Setting Goals with Your Teen or Pre-teen: 5 Tips for Success

My husband is very successful in his work. He manages time well and has great working relationships with his colleagues and direct reports – evidenced by the many farewell emails, heartfelt inscription in cards, and often tearful good-byes that have been shared with him these past few weeks.

We have both heard friends exclaim, How do you do it all? How do you get so much accomplished? They are often surprised when we reply that we simply set goals and take measureable steps to achieve them.

Goals are critical. They keep you focused on what’s important to you, and allow you to make the best use of your day. When tackled correctly, they force you out of your comfort zone and help you to grow more each day than you would without them. Most importantly, goals put us in the driver’s seat and give us control. By setting a goal, you are taking an active role in driving new and better results in your life. What could be more important than that?

Setting Goals with Your Teen: Five Tips for Success @EvaVarga.netTeaching our pre-teens or teenagers to set goals effectively can be life-changing. However, as we teach goal-setting to our children, we need to make sure we’re showing them how to use goals to have the greatest possible positive impact on their lives.


The most important thing to remember is that goals are personal. We as parents have experience and should try to impart our wisdom. However, we need to provide guidance around the process of goal-setting. Try not to determine the specific content of the goals. Keep in mind these are their goals, not yours.

Everyone will have different goals. The question is what are you excited about? What do you want to do? What passions drive them? What are their areas of interest? Support their process of self-discovery and encourage them to follow their hearts.

Encourage them to also be as detailed and specific as possible. Saying “I want to be a writer.” or “I want to be a concert pianist.” is too vague and thus more likely to fail.

Answer the questions: What are you going to do? Why do you want to do it? When are you going to do it? I am really interested in ____, so my goal might look like this: ____.  I want to do this to help me ____. 


My daughter has aspirations to write a novel. She has several notebooks with pages and pages of stories that are beginning to emerge. She has typed out numerous fan fiction spin offs and has shared them on Wattpad. Most recently, she has asked to be excused from her other lessons in the month of November so that she can participate NaNoWriMo, the annual novel writing project whereby each participant aims to write a 50,000-word rough draft in the 30 days of the month.

A key step in setting goals and achieving the desired result is to make your goal measurable. A number of pages per week or the number of words per month is a measurable goal. You will be able to hold yourself accountable and measure your progress. Remember, it is a numbers game. If you want to be a writer, for example, the best way to get better is to fill more pages.


Setting goals can be a double-edged sword. It can drive purposeful action in our lives and allow us to achieve more over a shorter period of time. Setting goals can also be a source of anxiety. They have the potential to create a hyper-focus on future circumstances.

Relatedly, goals need to be attainable. Continuing with my daughter’s goal writing a novel, if she sets out to fill 100 pages a week, she will probably fall short of her goal (at least I would). To assure success, choose a number that you can do but will push you a little outside of your comfort zone.

Setting Goals with Your Teen: Five Tips for Success @EvaVarga.netRealistic

Life is always throwing curve-balls in an attempt to derail us from our path. We may fall short of our goal but that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel and give up. Perhaps you need to be more specific in your goal statement or quantitative measure. If 50,000 words in a month seems far too much, perhaps 25,000 or 10,000 words is more attainable?

Celebrating small milestones and accomplishments along the way can help maintain enthusiasm. Take heart and trust you will get better, just give it time. Do not judge yourself on how pretty a painting is, but attend to what you discovered, or how much richer your memories of the experience have become.


One of the goals I have had in the past that I look forward to revisiting once we get settled in our new home is to keep a nature journal. I loved documenting my discoveries alongside my children when they were younger. Somewhere along the way, we stopped journaling regularly and I really miss it.

When and how often are we going to open my journal? Every moment of my day is already filled. How can we fit in something new? These are just a couple of the questions that have been going through my head as I begin to formulate my goal.

Another key to successful goal setting is to connect routines you already have in place. For example, when we go birding or hiking, I can bring our journal materials along with me and start to journal on these expeditions. Journal entries need not take hours. We can get out our journals to catch fifteen minutes here and ten minutes there.

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We all want what’s best for our kids. Teaching them to think in terms of setting and accomplishing goals will help them discover that their best source for fulfillment is within themselves. Experience with setting goals will provide the recognition that they control the outcomes in their lives. Through the process of setting goals, we can give our children the most important gift any parent can give – the ability to thrive in life without us.

Curriculum Plans for 2015-16 (8th and 6th grade)

This upcoming school year promises many new challenges and experiences for us. We are very excited to be moving back to Oregon, more specifically to the southern coast where Patrick and I both grew up.

