Friday, April 26, 2013

Accountability Stage Education: Set and Accomplish Goals

Under normal development, the brain makes some significant changes around age 7 or 8. Though certainly not fully mature, the brain seems much more complete. 

With a solid attachment in place and years of blissful, innocent discoveries under the belt, a new phase of life begins. Memory and consciousness and logic and reasoning and emotional stability all seem to come together on a more consistent basis in the human brain to create an awareness that life does not just exist in this lovely (or terrible) moment...but it continues on into the future. My existence and Future Time's existence are one and the same.

(For additional reading, I found a great article about "Lucky Age 7" over at education.com.)

At our house, we change up our educational style around age 7 or 8 or 9 to meet our child's new, more realistic views about the world and the future, and how to be a part of both.

We call it the Accountability Stage.

Remember that during the younger years when the mind is mastering how to live in each magical moment, our educational goals are centered around inspiring our children, but are not at all driven by a parental desire to make them feel accountable for certain learning during a certain time period. (See this post.)

The Accountability Stage is different. Kids over 8-ish have a mature enough brain now to begin to see that planning for the future is also a key to happiness. And they have some logical connections that show them that acting for themselves (instead of merely being acted upon) can change their future. Because of these natural neurological changes, and if kids have not developed self-defensive walls to protect themselves against the burden of pre-mature accountability that many parents/teachers mistakenly push on them (see NDI), kids will willingly choose to use their newly improving prefrontal cortex to take on more personal responsibility because they want to. In other words, as parents, we slowly begin shifting accountability to their shoulders during this stage because their brains are ready to take it without being forced or tricked into it. 

Placing the weight of sole accountability on their shoulders can destroy their self-worth during the younger years. But now, accountability can build them up and make them stronger. They are ready to feel empowered by accountability because their brains are ripe for it.

Here's a list of our primary educational goals for this stage:

Accountability Stage (ages 7-12)
1. You are responsible for how your body acts. You can control your body.
2. Natural consequences accompany your choices.
3. You can recognize and accept your strengths and weaknesses.
4. Repairing wrongs promotes progress.
5. Choosing to set and accomplish goals brings joy (and because kids are pretty logical at this age, they notice, of course, that the opposite is also true).

Academic goals are still secondary, but fit very nicely into helping us teach the above important life-lessons.Though Accountability Stage learning doesn't fit completely into the educational "box" created by most industrialized countries to educate children by the masses, it might look and feel a little more familiar to the average modern parent (compared to education during the Attachment and Following Stages at least). 

When to Start the Accountability Stage

When kids begin to step from fantasy land ("I'm going to learn to fly and go to Jupiter!") into reality ("How do astronauts get to the moon?) then we know they are getting close to the Accountability Stage. We wait for questions like "What do I have to do to become an astronaut?"..."What's college?"..."When will I go to college?"..."How do I go to college?" Or when they start taking serious (not just curious) note about the cost of living ("Why can't I have a cell phone?")...the time has come for an accountability chat. We casually start to explain that hard work and educational success make a big difference in someone's future (and in their ability to text their friends). We share our thoughts on preparedness and self-reliance and the joy of being able to serve others more when personal affairs are in order. 

Of course we also tell them that choosing a solid educational path does lots of good for the ol' prefrontal cortex. So we want the decision to be theirs...not ours.

And we make it clear by our words and our actions that we truly accept them and support them at whatever educational pace they take in life.

Mentor Meetings

There are probably as many ways to implement the Accountability Stage as there are families out there.

But here's how we do it:

When we feel like our child truly understands and wants to take accountability, we hold regular one-on-one mentor meetings (usually on Sunday evenings, but sometimes during a parent/child random date) where we begin to set up a weekly goal plan that involves the child willingly accepting accountability for accomplishing more rigorous academic goals that we recommend for them (weekly spelling lists, grammar assignments and tests, formal math assignments, etc). They know the goals are intended to prepare them for something they want...like college or a future career or the increased ability to earn money. Thus, they choose to accept the weekly challenge. 

