From the comments to my post about child-led learning, anthromama asked:
I would be interested to hear about whether you have any specific goals for your sons, any milestones that you would like them to pass by a certain age, etc. Essentially, how you will gauge how they are doing. Or if you have something else you are measuring, either qualitative or quantitative.
The short answer is yes.
But I'm guessing you're not here for a short answer, are you? Or at least, I'm not here to give short answers.
I have lots of specific goals for my sons. I want them to love reading, writing, and researching, to be interested and engaged with the world, to develop rigorous thinking about math and science, to have an understanding of cultural conflicts in this country and in the world, and to understand that there are many ways of looking at various kinds of problems. I want them to play music, draw, and paint.
I also want them to have a deep and satisfying knowledge about how to create a comfortable home, by taking part in the daily work that is required to do that. I want them to be able to understand basic directions and find their way home from a friend's house, the mailbox on the corner, or the grocery store.
I want them to have a basic understanding of American and world history, to know a little something about the history of art, and to have a deep understanding about how to find the answers to specific questions that arise.
I want them to have an understanding of how to meditate and do yoga, as tools for living in this world. I want them to know how to eat well.
One of my most important goals is to allow them to reach developmental milestones when they themselves are ready to do so. So I'm not concerned if Little doesn't read "on time," because I have assessed him carefully so I know he doesn't have any kind of reading disability, and my more important goal is that he love to read and write, so I am content to allow that set of skills develop organically.
I'm unconcerned with seeing that they reach specific milestones at certain ages for a number of reasons. For one thing, I believe that milestones are artificial constructs that frequently don't have much relevance for kids. In my first year of teaching, I had a multi-age class in which my youngest student (age 6) wasn't reading, and my oldest student (age 9) was reading on a 12th grade level, and of course there was every reading level in between. Every one of those kids was doing fine, and there was worthwhile, developmentally appropriate work for each of them to do at every moment of the day.
There is a huge range that is normal, or acceptable, or just fine. It is only the graded system in which all kids of a certain age are expected to do the same thing that has created the notion in our minds that this is the only way to ensure our kids are "on track."
The other reason I'm not worried, and I haven't written much about giftedness here because for me it's not particularly relevant, is that my kids are pretty smart. They have never been in an educational setting where it was important for us to find out exactly how smart, so I don't know exactly where they fall on that bell curve. During my teaching years, I had a total of three children who had tested 'profoundly gifted,' and my kids are not like those kids. My kids are more garden-variety gifted. They love to read and reason, they are naturally curious about the world, and school work is easy for them. I know they would be in a gifted and talented program at the local public school, but I also know that it wouldn't be enough.
And that is a big part of why I'm teaching them at home.