While we will be surrounded by family, the transition will not be without obstacles. The homeschool community is much, much smaller compared to the previous two communities in which we have lived (Bend, Oregon and Redding, California). Therefore establishing connections may require a little more effort on my part.Our Curriculum Choices

Geneva will be entering 8th grade this fall while Jeffrey will begin 6th grade. I will continue to teach the same material to them both. Their skills are relatively equal in most areas so as a homeschool mom of two – it works. Best of all, it requires less planning on my part.

Science & Nature Study

These past couple of years, I have been coordinating STEM Club for our local homeschool community. With our move, I have decided to step back from this for awhile and see what opportunities are available. My daughter has also expressed interest in volunteering at the local interpretive center as well as initiating a long-term study of the impact of invasive turtles on the local ecosystem.

As we will be living on the Oregon coast, the ecology is significantly different than that of the High Desert or the Central Valley and Cascade Foothills of Northern California. I am very excited to explore the area more in-depth with the kids. We will thereby be resuming our regular nature studies in conjunction with Barb’s monthly Outdoor Hour Challenges at Handbook of Nature Study.

Both kiddos have asked to learn more about astronomy so I will be putting together lesson plans and projects to follow their interests. Thus while I will continue to develop my own curriculum for science, we will be engaging in lessons independently rather than with a small group of other homeschoolers. I will also be require more reading of each of the kids. I will be using CK-12 Life Science and CK-12 Earth Science in addition to other free science curriculum I’ve found. 


Life of Fred has been working very well for us since we transitioned from Singapore 6B a couple of years ago. Jeffrey is presently in the middle of  Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology. Geneva is using Advanced Algebra. When they struggle with a concept, we have used Khan Academy.

One of the biggest benefits of our move is being close to family. Patrick’s uncle is a retired high school math teacher. We will be reaching out to him in hopes of meeting once every couple of weeks to go over their assignments. This will be a huge relief for me as I always struggled with algebra myself. Additionally, we will be looking into the possibility of concurrent enrollment for math at the local community college.

Language Arts


As the summer was just getting started, we started using Cover Story which I had purchased at a discount from Homeschool Buyers Co-op. Cover Story takes middle school students – 6th through 8th grade – on a guided tour through the process of creating the content for their own magazine. In a single school year, students are led, step by step, on a fun, thought-provoking journey of exploration and creation. They write poems, short stories, non-fiction articles, letters, and many other short pieces. We’ve only just begun (having completed the first three weeks) but we look forward to jumping back in when the dust settles from our move. { Homeschool Buyers Co-op will again offer a GroupBuy savings for Cover Story on 07-27-2015. Save up to 20%. }


We utilized a few Brave Writer Boomerang single issues a bit last year. We liked it but I just didn’t follow through and plan ahead as I should have. I know I need to do better. My goal therefore is to create a plan or a list of books for each of the kids for the upcoming school year. I will be sharing more details on this when I’ve mapped it out better.

We will also begin an in depth study of the history of English utilizing King Alfred’s English.  This unique combination study of both English and history will provide a look at words, grammar, Shakespeare, the Bible, and language. The supplemental activities and materials (including primary sources!) provided on the website will help guide us – we are very excited to explore our language from this perspective.

Our Curriculum Choices: Mandarin

Foreign Language

Fluency in a foreign language is very important to me. My daughter expressed her interest in learning Chinese when we were just beginning our homeschool journey so that is the path we have followed ever since. I have shared a little about How I Teach Mandarin previously. Though Shawn has moved across the country, we have had success with continuing our Mandarin language instruction via Skype or FaceTime.

We will continue to use Discovering Chinese Pro, the middle school curriculum developed by Better ChineseOur Road to Mandarin Fluency has been very rewarding as we’ve been able to travel to China as well as make life long friends. We have taken some time off these past couple months as Shawn was traveling back home to China, conflicts with summer camp, and soon our travels abroad. We plan to resume our regular twice a week sessions come late September.

At summer camp, the kids are learning Norwegian. I would really like to continue incorporating our ancestral language into our weekly lessons but I always slip up. Perhaps our move will ensure I stick with it. We shall see.

History & Geography

We love to travel and like most, we learn best by immersion and first-hand experiences. Thus, to really understand the history of ancient Greece and Rome (our focus this past year has been ancient times), we will be traveling abroad with Trafalgar. We will first spend ten days in Italy (Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples, Assisi, and the Italian Lakes) followed by Athens and the islands of Mykonos and Santorini. I will be sharing snippets of our trip along the way via Instagram and I’ll post more in-depth travel posts soon.

