To Test or Not to Test…Should I Test My Homeschooler?

Many homeschoolers must test due to state regulations.

Many homeschoolers choose to test to track progress and fill in educational gaps.

Many homeschoolers educate at home precisely to avoid testing.

Which is right? As with many hot topics in the homeschooling community, I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer. Our state does not require it (thank goodness!) and I usually fall into the last category. The only testing we have done around here is the Math U See tests that follow at the end of each chapter.  I usually avoid testing like the plague. I grew up taking LOTS of tests (and acing them) only to forget the information the next day.

And I believe our flawed educational system is set up on a system of testing and tracking that ultimately fails our kids. Teachers struggle to fit all the information in that will be required of students taking the tests. There is little time to enjoy exploring subjects deeply. There are no rabbit trails to follow. Most history and science is repeated year after year (albeit at a slightly more complex level) so there are huge gaps of history and science that never get studied at all or are crammed into a short four-year high school level. Most teachers long to explore innovative new ways to teach and interact with their students. Most never get the chance because curriculum is already dictated due to test scores. This is exactly the kind of thinking that made my husband and I originally decide to homeschool in the first place. We remember what school was like and we knew we didn’t want that for our children.

My husband and I recently watched the Waiting for Superman documentary. It was completely fascinating. I agreed with a lot of the flaws and problems that crop up in our education system. Where I choose to part ways is in the solution. Their solution? Longer school days, more days of school, more push for excellence and higher test scores. I was saddened. The worst part was their discussion of tracking and how it automatically shuts out some students (usually of the poorer class) for upper college track learning. It made this out to be a horrible problem. These poor students could end up as…gasp…farmers or in a technical skilled position. Here’s my rub…why is being a farmer bad? Why is being an electrician not as important as being a doctor or lawyer or CEO executive? How could that doctor even function without food in his belly to provide energy unless the farmer provides his food? How could that doctor perform surgery unless an electrician makes sure his lights and equipment have the proper conduits to work? And, my experience has taught me, college isn’t needed for everyone. Working your way up in a company (used to be called apprenticeship) is, in many cases, more valuable to getting where you want in a job then a piece of paper with a completed degree.


This year we chose to test Gabe. Not in an official state-standardized sort of way, but in a more laid-back see-what-you-know sort of way. A couple of years ago I recieved a free copy of Spectrum Grade 4 Test Prep. It is a practice workbook for taking a standardized test. It covers Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, and Science. I was never sure if I was going to use it or not but held onto it anyway.

Why would I subject him to this if I feel so strongly in the other direction? Good question. The answer for me is complex and simple at the same time. In it’s simplest form, we wanted Gabe to have the experience of sitting down and knowing what it was like to take a test. We wanted him to be exposed to the art of having to take a test with all its pressures. I also wanted to know how we, as a homeschool family, stacked up against public education. (This was just for my own personal curiosity.) We’ve covered, for the most part, one full cycle of history including government and he is well-read in science. This, for me, would answer how well he retained some of the information we did study as well as how he would do with the pressure of having to answer questions on information he may have not been exposed to yet.

For instance, he officially has not studied fractions in math (we are doing that in fifth grade based on our curriculum choice) yet I know he’s read of fractions and worked with them in real-life situations. There is a whole test page on fractions in the math section. How will he do with assimulating this new information and making an educated guess?

On a more complex level, this also gives him a glimpse into the life of a public-schooled student. Answering worksheets like this? Standard for the public-schooled student. Worksheets are a daily habit. Multiple-choice tests are a standard, weekly practice. The tediousness of reading a section of text that is, usually, quite boring and then having to “comprehend” that information in the form of questions is status quo for the public-schooled student. Our family has been on a steady diet of living books, not dry text books. Part of me wanted him to have a bit of appreciation for how we do school as opposed to how he could be doing school. And the art of sitting down and just having to complete something no matter how boring or tedious is good for the character. A steady diet of it will kill the love of learning but a good dose every once in a while is good medicine!

That said, this test was hardly stressful. There was no timer. Bathroom breaks were permitted whenever he felt like. He could have a drink sitting next to him as he worked. And I, as the “teacher”, had the privilege of eliminating the crap part of the tests. (Is it really necessary to fill out a page about a personal narrative or answer questions about a bar graph that my second grader could ace or give politically correct answers to philosophies that our family doesn’t adhere to?) We just adjusted the grading to figure percent per area based on questions answered correctly divided by total number of questions.

At first he was excited…something new and different. He quickly changed his tune when he ran into a question he didn’t know because we had never gone over it.  His views on fairness were challenged. This was good fodder for us to discuss the education system and the parts he will eventually have to take part in whether he wants to or not. The experience also allowed us to learn about some heart issues of character that needed to be addressed.

He did excellent in Language Arts and Mathematics. Social Studies was his downfall. This was not because he didn’t necessarily know some of the material (although that played it’s part as we’ve concentrated on chronological history and have not spent a great deal of time on “social studies” of his immediate neighborhood), mainly he just refused to answer some of the questions. When asked he said this was his least favorite subject. I explained on how not answering a question brings down his overall grade and we talked about educated guesses and how to glean new information from the context of surrounding information.

