Here we are in the middle of our break between school years.  We only set aside time for two weeks, as I’ve mentioned before that I want to get a good strong start on our learning before our newest princess arrives on the scene.  Yes, recently finding out that we’re welcoming a SHE has been really exciting for all of us.  Noah will now be surrounded by girls, but I truly don’t think he minds.  In fact, he often tells me that he wants a sister.  He connects so much with his twin sister, Hosannah, that it makes sense to me that he would want another one of those.

We set up our school room for the new year.  It will double as nursery and school room, so wall space has become our newest commodity.  Amidst designing lesson plans and putting together records, organizing is one of my chief loves in life.  I couldn’t say why, but nothing thrills me more than taking something and making it into a well-oiled, efficiency machine.  You can’t be completely efficient when all your children are 7 and under, but you certainly can try.  We’re helping the children understand that being organized doesn’t mean taking all the fun out of life.  They see the payoff of keeping their toy bins sorted so they can actually find whatever toy it is they’ve been wanting to play with instead of looking at massive boxes stuffed with mess and giving up on building that fort or planning that theater production.  In my opinion, organization breeds creativity because it eliminates wasted time and effort, thus allowing the mind to be fruitful in its endeavors.  Since we don’t have a choice seeing that we are all living in about 900 square feet of space, I say bring on the wall shelves and snap tubs.

I took this whole academic year and thought long and hard about whether I would give my eldest two daughters a standardized test at the end of second grade.  We are not required in Colorado to test except for every other year beginning in third grade.  However, I thought it would probably be excellent practice for the girls to sit down and apply themselves to something new so it would not be completely unfamiliar to them next year.  Additionally, I believe it will give me a good idea of where gaps may exist so we can try to fill in some of those before they are required to take tests next year.  We picked a nationally recognized test and administered it during a couple of evenings this week.  Not much could have prepared me for our experience.

Having never even seen a multiple choice test, the girls saw it as the answer being handed to them.  They are used to having to give narrations and explain their answers with little to no prompting.  How else can I as the teacher know that they actually know something?  But this new concept of just picking the answer out of a mix of several offerings was very cool to them.  On the other hand, it was very difficult for them to take this test seriously, and I’m really glad we opted for a “practice” year because I was not very pleased with the results.  They flew through the reading, vocabulary, and language arts sections with no problems. This was not surprising to me because we work really hard on these areas and I already had a feeling they were ahead.  The listening portion was very challenging because I ask questions differently than the test did, so it was totally unexpected for them.  The girls were asked to remember certain specific details about a paragraph, rather than the “why” or “how” of things that occurred.  Instead of being required to put big ideas into their own words, they needed to remember the color of a certain article of clothing, or the name of obscure so-in-so who graced the story for one sentence.  I suppose I could call this listening portion a “gap” in our homeschool learning, but since I want the children to learn how to think instead of memorizing details that do not have anything to do with the point of a story I do not know how much I can change this to prepare for next year’s test.  Do I even want to change it?  I know I have to find a balance if I want to continue to enjoy the freedom of homeschooling, for which I am extremely grateful.  Of course, memorizing important things is a significant portion of our school experience, but we qualify memorization with the “important detail” stamp.