To prepare for our trip, we have been moving very slowly through Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World. We are only half-way through the book so we’ll continue to work through it upon our return. Hopefully, by January we will move on to the medieval times. So much for my original plan of following a four year cycle; it takes us 6 years!   How We Use North Star Geography @EvaVarga.netAdditionally, we will continue to incorporate activities from North Star Geography. Designed specifically for middle and high school ages, it is an engaging Geography curriculum. We are excited to continue with this program and will be creating our own world atlases (one of the many projects described in the companion guide).

Performing Arts

The kids are both adamant they want to continue to study music. I am confidant we will be able to find a piano instructor for Jeffrey. I am a little apprehensive for Geneva, however. The preliminary leg work I have done thus far has only generated one name and she is only available intermittently for one year as she is a graduate student and will be relocating at the end of the school year.

The community has a great lab band but there is youth symphony is not an option. I’ll have to reach out to the local schools to inquire whether they accept string instruments.

big book homeschool ideasThe Big Book of Homeschooling

To get tons of great advice, and move beyond the basics of academics, pick up a copy of The Big Book of Homeschool Ideas. Topics include active learning, inquiry science in middle school, learning with video games, using LEGO bricks for learning, teaching on the road, learning with movies, high school literature, and stamp collecting.

This book can carry you through all your years of homeschooling, covering the stages your children will mature through: preschoolers, elementary grades, middle school, and high school. As your life situation changes, you will find new chapters that apply to you. You can view the full table of contents to see all 103 topics!


Our Homeschool Planner

Working from home as well as homeschooling my kids requires me to be organized. As I have every year for the past six years, I will be using the Well Planned Day homeschool planner. I have tried a few others when we first began homeschool and I have perused others, yet I keep coming back to this one. It just works for me.

I love that it provides templates for meal planning as well as keeping track of the books the kids have read and an ongoing record of their grades. They have student planners available as well but my kiddos prefer that I send them an email each week. They thereby create a note on their iPad and delete each assignment as they go.

This post has been linked to the 2015 Not Back to School Hop.  Join the fun!

Finding Our Groove: A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool

Many will ask, “How do you juggle everything? How do you structure your homeschool day?” For our family, a routine is key to a successful homeschool experience.

Before I launch into what we do with our homeschool day, let me describe the constants – the routines around which we plan our week.

adayinthelifeOur Homeschool Routines

The kids have always participated in an ‘after-school’ sport in the evenings, first Taekwondo and now Swim Team.  The other constants that have always been in place are private lessons for Mandarin and Music (piano and violin) as well as Roots & Shoots and Sons of Norway (Barnesklubb).

Last year, I started STEM Club and Literature Circle which have both been a great benefit to our homeschool.  Planning hands-on science labs takes a lot of planning and preparation time. As I am accountable to others, I follow through rather than put it off for another day. Literature Circle, while significantly less planning time, provides the opportunity for the kids to have an audience for their writing as well as talk about literature with their peers.


Finding Our Groove

This year, there are significant changes to our homeschool schedule and routines.  The biggest change is Mandarin. In the past, we have met their teacher at his home for one-on-one lessons on Monday and Thursday mornings. But, a las no longer.

He and his wife have welcomed their first child just two week ago. As she will now be staying home with the baby, and he recently completed his doctorate, he accepted a full-time teaching position at Marshall University.  He is an incredible teacher and thus we have committed to continue working with him.

Marshall is in West Virginia, however, and we live in California. Thus, we will no longer meet at his home but via Skype. To further complicate matters, with the time difference and his course load, our lessons are now in the evenings.

We have also added Youth Symphony and River Oaks (a retirement home where my son volunteers weekly). I never anticipated that music would account for such a large part of our lifestyle.  I love it – I am just surprised.


fall 2014

As before, during the school year swim team is in the evening (whereas in the summer it is early morning).  Significant this year, however, is that my kids will be swimming in different age groups. Our evenings are now more intense than ever.

It has been a struggle to balance everything. We had to make tough decisions. Last week, I had signed the kids up for 4H and we were excited to bring archery back into our routines. When the dust settled, however, we realized we would have to let 4H go. Our mornings are free – we can still incorporate archery. It just won’t be in conjunction with 4H.

Our evenings our chaotic. We cherished our family meal times but I don’t know how to make that happen consistently anymore. We are even discussing adopting almuerzo estilo mexicano, with our mid-day meal as the large, family meal. Patrick’s work schedule is demanding, however, so it is not likely he will be able to come home consistently.

Our new schedule, which begins in September, will take some time for us to become adjusted. Until then, a day in the life of our family is anything but predictable.


