing flight and hotel prices, letting her use our credit card for reservations, and of course, the biggie: paying for Damien to accompany her (and no, he won't be going in character).

We are here to help, to remove what roadblocks we can, and assist her in moving past and through others, but the work is hers. The computer tech work she does to earn her money, her relationship with her supervisor, her sewing, her research and budgeting, all hers.

US-20 just past Upper Goose Pond Cabin, MA 08-05-14
Flint, Survivor, Ungerwhere, Mountain Light, Padawan, Otter

Not what I expected

When my kids were little, and I was a newbie at the the practice of interest-led elementary education (we had already been doing it for years as "preschool") I had to fashion some idea for myself of how it all might play out.

I couldn't simply steer the ship into a future educational void called "the unknown territory of interest-led high school education". (This was before I read Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, which gave me a guide to follow and even a language for what we were hoping to achieve. This is where we picked up the term Scholar Phase.)

During those first years of homeschooling, here's what I imagined: giving my children lots of time to play, explore and discover in their childhood, while fostering a love for reading, outdoors, creativity, and being together (some of our key family values) would give them a solid foundation from which to know and understand themselves. And ample time, oodles of time was my goal actually, to develop innate talents, interests and passions into skills, aptitudes and knowledge.

Céline working in her studio loft bedroom

I believed that this self-knowledge, together with the skills and self-discipline they would naturally develop from working on their interests and their participation in home and family life, would then translate into a clear career path in their high school years, which would inform and shape their studies.

I was still fairly biased from my own high school years which were very "tracked" towards university admission, with an emphasis on career preparation.

My experience has taught me I was right on the first assumption and little off the mark on the second.

As my oldest has entered her high school years and my middle child is on his way there, they appear to know themselves quite well and have all kinds of skills, aptitudes, and knowledge that are focused around a few core themes, completely unique to them.

Yes, we have family values and interests, and educational goals, but our kids are their own people. We knew this when they were younger, but as they grow through the late elementary, middle and high school years, we see this so clearly.

Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks, NY 07-25-14

This fairly solid grounding in who they are (of course my kids are still figuring this out, as am I) together with a unique skill set, knowledge, and aptitudes has not magically given them insight into a career path, therefore an educational path to reach that career.

But what it has given them is interest-led goals to work towards.

As they reach the scholar years, and are in the scholar years, our teens have become more goal orientated. These are not goals related to honor roll, entrance exams, or what they want to become some day. These are goals related to who they are now and what they want to do now.

These are not CAREER GOALS (I feel that should have a booming echo-y voice). These are goals for today, tomorrow, this month, the next six months, and more recently, one year.

I had thought that interest-led learning would eventually facilitate a self-directed career and post secondary education path. I still believe this but I don't think it's going to look like choosing a possible career, with laid out educational track, at age sixteen. At least not for our oldest.

I have a hunch our children's adult vocations, and the educational routes necessary to get there, will unfold in unexpected, interconnected, and serendipitous ways. We are already on this path with our oldest but we are not rushing decision-making in that process.

camping at Rock Spring Hut with our friend Loon,
Shenandoah National Park, VA 06-23-14

We don't pester our kids with "what do you want to be when they grow up?" questions, or pressure them to make decisions about this. But we are always looking for ways to springboard off of their interests, experience, and skill set presenting possible post-high school opportunities, in both employment or further education.

Nor do we build a high school curriculum around a "just-in-case" mindset. "We know you really love x and have a whole bunch of skills in y and are building experience in z but you're young and since we don't know what the future holds you should take calculus, just in case.

Which begs the question, what about calculus? You might be thinking, "so what if your kid has a job and can get herself to a comic convention (renew her passport, make hotel reservations, and sew) what about the other stuff... literature and physics, essay writing and algebra?"

Glad you asked. (And trust me, you have asked. I've been asked some variation of this question since we started homeschooling nearly ten years ago.)

I'll be dealing with that question in future high school posts. I also hope to take a short parallel detour on the route marked "My kids are uninspired, they don't have any goals or projects, what should I do?" That last question, my kids are uninspired what should I do, is something I have been coaching around and exploring philosophically for sometime. I have decided to address that question as part of a larger writing project I am doing on homeschooling. The release date of that project is TBD. But a link will for sure be provided here when it is published.

Written with permission and editorial input from Céline.

