I’m walking on cloud nine this week.
It’s not because we’re getting closer to our RV road trip across America, or that I just had a fantastic week celebrating the world cup with people from around the world.
It’s because my girls completed their required standardized tests and the results were excellent.
It’s a requirement given that we are registered for homeschooling in North Carolina.
The results don’t even determine anything. As Principal of Makepeace Academy, the final decision whether I move them up to the next grade rests with me.
Let the kids define the teaching
To be honest, we don’t even follow a normal grade based curriculum, preferring instead to move with the pace for learning my child sets.
That doesn’t’ mean letting them define when we’ll do “School work “ because let’s face it they have a new excuse each day not to do it.
But more like, Kalyra has not yet mastered her times tables, or long division, so we won’t move onto more complex math concepts until she does.
I keep a pulse on how the girls are progressin with their skill based work, but more importantly, I tune into how they are observing and interacting with the world.
What questions do they ask? What curiosities do they pursue? How are they playing and imagining? How are they making decisions and leading themselves and others? Are they demonstrating high level thinking skills? Where are their confidence levels and how can I help improve them?
As I said to Kalyra the other day as she told me how excited she felt feeling braver to talk to strangers,
“It’s just a matter of practicing to build your confidence. Here’s a secret to life – with confidence you can do anything.”
These are the things that are way more important to me than results on a standardized test.
The fact that my naturally shy girl who can be terrified to speak is now going up to strangers to ask questions and take control of things is a sign that she’s going to be a master of her own destiny.
But there is a thing called systems in society, and while I love the idea of being completely free from the schooling system, I know one day the girls will possibly return to school.
This is more for the social aspect and the ability to discover and pursue extra curricular activities, like music or cheerleading or acting club, and all those other fun things American schools seem to do so well.
I’m not sure I want to take on the teaching responsibilities for the high school years.
I know if college is in their sites there are probably certain boxes and results they’ll have to check off.
If I’m choosing to reintegrate into that system I’m going to do my best to make sure the girls go into it with confidence and no gaps.
Using standardized tests for benchmarks
Kalyra was half way through 4th grade, and Savannah half way through Kindergarten when we arrived at the beginning of the school year in the US.
Due to different school years between Australian and the USA, I actually bumped both girls up half a grade.
Do I move them forward to the next year, or hold them back?
I didn’t think holding them back was a good idea considering they are both fairly mature and wordily, and I know they were both smart enough to catch up those six months.
I do have daughters who enjoy learning and are quite independent with it, so I know that makes a huge difference.
If you are homeschooling, or unschooling, always take into account your child and how they learn.
We were a little worried as to whether I had caught them up enough to be on par with the test and get good results.
I certainly didn’t want the girls to take the test feeling out of their depth and inadequate, so I made sure to let them know the test wasn’t a do or die experience and to just do their best.
It’s just one tool I”m using to see how they are going and where to go from here.
The standardized test would be a benchmark to see how the girls were comparing to children their age, and whether our decision and road schooling approach has been working in terms of the system.
I don’t believe in comparison as a tool to inflame our ego or diminish our sense of self worth. I think it’s a powerful tool to help us gain a better understanding of where we are.
Often we have no idea of what we are capable of. Not too long ago I walked into a boot camp class thinking I was going to die and be so embarrassed due to my lack of fitness.
It was only by exercising with this group of people that I saw how well I was keeping up and I realized I was much fitter than I thought.
That gave me such motivating fuel to work harder and a greater belief in myself that I could do it.
These standardized tests or benchmarks have been a great way for the girls and I to see this, or to give us feedback on where we could improve.
Perhaps I had it all wrong and I’d have to hold the girls back.
This more flexible teaching structure is working
I administered the IOWA test a nationally normed standardized tests that offer educators a diagnostic look at how their students are progressing in key academic areas.
It was on the approved list for homeschoolers in North Carolina.
The reason I chose it, is because when we lived in Raleigh in 2008, Kalyra went to home daycare, and her minder home-schooled her son.
I remember her telling me that she chose the IOWA test as she thought it was the best.
The girls both did extremely well on the standardized tests getting either on, or above, grade results.
Kalyra even popped out a couple of grade 8 level results, and a grade 10 for language and usage.
She loves writing so this has motivated her to continue with it. I have purchased a writing course for her from a best selling author so I’m hoping this will help her continue on this exciting path.
I’m stoked for them but also to see how this free and open life we have that focuses more on joy and connection is very powerful in many ways.
There was a lot I came to learn about the education system due to my 15 years of teaching in the Industrialized Institution.
Many of those beliefs have been confirmed after having this homeschooling experience with my girls now since we began in 2013.
I questioned what schools were doing to kids when I got out of the profession six years ago. It makes me question it even more. My girls were able to achieve this on their school tests with minimal instruction from me.
And these tests form the benchmarks for how schools are perceived as doing, how they receive their funding, and whether a child can go up tot he next level, or perhaps have to attend summer school until they get it right!!
At the beginning, we started with quite a structured approach through Distance Education.