They trust our academic recommendations because of all those years we spent at the bottom of The Pyramid, which ripened their brains and our relationship for these critical accountability years. And they can certainly sense if we truly have their best interests in mind as opposed to merely settling our own worries/fears/frustrations that they might become miserable failures in this world if we can't pound accountability into their brains. They will naturally defend themselves from us and our motives if their brains detect any selfishness coming towards them...and we don't want that. (But every parent initially struggles with those yucky "parental baggage" feelings...I actually use an addiction recovery program to unpack my emotional baggage...Some of my thoughts on personal change are here. I'll try to address this more in the future.)

In return for accomplishing their goals, we give them $$ that they can manage all on their own...basically like earning an allowance. We encourage them on their road to self-reliance by helping them manage their finances, but ultimately allow them final decision-making ability on their bank accounts. In other words, they begin to earn and spend their own money as a natural reward for choosing to take on more personal responsibility. (Prior to the Accountability Stage, any purchases with Christmas or Birthday or whatever $$ would be approved by Mom and Dad first.)   


My Accountability Stage kids keep track of their weekly goals using this chart (the younger kids use it for fun and Kenny no longer uses it because he's on to the next stage and his own way of tracking things):




The colorful cards are "goal cards" representing about 15-30 minutes of mastery in a specific subject (spelling, reading, math, science, piano practice, etc.).

Each child has two rows. A child's top row contains all of his/her goals for an entire week. (We discuss and agree upon weekly goals during the mentor-meeting. As parents, we do our homework to figure out a good path for a particular child, but we also like to get their ideas.) The child's bottom row is a place for each child to choose how to personalize his/her daily schedule. Each child is different. Diggy likes to do more on Mon/Tues and be completely done by Thursday, so Friday is always a free day. Kenny loves symmetry, and used to have Wed. as his busiest day without any completely free days. Sometimes a child lumps all of one subject into one day. Sometimes a child procrastinates and goals pile up as the week goes on. Sometimes a child doesn't finish his/her goals.


I love that they get to experiment and choose for themselves what floats their boat. Granting them agency is such an important part of our "system" because it builds prefrontal cortex power and it creates a strong internal motivation that lasts much longer and takes them much farther than the effects of traditional carrots and sticks.


At this stage, many of the subjects can be done independently because the child can read and figure a lot out on his/her own, but I still try to spend a good 60 minutes supporting each child in his/her most challenging subjects. When a subject is finished, the goal card goes back in the gathering place at the very top again. Their rows slowly empty out as the week goes on and they fill back up on Sunday evening in prep for the upcoming week.  I glance at the chart all the time to see what each child has left to accomplish in a given day...to see what help I might be able to give. If I feel particularly bothered that a child isn't' accomplishing his/her goals, I take special note that I need to peacefully unload some emotional baggage so my "helpfulness" doesn't get thrown at my child as nagging.

We discuss the previous week in the next mentor meeting. If they don't accomplish all of their goals...they don't get paid as much. We like them to somewhat judge themselves after reflecting on how their week went. "How much do you think you earned?" We find that they are often harder on themselves than we would be. Then we gently make the final call because they understand and accept that they are accountable to us during this stage of their lives. And we don't discuss payment amounts with siblings. It's personal for each child.

If they don't care about getting paid...that's okay. It probably just means that they really aren't that ready for the Accountability Stage yet...which is really okay. So we just go back to the Following Stage for awhile (without getting mad at them for being lazy). If they start the Accountability Stage and then want to stop and then want to start again and then want to stop...etc. That's okay, too. Kids usually dabble in and out of a stage before truly moving upward for good. (And I actually don't know very many adults who learn a new truth and then act perfectly every time after that forever...we're all dabblers. It has to do with brain chemistry. It's normal and very natural. We're all taking baby steps.)

We find that our kids truly enjoy being stewards over their own time and money. To help them feel successful at this, we have to let them spend on what they want to spend and we have to not spend our own money on them whenever they want us to. I'm pretty good at splurging on them for Christmas and birthdays while saying, "Sure, do you have money in your account to pay for that?" throughout the rest of the year. We also continuously live and teach the principles found at ProvidentLiving.org.