« Middle March: rewriting the script
The best we can with what we have »
  • debbie

    debbie on March 18, 2015, 1:15 p.m.

    This is so helpful to me right now, Renee.  I just don't hear people talking in this terms in our local homeschooling circles.  By 12 (my daughter's age) they are mostly doing the online academy (basically public school from home) and I can feel myself grappling with making decisions out of fear (what if she never "gets" higher math?) instead of focusing on what her strengths are and taking a creative look at where they might take her in Real Life (!), short and long term. I am loving this series; thank you so much for the work and thought you are putting into it.


    • renee

      renee on March 18, 2015, 1:43 p.m.


      I completely hear you on the "shift" that happens to homeschoolers around that age, which is why I felt so compelled to write this series and open up what's happening in our home, as an alternative path to "school-at-home" which seems to be so prevalent in the homeschooling community in the later years. 

      I understand your fear. I've experienced all of that myself and I really believe it's fear that drives a lot of the "shift" I've observed. Some people choose school-at-home because it is inline with their values and who their children are, but I also believe a lot people go that route because of fear and I just refuse to do that. If school-at-home lined up with our scholar student's goals and desires, than fine, but it doesn't and we've had to forge our own way, based on who are kids are, and yes, it's scary but it's also very satisfying. 

      I am really enjoying these homeschooling years. And our kids seem to truly enjoy homeschooling, I know Celine does (I thought I should ask her directly before writing this series) and I feel our mutual enjoyment in the process and in the day-to-day living is because we're doing this on our own terms, choosing the methods and means that work best for who we are. 

      It is my heartfelt desire that other homeschool families feel the same, that they enjoy these amazing years with their children doing homeschool in a way that works for them. In a way that supports their kids, and themselves (I'm big on mom taking care of her intellectual, creative, emotional and physical needs as well).

      I am really excited about our homeschool and our kids' learning and their goal, and helping them reach their goals. I just want to share that freedom and enthusiasm for learning and living together (smile).


  • Rachel

    Rachel on March 18, 2015, 2:33 p.m.

    This is so amazing. I am living this series. It's somehow comforting to a mama of littles! Can't wait until the post on uninspired lulls in projects etc! And 4 and 5! Keep up the awesome posts!


  • Anna

    Anna on March 18, 2015, 2:36 p.m.


    This series is fantastic. I love the idea about serving their goals of today. I feel lucky to have you, as a homeschooler muddling along without much of a clue, it is great to hear stories from experience. Our family's goals aren't the same as yours, but it's more about having clear family goals that's the point.

     Also, I want to say, I too am enjoying my teens (13 & 17) in a way that I find most people don't even recognize as a possibility.

    Thank you so much for your hard work and sharing. And, I used to be a sewing teacher, and I know a lot about sewing machines if Celine ever gets stuck.




    • renee

      renee on March 18, 2015, 3:06 p.m.

      exactly, it's not about having the same goals, but recognizing what yours our and then living them. 

      And thank you for the offer to help Celine. She is beyond my ability to help her. 


  • Dad

    Dad on March 18, 2015, 2:49 p.m.



    After reading your latest blog regarding education, I cant help but think back on my own life as a child and teenager growing up with a passion and desire to build. At a young age I was building toys that my parents could not afford to buy and in grade 5-6 built a multi level tree house, 25 feet above ground which the city made me take down due to it extending over the neighbours property! An early lesson in building without a permit?? ha.  I began designing and building multi level rabbit cages with my dads tools, which was the beginning of my own personal tool collection which has never ended. When in grade 9 my teacher told me it was unfortunate that the existing school curriculum did not allow me to follow the passion and desire that I had to build. I was stuck in a traditional educational system, by the end of my 11th grade I was assisting the wood working shop teacher with helping other students learn the trade.

    As I read your blogs and relate to my grand kids,  I realize  they also have some of my own DNA with respect to being creative in following the passions that they have. Thanks Renee for giving your kids and my grandkids this gift by creating an environment and encouraging them to follow there dreams. Your approach to this whole concept of learning and growing will give them an education which will be a foundation for them throughout there lives. 

    Love dad



    • renee

      renee on March 18, 2015, 3:03 p.m.