Looking for more ideas for scheduling and planning your day? Check out the Big Book of Homeschool Ideas where you will find tips for:

  • Managing Your Home While Homeschooling
  • Managing Multiple Ages
  • Homeschool Time Management


You can take a peak into the routines of other homeschool families by visiting the Not Back To School Blog Hop from the iHomeschool Network.

This is the last week of the 2014″Not Back-to-School Blog Hop“.  Check back again to see the newly linked posts and grab a button so your bloggy friends can share their hard work, too.


My Well Planned Day is Anything But

I have been using the Well Planned Day planners for years and I absolutely LOVE them. So much so that, this year, the kids have started using their own student planners.

Despite my best intentions however, my plans never go as I envision. I thereby utilize the Well Planned Day planner book in a somewhat unconventional manner.

This post contains affiliate links.

well planned day

If you were to ask me, “Which homeschool philosophy(ies) is your style?”  I would have to say it depends on the day; but we have always had a very relaxed homeschool style. At times, I consider ourselves to be Unschoolers. Other times, I would describe us as Classical homeschoolers, inspired by the philosophies of Charlotte Mason.

Our Well Planned Day

I begin each week with first penciling in the activities and obligations we have outside the home – language classes, music lessons, co-ops, swim team practice, and lodge meetings.  That’s it.

Rather than plan ahead the lessons and activities we will cover each week, I use my Well Planned Day planner as an ongoing record of what we have accomplished. After their Mandarin lessons, for example, I’ll note in the planner the topic of their lesson and the homework for the following session. This also helps me to stay abreast of what they are accomplishing each week.

Recently, I have also begun to use it to keep a running tabulation of the living books the kids have read independently and the audio books we’ve listened to in the car.  This helps me to dive into resources at my disposal (both online and in print) for discussion questions and activities to supplement their reading.

Back to school is coming soon and there’s no better time than now to start getting organized! The Well Planned Day Line of Planners are the perfect resources to help you stay organized and make the most of your time, so you have time for the things that matter most!

I am particularly excited about the NEW My Well Planned Day Digital Homeschool Planner. A digital planner is the perfect solution for the mom on the go, providing access anywhere, anytime.

Best of all, you can try it FREE for 30 Days – No Credit Card Required!  If you subscribe by August 15th – you can lock in the introductory price of just $44.99 for 1 year! (A $20 Savings!)

Our Homeschool School Room

This is perhaps one of the hardest posts for me to write because we don’t really have a school room or room dedicated to homeschool. We live in a modest sized home and like most homeschool families, our lifestyle of learning is evident in the decor of our home.

our school room

As I will explain more in the near future – we have a very relaxed approach to homeschool. My kids and I also have many interests. As a result, we tend to have projects and activities – in various stages of completion – strung about and on display all the time.

Like most homeschool moms, I also adore books. I regularly scour second hand stores for classic titles and even old textbooks. My shelves are double stacked and there are still piles of books in front of the book cases.

Most of our formal schooling – when we are home – takes place here in the living room. The kids and I stretch out on the couches as I read aloud. We squeeze around the coffee table, sitting criss-cross on the floor, to work on our history timeline or map work. Larger projects are spread out on the floor.


In the center of the photograph, you can see my secretary desk – a gift from my husband when we first began our homeschool journey. It is made from the wood of a black walnut that my dad sawed on his mill. It is the perfect size for the kids’ laptop and for journaling or correspondence.

This photograph doesn’t show it, but the hallway is strewn with posters that correlate to our current studies and a few projects the kids have recently completed.

One of my favorite areas of our home – and the one that elicits the most comments – is our Our Cabinet of Curiosities. This is where we can display our nature collections, field guides, and nature journals.  

Looking for Inspiration?

If you are new to homeschooling or just need a little something new to kick-start the new school year, then check out the Big Book of Homeschooling Ideas!  This amazing, resource-filled e-book download is full of ideas and inspiration for the novice or seasoned homeschool family (including a chapter I authored on Inquiry Science for Middle School) for just $10.99!  Click HERE to buy or for more information.

You can also see how other homeschool families set up their homeschool “rooms” at the Not Back To School Blog Hop from the iHomeschool Network.

Come back often to visit new additions all week this week. Next Monday we will be sharing student photos. Grab a button so your bloggy friends can share their hard work, too.


Our Curriculum Choices for Middle School (7th and 5th grade)

This coming year marks our eighth year of homeschool and it is full of changes and new beginnings. Both of the kids will be in middle school – 7th and 5th grades. I can hardly believe it!