We use the above chart to keep track of rotating chores as well. That's a topic for another time, but essentially the Accountability Stage and up kids are responsible for completing chores all on their own. They do a great job because they are ready to be responsible. If they don't do a great job, they are also ready to shoulder the consequence for that on their own. All of the younger ones get help from Mom or Dad if they need it (which if the job takes more than 5 minutes...um yeah).

Sample Weekly Goals

I thought it might be helpful to "see" a couple of Accountability Stage examples:

*Please keep in mind that we've been at this for several years. Just like anything, learning the ropes for everything you see below took lots of focused time and energy together for many months. But now it feels like a relatively well-oiled machine (most of the time...and the bigger challenge now is to not idle on automatic pilot...for very long). And the focused attention it took (and still takes) on my part, is worth every minute of bonding and brain growth that my children and I/Brent have jointly received in return. I wouldn't trade those minutes, months, and years for anything.

10-year-old Diggy's Weekly Goals:

*a goal card represents roughly 20-30 minutes of work for Diggy (some cards take a little more time, some take a little less)

**Diggy works hard on his academic goals for about 3-5 hours a day. He likes to start by 7 am and finish around lunchtime (well before the hustle and bustle of the evening hours, which I LOVE!) so he has plenty of time to play all afternoon and can easily enjoy family time or a scheduled activity in the evening. I help or work alongside Diggy for about 40 minutes a day and spend another 15 minutes reviewing things he's finished. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to finish all of his goals every week. He always does.

Reading: 5 goal cards. He's currently enjoying the Little House series (I think he's on book 5 or 6) and dreams of building his own log cabin some day...after chopping down his own trees.

Grammar: 4 goal cards. After using First Language Lessons for several years (which we really like...I buy from Amazon), he's been reviewing and advancing with Rod and Staff's 5/6 level grammar books this year.

Writing: 4 goal cards. We worked on a writing program together for several of his younger years. We both loved it. This year, I've turned him loose to write his own stories. His spelling and grammar are far from perfect (he's very right-brained and doesn't memorize details easily), but he's having a blast and documenting some very creative 10-year-old boy thoughts. As the year comes to a close, he's using two of his writing goal cards each week to brush up on his outlining and writing prompt skills. I grabbed some sample prompts from this site.

Spelling: 8 goal cards. A chapter a week in Spelling Workout E. I'll have to write a post sometime about how spelling has been both a challenge and a triumph for Diggy (especially after watching his left-brained older brother breeze through advanced spelling in his sleep). Because it was typical for Diggy to get nearly half of his words wrong come test time a couple of years ago when he first started the Accountability Stage, he voluntarily decided to increase his goals cards for this subject. He's been a trooper. And his hard work is paying off. 100% is the norm now.

Math: 5 goal cards. He uses www.thatquiz.org to review math facts once a week. He's also been working in Saxon 76 for most of the year and just recently started conquering chapters of Saxon 87. Sometimes this feels tedious, but he's persevering because he's old enough to understand that math is critical for accomplishing his future college dreams.

History: 3 goal cards. I think history is Diggy's favorite subject. He begs for it all summer long...probably because we always pop a big bowl of popcorn, set it in the middle of the kitchen table, and devour it while I read from this series or from a library book or two. This happens 2-3 times per week around 4 pm (if you'd like to join us!). Diggy also reads library books on his own and occasionally gets his army and knight guys out to have a battle.

Geography: 2 goal cards. Diggy loves maps. He uses www.thatquiz.org for memory work, but mostly likes to look up whatever country we're talking about in history on the map that hangs on our kitchen wall. He asked for that map as a birthday present two years ago...because he really likes maps.

Science: 3 goal cards. He still studies whatever subjects he's interested in at this age...mostly using library books. Lately he's been memorizing the Periodic Table and parts of cells using www.thatquiz.org (can you tell we like that site?). Earlier this year he drew pictures of all sorts of living creatures and organized them by kingdom, phylum, etc. on our family room wall. He stopped awhile ago. But he may go back to that project...there's still some wall space left.

Typing: 2 goal cards. He uses www.customtyping.com which is paid for through our public school district. It's a personalized progressive program. We like it.

Chinese, PE, Music: 2 goal cards each. He attends the local public elementary school. We love them over there.