      Ah dad, Thank you so much for sharing your experience here in the comments, instead of emailing me privately. You are one of my inspirations and life-mentors and I love this story of yours, of following your natural drives and desires as a young person (without a lot of educational support) and then of course returning to that first passion of yours in your fifties and sixties. You are an inspiration for lifelong learning, both to me and your grandchildren (smile). 


  • Anna

    Anna on March 18, 2015, 3:13 p.m.


    Your dad's comment brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful family you have. What higher praise can there be, and what greater gift can a parent give their child than thanking them for how they raise their grandchildren.



  • Val

    Val on March 18, 2015, 4:10 p.m.

    Renee, it has been wonderful reading your writing about the high school homeschool years again - with a 9 and 11 y/o I need all the different views I can get for the years coming too soon. Thank you!


  • Nana

    Nana on March 18, 2015, 4:10 p.m.

    What speaks most to me in this post is twofold: awareness, tools and encouragement you (and Damien) have given Celine to develop her dream (project) -  and her incredible talent, focus and discipline over an extended period of time to bring it to a reality.

    A very proud Nana, on all counts.


  • Susan

    Susan on March 18, 2015, 4:10 p.m.


    I so enjoyed you dad's comments. One can see a proud dad and granddad shining through each sentence.while not a homeschooling family I am enjoying this series. Our family goals are very similar. My oldest will be starting high school in September  of 2016 and I want to help him choice his course based on skills and interest. 



  • Kim

    Kim on March 18, 2015, 4:55 p.m.


    This is exactly how I hope to see our homeschooling play out.  I'm really struggling on how to gently steer them in any direction that gives me something to work with. My boys (9,7 and 6) are still really young and I do give them tons of time to just play and pursue their own interests. Unfortunately, their only interests are Legos, Ninjas and Star Wars!  My oldest son has severe dyslexia and it feels like all we do is foundation work...reading, math and fun science. When left to his own devices he really enjoys being outside, building things, whittling, digging holes and walking. Lord, that child will walk until his little legs drop off!  I know he doesn't have to be able to read to follow his interests...audio books and videos abound. He can't really articulate any real interest other than "dogs, tigers and Egyptians". We've watched documentaries, gone to the museum and zoo, talked to our vet and listened to hours of audio books. Nothing. Just "that's neat, Mommy". No desire to delve any deeper. Normal for a 9 year old?  So...count me in as one eager to read the "parallel detour" post. 

    I'm also eagerly awaiting your post on the "parallel detour". 



    • Amber

      Amber on March 18, 2015, 9:43 p.m.

      I'd say those are completely normal and age appropriate activities!  I think the kind of delving deeper is something that doesn't start to awaken until the early teen years.  Until then, I think we lay a firm foundation by helping them to master basic skills, encourage creativity instead of passive consumption, give them a wide variety of learning experiences (books, field trips, audiobooks, conversations...) to spread the feast so they have a sense that it is a big, beautiful and amazing world out there with lots of possibilities and then give them lots and lots and lots of time to dig in the dirt, play with legos & other hands on things, use their bodies (through recreational activities and/or physical labor) and to build and absorb and consider.

      I think it is easy to look at kids and expect too much, too soon - and then when we don't see the kinds of interests we are hoping to see start to develop it is an opportunity for fear and anxiety to grow...  when instead the problem is that we're not being patient enough.


      • renee

        renee on March 18, 2015, 10:23 p.m.

        Kim, Exactly what Amber said! (thank you Amber for sharing!)

        I'm glad I waited to respond to this, now I don't need to!


      • Kim

        Kim on March 18, 2015, 11:07 p.m.


        THANK YOU!  I've been wracked wih guilt the last few days. My big guy is getting neuropsych testing done to get some extra help with his dyslexia; so I keep second guessing myself..."we're not doing enough, he doesn't know his times tables, he stills reads at a kindergarten level!". But you know what?  He's been slowly, but steadily gaining ground for the last two years. He's funny, creative, smart, helpful, empathetic and delightful to be around. I really can't ask for any more than that. I need to shut down the "not good enough" voice in my own head and enjoy what we've got. 

        Thanks again to Renee for this amazing thread. 

        Blessings to you all,



  • Tracie

    Tracie on March 18, 2015, 5 p.m.

    Renee, this series is incredibly helpful, informative, and thought-provoking. Are you still on hiatus from one-on-one coaching? I would hire you in a heartbeat! (Seriously. I need extra help right now!)