The most difficult portion for us was the math portion, which was somewhat expected.  We use Math-U-See and Life of Fred, which are both very enjoyable, mastery-based, and extremely thorough.  The girls KNOW their addition and subtraction facts. I knew full-well that multiplication, division, and fractions were going to fly completely over the girls’ heads because we have not yet introduced those concepts and there is no point to haphazardly introducing them just to pass some questions on the test.  What I was unprepared for was the lack of seriousness the girls had towards doing the math that they DO know.  I don’t think Pete and I did a very good job of setting up the environment for success (lesson learned!) so the girls had a hard time sitting still for a full 2 hours to do the math computation problems.  There were several word problems, which they do not like even though they know how to do them.  Word problems require time and patience and scratch paper, but after about question 14, they lost interest and started just filling in bubbles on the answer sheet.  I was horrified, but I held my peace (be still, Mommy, this isn’t even a “real” test…yet).  After all, it’s my own fault that we didn’t set the test up during the “school hours” of the day when they are fresh and ready to tackle the assignment.  They have never had to sit still for 2 hours and apply themselves diligently to anything, let alone math.  Nor have they ever had to try to get through something without getting reminders, encouragement, or assistance when needed.  They are only 6 and 7 after all.  I usually let them stand up at the table, bounce on my exercise ball, or do jumping jacks regularly throughout our school day (it’s one reason homeschooling is awesome).  But since these tests are timed, we had no option to let their bodies have a break.  Having to tell them that we weren’t allowed to help them made the testing time very frustrating.  We were completely FRIED by the end of the sessions.  Since we only get to use the tests for a one-week period, we had to cram more than I would have liked.  We will definitely be changing this next year by breaking the sessions into multiple shorter ones.  I saw clearly that I’m going to have to help the girls get used to the idea of sitting still and working their best on something for longer than we usually do in our school days.  I know testing only happens once a year, but it’s one of those character-development areas that we all need to work on, and helping them apply the diligence they show in household chores to an extra-long math test will be something we practice.  Parents are allowed to administer these tests as long as they have college degrees, but we haven’t yet decided if it would be more helpful for the girls if they went to a licensed teacher next year for the test.  It might help them take it more seriously.  On the other hand, I don’t want to cause them any undue anxiety.  We’ll just have to see how their maturity level is when the time comes.

The science portion of the test was a complete joke.  I was not expecting that at this stage.  I was worried that they would miss many of the questions since we do mastery-based science as well (we focus on only one major topic per year instead of skipping around).  I guess we read enough living books to be able to cover the mish-mash of physics, geology, and anatomy questions that were offered.  I’ll just consider this year’s science section to be a freebie that boosts their scores.  There actually was one botany question (we did that this year) and one astronomy question (we did that last year).  The “social studies” questions honestly made me vomit into my mouth a few times.  Sorry, I can’t help it.  I don’t want to be cynical, but I think it’s incredibly sad that out of about 60 questions there were only three or so actual history questions.  Instead, the children have to answer questions like “look at the pictures and pick one that shows someone being a leader.” Is this for real??  Jaelah knows what leadership is without having to take a multiple choice test about it.  She lives it every day when she dresses her brother and sister and gives them their breakfast.  Selah understands leadership when she helps the younger children learn how to share the seesaw when playing outside.  We don’t “study” it at all.  Almost all of the social studies questions had to do with character development and being a good citizen.  If children have to learn these things in school, it’s unfortunate to wonder what their home lives are lacking.  It is the parents’ God-given job to train children to be leaders, work well in groups, resolve conflicts, and recycle.  Children should have a good handle on these concepts by the time they are three, let alone by the time they are in second grade.  I am not really sure why these topics have to be covered on a nationally-standardized test, but they are.  To be fair, it’s better for children to learn this in school than not at all.  Still, it was a little strange discussing it on a piece of paper.  We got to answer one multiple choice question with a picture that showed the Declaration of Independence, but of course there was nothing about why this document is special.  I guess looking at pictures of people of various races giving each other high-fives and saving the planet together is more important.  Don’t get me wrong – I believe wholeheartedly in honoring people groups and their cultures, and in conserving our natural resources.  But we’re missing out if we don’t understand the freedoms bestowed on us to pursue these endeavors, and why it is such an incredible blessing.  Children ARE capable of understanding this.  Ah well.  Maybe the tests will get around to history by middle school.

All in all, I learned a lot during this week of testing.  I’m more grateful than ever for the opportunity to teach my children at home and I never, ever want to take it for granted.  Thank You, Jesus, for giving me the patience required to prepare my children for next year.

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