Piano practice: 5 goal cards. He's an intermediate player and doesn't take lessons. He can figure out how to play something on his own. He chooses hymns and other songs to practice.

Trumpet practice: 5 goal cards. His teacher at school assigns stuff.

Extras: Running club, Boy Scouts, Children's Choir, church choir, band, playing Legos


8-year-old Kirsti's Weekly Goals:

*a goal card represents roughly 10-20 minutes of work for Kirsti (I'm a big believer in giving new Accountability Stage kids as much play time as possible while still helping them feel successful at taking responsibility for setting goals and accomplishing them. As a teacher, my goal is to keep hard-core academic learning to less than 2 hours a day at first (often closer to 1 hour). If they aren't begging to do more school work, I keep it slim. She'll ease into a bigger workload as she gets older and more mature.)

**Kirsti works hard on her academic goals for about 2-3 hours a day (including music practice and fun science projects). She's at the beginning of learning to organize her time and she experiments with a variety of ways to do this. But the important thing is that she's driving the train...not me. I'm just a supporter. I help her with about 1/2 of her goals (which takes me about 60 minutes each day).

Reading: 5 goal cards. Learning to read felt challenging and slow for Kirsti (especially because Kenny is a HUGE reader and Allison and Cienna are coming up behind her on a rapid learning-to-read pace). But after a few years of me reading to her a lot, guiding her through simple, steady progress, and being patient while her detailed, task-oriented left-brain catches up with her whole-thought, creative right brain, she's off to the races now...and I recently heard her say for the first time, "I love reading!" as she grabbed a book to curl up on the couch during her spare time.

Grammar: 4 goal cards. Kirsti and I do First Language Lessons 4 together. She likes sentence diagramming the most.

Writing: 4 goal cards. We work on Writing With Ease 3 together on some days. On other days she works on a story that she's writing about kids who live in a log cabin and play in the woods.

Spelling: 4 goal cards. She works on a chapter a week in Spelling Workout C. Kirsti feels about the same with spelling as Diggy used to. Learning to memorize the right order for things just doesn't come naturally for my out-of-the-box thinking kids. I'm glad we can work at an individual pace.

Math: 5 goal cards. Kirsti uses a workbook from Critical Thinking Company for most of her math assignments. She likes it because it's intended for gifted thinkers, so it's not too repetitive, but it's also challenging. I like it because there's no prep needed on my part. I feel comfortable that she's reviewing lots of important math concepts in a fun way. Memorizing math facts are also a big part of math at the beginning of the Accountability Stage. Kirsti uses flash cards or www.thatquiz.org or one of the millions of online math games out there.

History: 3 goal cards. History is not Kirsti's favorite subject...yet. ;) She often chooses to by-pass this weekly goal. That's okay. We'll keep working on a spark there. I just ask that she be honest about her efforts during our mentor meetings. We care more about honesty than we do about whether she's listening intently to how Julius Caesar rose to reign in Rome. And sometimes we find some alternative history options or swap history for another subject she likes more...like crocheting.

Geography: 2 goal cards. Kirsti uses www.thatquiz.org to learn the 50 states and their capitals.


Science: 3 goal cards. She studies whatever subjects she's interested in...mostly using library books. Earlier this year she drew pictures to contribute to Diggy's animal wall. This last week, we planted some flowers and will be tracking their growth. And caterpillars will be coming in the mail soon. Can't wait.

Typing: 3 goal cards. She uses www.customtyping.com which is paid for through our public school district. It's a personalized progressive program. We like it. Deja-vu.

PE, Music: 2 goal cards each. She attends the local public elementary school. Awesome teachers over there.

Piano practice: 5 goal cards. She can figure out songs on her own. I give her guidance occasionally. She's not doing a formal program. She's working on easy-to-play hymns these days.  

Violin practice: 5 goal cards. This is an area where Kirsti really excels. She's been taking Suzuki private lessons for 3 1/2 years now. She practices for about 30 minutes a day and learns new pieces relatively quickly. She likes to practice when her Dad is relaxing in the rocking chair at the end of the day so he can soak in her beautiful music.

Extras: Violin Repertoire, gymnastics, activity days for girls 8-11 at church, church choir


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