  • Amber

    Amber on March 18, 2015, 10:36 p.m.

    I am really enjoying this series, Renee.  

    Several years ago I had a conversation with a homeschooling mom I look up to that was really groundbreaking for me.  About two years ago from that conversation, when her oldest was just about to enter her teen years, she shared a spreadsheet with me with all the college prep classes laid out in neat order, a nice orderly progression into college by age 17.  On that day, we were talking about what her daughters were doing, and it was all completely different.  One child was off to France on a 6 month immersion exchange, another was about to spend a month at an intensive writing camp, and another was heading to Germany for six months.  When I asked her what had happened to her tidy little spreadsheet, she said a few things that really struck me.  First, she said she started looking at who her children are, and what they wanted to do and what they were interested in doing.  Then she talked about how there wasn't anything magical about studying Biology in 10th grade, Chemistry in 11th, etc. and that if one of her daughters decided they needed particular coursework in order to further a particular goal, they would be motivated and eager to just put in the work to get it done and out of the way.  And so what if that happened at 17 or 19 or 21 rather than at 15?  So long as they had cultivated the habits of hard work and perseverence, which you can certainly attain in a variety of means, these courses can be done at a different time. And lastly, there were experiences and opportunities for her children that fueled their passions and would help them to better understand their place and path in life.  And many of these experiences, such as this writing camp, these foreign exchanges, the opportunity to live in Italy for several months as a family were things that really could only happen in these teen years.  Why waste those years taking biology and calculus, and being chained to a grindstone of prep work that might not be needed, and could be powered through effectively and quickly in the late teen years, when there were so many other amazing opportunities out there?

    When I first heard all of this, I was shocked.  Granted, my oldest was probably only 7 or 8 and I hadn't really thought deeply about the teen years, but all my assumptions about the purpose of education in the teen years were deeply challenged.  But I've enjoyed that challenge, as well as the thought and consideration I've put into education since then.


    • renee

      renee on March 18, 2015, 10:40 p.m.

      This is a beautiful and amazing story. It so much reflects my own thoughts about high school and our philosophy of learning. It just makes me happy to read it  (big smile). 


  • Beth

    Beth on March 21, 2015, 12:43 p.m.

    This post makes me laugh (in a good way!) because we live in Milwaukee and my husband goes to Comic Con in Chicago almost every year!  He doesn't dress up, that's not his thing, but he's collector who goes to meet and talk to artists, etc..  Just yesterday we were having a planning conversation about which day he's going this year.  It's usually in August so the April date is a bit more challenging because it's a week I'm in rehearsals. 

    Our older son is very into comics as well so we've talked about at what age he could go.  Right now he's only 8 and since it would involve a day off school I don't think this is the year.

    I'm so happy for Celine in this experience!


  • Rana

    Rana on March 22, 2015, 2:46 p.m.

    My sisters sister-in-law is a teacher and she made the comment that for the most part for a career that doesn't involve specialized education like medical or engineering, you don't need more than 8th grade math. I started thinking about that and for the most part even though I have an Associates degree in accounting I only use basic math in my everyday life.  I did learn the basics in accounting in college, but when I started working at the accounting firm everything I needed to know I learned on the job.  My goal for my kids is that they love to learn and are willing to learn.  Like some of the others have commented, "IF" they need it for later, what ever that may be they will find classes, tutors, myself or whomever to help them when the time comes.   I am really gleening a lot of information from these posts Renee. Thank you!


  • Julie

    Julie on March 24, 2015, 3:23 p.m.

    This is a great series Renee. Looking forward to more.  I'm sure Celine already knows this, but there is a great Comic-Con in Montreal every year.  I'm also looking forward to learning more about your move to Montreal -- loved the posts from your time there.  


    • renee

      renee on March 24, 2015, 3:29 p.m.

      Yeah, I think we'll all go to the Comic-Con in Montreal this year, if only for a a day. I want to see what a comic-con is like. Celine choose Chicago as her first comic-con experience for personal reasons, including the fact that she has a friend who lives nearby and is hoping to meet her. 

      I am eagerly anticipating our time in Montreal (end of winter and I'm desparate for change in my life!) and I am looking forward to photographing the city and writing about our experience living there (smile). (oh, and I hope to write about our reasons for the move sometime last April and into May).


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