They are both more independent and their skills have grown enough that I know they are ready for more. To achieve the goals they have for themselves, I need to strengthen our schedule. Push them a little harder.

curriculum choices


As science is my strength, I will continue to plan and coordinate hands-on activities in science for small groups of local homeschoolers. I will be sharing many of these resources here so be sure to check back if there is something you need.  Our plan this year includes geology, human anatomy, light and sound, and chemistry.

I am very excited to share that I have finished the complete life science series, Botany: Plenty O’Plants, Zoology: Amazing Animals, and Ecology: Exploring Ecology. All my curriculum units can be found in my store, Science Logic, and the freebies are organized here, Science Freebies.

This year, however, we will be augmenting our study with Joy Hakim’s The Story of Science, the first of which is Aristotle Leads the Way. We are really excited to explore science in a chronological perspective alongside our history studies.

We will continue to do informal nature study. This is best described as enjoying nature, spending time in nature, observing what we see, identifying or researching in order to identify once we get back home, and recording (via Project Noah and our nature journals). I use the Handbook of Nature Study newsletters and posts for inspiration – as well as share articles with you through this outlet.

History & Geography

We are particularly excited about history as we will begin the cycle again. This time we are using The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer. While is is the same author as Story of the World, we have heard so many good things, we opted to stick with it.

Years ago, I had purchased Mapping the World by Heart but it has done nothing but collect dust.  This year, I vow to put it to use. I know a solid foundation in geography will serve us well in the future.


Early on, I discovered Singapore Math and it worked well for us so we stuck with it all through the elementary years. As my oldest moved through 6A and finally 6B, however, it was clear she needed more review.

We thereby gave Life of Fred – Fractions a tryShe was thrilled with the story format and her love of math returned.  I encountered the same struggle with my son as he finished Singapore 6B. Thus, I am delighted they will both be using Life of Fred this year, Beginning Algebra and Fractions.

Language Arts

This is the one area I struggle with the most. I can’t seem to settle on one curriculum. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I know I can successfully teach without it. But as they approach high school, like any homeschool mom, I worry, “Am I doing enough?”

I lean towards a Charlotte Mason style of education, full of living books, the arts, and real life learning. The whole language approach has worked well for us in elementary. Through middle school, however, I know I need to make some changes.

My daughter is an avid reader and I have never had to push her to read. My son, on the other hand, is always moving and doing something with his hands. He also has nystagmus. He thereby prefers books with larger print which are harder to come by.

This past spring, I started a Literature Circle to give the kids an opportunity to learn from their peers. It incorporates a weekly Writer’s Workshop and the kids are loving it! Getting feedback from their friends has strengthened their confidence as young writers and has encouraged them to write more.  As we move forward, I will incorporate more tools and strategies to improve their writing. One idea I gleaned from Jimmie Lanley is peer editing. I am excited to give this a go this year.

Literature Circle also incorporates a monthly Book Club, whereby the kids choose titles which we discuss as a group.  It has been working well but I need help coming up with discussion questions. I thereby purchased the Words Aptly Spoken series. Each of the study guides provides a useful tool, combining both author information and study questions of classic literature for deeper analysis.

I am also very intrigued by the Boomerang program at Brave Writer.  I will be purchasing several single issues to give the program a try this coming year.  Selecting our own Boomerangs according to the books the kids have selected will allow me to tailor the language arts program specifically to each of them.

Foreign Language

Perhaps the biggest change of all, however, is that our Mandarin teacher and his wife are expecting a new baby any day now.  While this wouldn’t necessarily impact us, he also finished his doctorate degree last year, and has thereby accepted a full-time position at Marshall University in West Virginia.

As we travel often, we have become comfortable with occasional online lessons via Skype. The kids are adapt at using multiple tools simultaneously. Moving forward, however, we will need to adjust to all of our lessons via Skype.

We will continue to use Better Chinese curriculum. However, the kids will move away from Our First Chinese Reader (essentially the elementary program) and begin Discovering Chinese. Designed for middle school students, it integrates more collaborative projects and I hope more opportunities for the kids to communicate with one another in their second language.

In addition, the complete series is available on iPad with reading, speaking, and listening activities making up the backbone of the program. Audio and video are streamlined throughout the lessons as well as cultural lessons.

More Curriculum Ideas

Do you wish you could pick-the-brain of experienced homeschooling moms?  Then you need to get this amazing, resource-filled e-book download (including a chapter I authored on Inquiry Science for Middle School) for just $10.99! Click HERE to buy or for more information.

You can also see what curriculum choices other homeschool families are making this week at the Not Back To School Blog Hop from the iHomeschool Network.

Come back often to visit new additions all week this week. Next Monday is the school room post. Get those “where we do school” photos ready! Grab a button so your bloggy friends can share their hard work, too.