But, since we have started this more road schooling approach to learning 18 months ago, I’ve slowly let go of my previous teacher role to follow a more flexible open ended un-schooling approach to learning.
I haven’t completely let go of the structure, ensuring we spend time each day (or most days) with disciplined skill based work like reading and math, but the majority of their learning has come from life, play and our travel adventures.
When we knew we had to do a science test, we ran to get a fifth grade science book to go over some of the concepts.
I’ve not been setting up science experiments or projects. We visit Science Museums instead, or go play with a real volcano for the day, or learn about ecology and conservation on our travels.
As we’ve traveled through different landscapes, habitats and climates we’ve talked about and experienced how these all work. After a close hand experience of Hurricane Irma on our cruise, they completely understand hurricanes and how they are formed.
The lessons from our travels have been endless.
Kalyra didn’t even finish the science workbook, yet still managed to pull out a test result that put her on 7th grade level.
I was astounded.
I’ve administered 5th grade science tests before and I thought for sure she’d bomb out (great confidence mum!!) as we didn’t do any focused learning or vocab work for it.
She just has an inner understanding of how the world words.
Similar to Social Studies.
I didn’t even know that was a component of the standardized test until it arrived. “Oh shit. She has to do social studies. We’ve done nothing on that!!”
But really we have.
Not to mention her knowledge of the world that comes from traveling through it.
When they have these real life experiences, they are better able to reflect on it and integrate it into their life.
And so without ever picking up a social studies book, or me even looking at what was on the 5th grade curriculum, she pulled out a sixth grade result.
Isn’t it amazing how kids learn and grow when they’re given freedom to just be and explore.
I think if we do return them to school, I’ll be investigating Montessori, or alternative type schools, like this fabulous school about to open in Sydney Australia.
Taking valuable feedback from standardized tests.
I found some value from the test as I was able to administer it and watch and see where they were going wrong.
I could see Savannah’s thought process as she chose one answer and then realized it was wrong and changed it. That’s valuable information for me to witness.
Teachers don’t get that when they administer these tests, so the useful information they get is minimal and not much more than just a number that reflects a two-hour moment of time.
I can now take where I saw them struggle and do work to improve these areas.
Strangely Kalyra didn’t do so well on maps and charts! Time for her to become chief navigator with a road map atlas, not Google, on our trips.
She ran out of time on the non-calculator section of the test, which to me, is the most stupidest part of the entire test. They give only 15 minutes for the kids to do 30 algorithms using pen and paper. I’m talking long division and fractions included.
I’m not sure even I could have done that in 15 minutes.
These tests and their questions can be so goddamn ridiculous at times it makes me mad. It’s one of the biggest reasons I got out of teaching.
Savannah did not perform well on the listening test, which was not a shock to me.
These tests don’t take into account the personality and spirit of children. They expect children to all act and behave in the same way and evaluate their learning and success from inside this box.
Knowing my child, and seeing how she learns, I know her listening result does not mean that she has terrible listening skills.
In fact, she has great listening skills. She is more curious than a cat, and asks endless questions and contemplates the answers.
She watched a high thinking documentary with me the other night about The Moses Code. I thought it had to have been going over the top of her head, especially considering she was rolling all over my stomach and doing headstands as we watched it.
But then she came out with a statement some time after the show had finished which showed she had definitely absorbed what was said and was able to transfer it to a new situation in her life.
She has great listening skills it’s just in some circumstances, like sitting down to do a test and listen to instructions, she loses concentration.
She’s not invested in the experience and couldn’t care less.
She’s a kinesthetic learner, meaning she learns through movement, which is why she has made such great progress with her learning as we do a lot of hand manipulation tasks with words etc.
Easing the parenting fears
So while I don’t take much stock in standardized tests, it’s been a useful benchmark for me.
I don’t think there is a decision a parent makes that they don’t second guess themselves over.
So of course I worry that this roadschooling lifestyle, especially how flexible our approach has become, may affect the girls.
This gives me school based stats and facts to back it up.
So when some girl tries to tell Kalyra again that you can’t get a good education while homeschooling and traveling, she can give some evidence to prove you can.
She felt her comeback of “You only know what you know” was weak. I thought it was quite simple and exact.
And when people tell me how vital school is and how our choice is not so good, I have some hard school testing evidence – a language they understand – to back it up.
Most importantly, it’s good to know I can keep following this roadschooling approach and continue to see great result and enjoy these short quality years we have together to travel, explore, play and have fun.
If you are homeschooling, roadschooling, or unschooling, or are considering it, I hope you’ve found this useful to see that you are not making a mistake or damaging your child either.
You can make it work.
They will learn an extraordinary amount from the travel experience itself, and in a most valuable out of the box way.
I do recommend taking a standardized test, even if you are not required to do so, just so you can have that benchmark for yourself.
I will give another update soon on how we structure the learning and integrate it with our travel and time manage it.
Click here if you want to learn more about our homeschooling approach and the homeschool resources we use. Here are a few survival tips on helping your kids learn from home.
Do you have any questions or concerns about roadschooling or homeschooling? I can answer them in detail in future posts