My daughter completed her annual testing this week. As a homeschooling family the state requires us to evaluate our children each year to ensure they are “on track”. This was a stressful thing for me. Yes, for me. Not for my child, she was not worried about anything aside from spelling. She appeared confident and unconcerned about being asked random questions about topics we may or may not have even discussed over the past twelve months. I, on the other hand, felt as though the results of her test were really evaluating me. Am I providing the right learning opportunities? Am I doing enough to help her learn to divide? Am I putting enough emphasis on the right subjects?
The days leading up to her test were stressful for me. I couldn’t exactly get my head around it, why was I placing such value on the results of her test? It was ridiculous, after all we are unschoolers. A manner of leading children in a more hands-off approach, allowing them to learn the things they are interested in and trusting that they will learn all of what they need to grow into exactly who they are meant to be. As an unschooler, why on earth was I giving this test such a place of importance? I could not answer that question and so I sat with it.
It wasn’t until the testing had come and gone and I was having a conversation with my husband that the reason came out. I was telling him the results of her test and talking through what she excelled in and where there was room to improve. I rambled on about curriculum I could use to help her with this or that. I wondered aloud if we should evaluate for dyslexia. I talked about opportunities to start earning college credits…have I mentioned she’s nine years old? I had been sucked into the system. One test! One hour, once a year in a friendly, non-threatening environment with a kind woman who tells my kid the test is a “game”! And I was now concerned with college credits, spelling workbooks, sixth grade level math… How the heck did that happen?
My husband and I continued our conversation and good came of it. In my head I have been going over what I want for my kids, Nowhere on that list is “going to a prestigious university” or “getting their doctorate”. I know how important it is to be able to use the English language, to write well, to be well spoken, but is mastering it more important than instilling a love of nature? I realize they will need to understand basic (and complex) math concepts to use their creative minds to the fullest, but is long-division more important than guiding a heart of service? Can I say out loud, in front of everyone that I believe letting my kids simply play for more hours than they school, is teaching them greater life skills than they could ever learn if I tried to sit them down and teach them these things? I think I just did…
It is scary to go against the norm. It is intimidating to know that I am doing life with my littles differently than most people. It can be stressful to to go against commonly held beliefs. Though, when you have found your people and you exist in a group of families learning in similar ways, trusting this natural desire and ability to learn, it is easier to go about your business. Day to day I don’t feel the anxiety because I have women who lift me up and trust that I am doing what is best for my kids. I see these same women doing these types of things with their families, maybe they even unschool more or better than I do, I can see that it is working in the brilliance of the littles around me when we get together. Having the people makes all of the difference, it rights my perspective. When we are alone in our weirdness we feel it more strongly, but when we have friends in our crazy we find peace there.
In the time talking with my husband he said some really awesome things to me. He had even sent me a text earlier in the day which I saved because his words were perfect and gave me rest. While spelling and being able to memorize math facts are actually pretty important to him, he placed no value on the results of her test. He didn’t tell me we should be doing more spelling words or ask why I don’t have an actual life science text book. Instead he reminded me that the children are creative, that they are inventive, that they are kind. He pointed out their goodness and brought up their abilities. More than this, he reminded me why we choose to homeschool, and probably without meaning to he reminded me why I unschool.
I suppose this testing problem extends past me, I know public school families who opt out of the annual standardized testing at their school because they realize that one day out of the year can not fully show all the knowledge their child has. I had never looked at it from the teachers perspective though. Do those public school teachers feel like I did on test day? Do they know how amazing the children are but question if they themselves have done justice in teaching them the information that the powers-that-be say the kids should know? Do the educators feel as though it is more so an evaluation of their ability to teach, than of the students ability to learn? I wonder if that is where the “teaching to the test” mentality came from. Now, I know there’s more to it than that, but could it be an original piece of the puzzle?
A few days have passed since our test was taken, my daughter has completely forgotten the test and has already asked how long we’ll be working in this cursive/spelling workbook, (insert pre-teen eye-roll here). I honestly don’t know, I get distracted by projects around the house too easily; letting them make salt-dough, helping them learn to cook dinner, reading them endless chapters of fantasy novels… While these things are definitely not school, there is a lot of learning going on. I suppose I’ll work to find that ever-elusive balance. Just the right amount of textbook, just the right amount of playing in the snow. They are little after all, and I don’t long for them to be normal or average.
In creating the life we now live, I realize that my children will know a lot of things that their schooled peers may not. As an example; my three year old asked if we could “have a conversation about doin’ math” the other day. She’s trying out a new word and wants to sit at the table for school time with her siblings. It was pretty adorable. But I also know that they won’t know the exact things that those public schoolers know either. There is no self-driven interest in learning about the specific states in the U.S. in my kids, though this is a common third/fourth grade activity. I have given them multiple books, activities, and puzzles on the topic. They only do those activities when I remind them and because they “have to” to be “done” They are not going to remember that Kansas’ state flower is the sunflower, because they could care less. Additionally I know that my kids may never learn some things that their peers do, but that doesn’t matter. If they become interested in the way a light bulb works we can deconstruct a few, check out some books at the library, watch some Youtube videos. Information is only a Google search away.
We don’t have to force uninterested learning, even if that means they don’t pass a test. Can’t we look at the whole child and their development as a person over the past year? I think we should, I think it is in fact better to do so. This morning I sit in peace with where my kids are at with their learning. I’m thankful to have had this week to reflect on how things are going, both with my leading and with their learning, it’s been time well spent. I can look ahead with new ideas to share with my little people, and a fresh perspective on where we are on our journey. Knowing that they are exceptional, that they have great capacity to learn, and that they are always learning is what I will take away from that hour of testing. Not a score, or a mark of failing or succeeding-for myself or my child. We are learning well, and I am very thankful to be able to learn together with them.