I asked my nine-year-old daughter the other day, “What are your goals?” Clara perked up, thinking about her future. As she talked, I could see her taking ownership of her future, coming up with ideas for what she envisioned for herself years down the road. She is not sure yet if she wants to be a pharmacist or a teacher, but she might try to do both!

Every child is unique and has different strengths and interests (Clara, for instance, loves math). When our children find things they love and set goals for themselves, our work as parents is so much easier because our kids become intrinsically motivated to reach the goals they have set for themselves. When they are tempted to be lazy and not complete their work, we can remind them of the goals they have set for themselves. The goals are theirs, not ours.

“We have not had to push our kids to study,” says Mona Lisa Harding, homeschool mom and author of the book The Brainy Bunch. “They have been self-motivated by their dreams. They are learning to set their sights on the next thing that will bring them closer to their goal. Being a doctor was our daughter’s dream, not ours.”

There are at least three reasons homeschooling is especially great when it comes to helping our children find things they love and set goals:

1) One-on-one attention from parents.

Homeschooling allows parents to provide a more tailored educational experience for their children. Parents know their children better than anyone and can hone in on their children’s interests and provide learning opportunities as unique as their children are. As we learn alongside our children, we better understand what our children love and what motivates them.

“If your child wants to be President of the United States, design his or her curriculum around what you (the parents) believe is important for a good president to know,” says Harding. “Believe that your child really can become the president someday. Your confidence will give your child confidence.”

2) More free time.

Homeschool children also simply have more time to explore their interests because they are not restricted by a traditional classroom structure. Less time is wasted driving to school, waiting in line, and waiting for the teacher to help other children. More time can be spent discovering what a child is interested in and then focusing on his or her deeply held interests.

3) The absence of grades.

Homeschool students can better focus on goals and learning things that are interesting to them because they aren’t concerned about report cards. “Research shows that grades are just about the worst way to promote learning through intrinsic motivation,” states Jessica Lahey in her excellent book The Gift of Failure. Lahey cites a study of children who were told that they would not receive a final grade who showed higher levels of interest and curiosity, and also more retention of the subject matter, than peers that were told they would receive a grade.

“Grades are not a measure of a child’s worth and often not even of their ability. Grades drive wedges between parents and kids,” states Lahey.

Lahey encourages parents to emphasize goals rather than grades. Goals are self-determined. When kids establish their own goals for learning, they achieve more and are more confident and motivated.

Amy's son scales a playground structure.

Achieving a goal: Climbing high to the top.

As we teach our children and expose them to different subjects, ideas, and life experiences, we discover what they are interested in and can help them set goals for themselves. Goal-setting makes our kids more forward-thinking and will reinforce the idea that our kids are responsible for the outcome of their actions. What they do today will have consequences, for good or bad.

“Our children are like everybody in this life,” says Harding. “Every person is good at something. We encourage this while we discourage competition. We motivate our children to find what they are good at, and then we help them improve in this area. We inspire in the areas where there already is much inspiration, and this sparks interest in other things.”

So what are your kids good at? What do they love? What are their dreams? And how can these dreams turn into reality through goal-setting?