Surprisingly, he also didn’t score as well in science. Which was unexpected for me because he loves science and is always walking around reading science books. Is it certain elementary jargon he’s not familar with? Is it asking questions of scientific topics he’s not really interested in? His interests lie mainly with electricity and chemistry and the elements. Would I be better informed to find out what he does know? I will be contemplating this further as I set up a more Charlotte Mason style test as I know this will give me a more accurate view! Check back for discussion on that!

Now, I am not being honest unless I admit I was a bit afraid of even giving him this test. I knew this was a good thing and would help his father and I evaluate where he is academically, where we feel he should be, and if that is due to testing bias or if there is really a gap in our teaching. But this meant flaying me open for vulnerability. How would I, as teacher, be judged? As I was grading his work my heart was racing and I realized that this test reflected on me as much as him. Or, at least, I felt it did even if it wasn’t suppose to. I had to take it to prayer and ask the Lord to show me what was really important, how I should view the scores, what we should change (if anything) and, most importantly, if this is an experience we will repeat with future children or whether it was even worth our time. Those questions have yet to be answered. But at least I was honest with the pros and cons of the experience. And, if nothing else, it just reaffirmed for me that testing academics is such a narrow view of how your student is progressing. The best part of this experience that I will take away is learning about my son’s heart, not his score!

I should have liked to be asked to say what I knew. They always tried to ask what I did not know. When I would have willingly displayed my knowledge, they sought to expose my ignorance. This sort of treatment had only one result: I did not do well in examinations.” ~ Winston Churchhill

For more discussion and thinking on this hot topic ~

Would love to hear your views on testing in the comments!

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

Charlotte Mason Grammar ~ Free Language Lessons

Looking for a Charlotte Mason Grammar book that’s gentle yet thorough? Something with substance yet delightful to look at? A book that  you can curl on the couch and read conversationally? Well, then do I have some gems for you!

Today my oldest daughter (7) came to me requesting the grammar books we used to do (from Queen’s Homeschooling). I stopped buying them because she outgrew the phonics book she was using at the time and my eldest son wanted nitty-gritty grammar. We switched to Barron’s Painless Grammar for him (which he loves and reads in his free time…one of his favorite take-to-the-bathroom books) and just allowed her to concentrate on learning how to read fluently. Now she is asking for grammar again and she wants that Victorian feel to her grammar book. She highly enjoys the Charlotte Mason picture study and oral compositions and narrations whereas that part was drudgery for my son.

But as much as I wanted to grant her wish and order a Queen’s book, I’ve made myself a pledge to use what I have and not spend money on more homeschool supplies. Isn’t there a public domain copy of a Charlotte Mason style language lessons book I thought to myself? Yes, yes there was. But only the advanced Intermediate Language Lessons by Emma Serl. The Primary Language Lessons I would have to buy.



    Intermediate Language Lessons, Vol II – Emma Serl

Oh, but what’s this? Primary Language Lessons by another author? Could it be the same? Would it work for us? I was very excited to find this set that covers all of the Grammar stage. I showed my daughter and she was excited and wanted to print it out today. I downloaded it for free, happy with myself for finding a solution when out of the corner of my eye I caught some other titles.                        



 Sheldon’s Primary Language Lessons

Sheldon’s advanced language lessons: Grammar and composition

And I started clicking and reading and getting very excited. Do others know this is out here???? A veritable treasure trove of elegant words and noble ideas and substantial, rare English usage. I feel like I won the homeschool lottery today! My only vice now is coveting the Kindle or iPad…how nice to skip printer and ink and download these 150+page books directly to a tablet for the young student to use. I see this perfect blending of antiquated substance and modern technology! Sigh. Next year maybe!

     Language Lessons: A First Book of English – Wilbur Fisk Gordy, William Edward Mead

Practical Composition and Rhetoric – William Edward Mead, Wilbur Fisk Gordy

I was very excited to see this Practical Composition and Rhetoric. what a perfect carry-over to learn and practice great writing skills…writing skills lost to most of our public school system today. I admit, being a public schooled child, that I will most likely learn as much as my junior high – high school student with this book!



Introductory Language Lessons – Lawton Bryan Evans

Elements of English – Lawton Bryan Evans

I know that sometimes following a more Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum leaves me feeling as if I’m not doing enough…what with shorter lessons, less subjects, less drill and a more gentle approach. Yet looking through these wonderful public domain treasures  left me in awe. We have lost the art of language. In our rush to get better test scores we have left behind words and ideas and language that shaped nations. Sure, we know grammar. Sure, we can diagram a sentence (well, some of us anyway). But can we take that technical knowledge and turn it into ideas and thoughts that capture the spirit and move us forward? I see very little of that these days. And I believe that may be why it is so hard (even for us…gasp…adults) to pick up a classical work and read it. We feel like we are wading through it and I believe it is because that sort of language doesn’t come naturally for us anymore. Reading it feels like going against the grain and leaves us tired and frustrated. How I don’t want that for my children!

Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.”  ~ Charlotte Mason

P.S. I added all of these wonderful works to my Free Resources Page! Go check it out.

A Nature Walk with Aunt Bessie

A Nature Walk with Aunt Bessie

No, we don’t have an Aunt Bessie. That is the title of a new book we are using…or rather an old book reprinted and revamped by Queen’s Homeschool Supply. One of those true living books about nature that I longed to read to my children but had no clue how to expand that over into an actual study of nature.

Sandi Queen must have had that same thought and she did something wonderful with it by putting together a Discovering Nature Series just for busy moms like me who are mulit-level teaching and just can’t squeeze one more thing into our already-busy planning sessions!  I just love grass roots efforts of other talented homeschool moms that really fill a need that is not there. That is just what this book does. It is a great mix of living book and Charlotte Mason teaching style!

Sandi cleverly breaks the lessons into chapters from the original book. You read a chapter to wet your appetite and then use the corresponding activities to further your study. It’s perfect. Some activities are coloring, some are researching, some are drawing, some are hands-on. There is enough activities after each lesson to pick one or two of your favorites or match according to level of grade but not so many so that you may just decide to do them all.

This book has been a favorite of the kids. We’ve been doing it for three weeks now and have learned all about spiders and swallows and sparrows. I will definately be ordering the next two books after we are through with this one. Here are some pics of the kids enjoying their new nature study.

Other spider books we read (from our own home library collection) ~

Living Math for Elementary Students

In the process of ordering upcoming curriculum for the year, Ive been thinking a lot about Luc and how we want to do kindergarten with him this fall.  I knew we were going to be using the free online Progressive Phonics and our Bob books and Leap Frog videos. I just wasn’t sure about math. That is, until I found this book over at Queen’s Homeschooling Supplies.

We’ve done living math in the sense of reading a living math book from the library or our own collection. And the kids love this but it is, obviously, not enough for a full school year’s curriculum. Now, if you took the time to map out enough living math books and set up hands-on activities to go with them I am sure you can have a very fulfilling living math experience. But, since this isn’t my season for adding extra, this is the first, truly, Charlotte Mason style math book with a full scope and sequence for elementary students. It is really for students age 4-7 (hoping they’ll add more to the series) but will be a blessing for us this upcoming fall. I will be able to use it with Luc (5) and Lilah (3 1/2) at the same time. It is so endearing. Click the preview pdf to take a look!

We are doing the Life of Fred: Fractions with Gabe this fall instead of Math U See to see how he does with this style of living math. I think, because he is math oriented, that he will love it. How can you not love Fred? I am hoping that this dipping our toes into the world of living math will be a good thing for us. Here’s hoping!

An Educational Treasure Chest (aka Charlotte Mason freebies)

Sometimes you stumble across a site that just makes your mouth water as a homeschooling momma! Today was such a day!

I opened my email box and found my new Homeschool Freebie of the Day email and saw a link to this wonderful, hard-working mom’s site, We Don’t Need No Education (don’cha just love that title?) for Grammar Land Worksheets! As this is the next to do in our language arts lineup I was super excited! Then I started poking around her other things and there is a treasure trove of free resources for Charlotte Masonites (is that a word?)!!!

I also see she has a new site, Mind-Fires Academy that I will be visiting soon too.

Happy hunting!!!

P.S. Here is the link for Grammar Land for anyone wanting to download this veritable language treasure!

Field Guides as Living Books

A field guide ~ that handy little book (or big book, as the case may be) that tells you factually exactly what you need to know about what you wanted to know about.

Not exactly what we think of when we think living books. Living books for me usually encompass thoughts about a really great story that captures my heart and emotions…ties me to a piece of knowledge, whether that be history or science or art or music or even math. Isn’t that the Charlotte Mason way?

It is, but oh can it be so much more!

Around this house it is the field guides that are the beloved books that steal my children’s hearts. It is the field guides that are in tatters with missing covers and a few torn pages, well-worn from the turning and turning that happens to them. It is the field guides that my children will turn to over and over that lead to the most interesting discussions and interest-led learning opportunities. It is the pictures that capture their imagination at the pre-reading level and then grow with them as they enter into the reading fold. It is the realist that touches them as their natural curiosity is insatiable.

And it was the same for me when I was a child. Yes, I remember falling in love with Laura Ingalls and Nancy Drew and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But, really, it was the Golden Guide’s pocket book on butterflies that captured me and stirred up my heart for later adult hobbies. So why shouldn’t it be the same for my children?

After all, Charlotte did say ~

…knowledge, that is, roughly, ideas clothed upon with facts, is the proper pabulum for mind. This food a child requires in large quantities and in great variety. The wide syllabus I have in view is intended in every point to meet some particular demand of the mind.   ~A Philosophy of Education p. 256.

And our favorite field guides around here:

Encyclopedia of Animals,9780681460249

Borders bargain at $9.99!

Hammond’s Animal Atlas

The same from my childhood with a new spiffy cover!

As well as all the other Golden Guide Pocket Books…especially the Pond Life

(Although, I personally like the older shabby chic cover better.)

Of course, we all remember this review! Great book, great bargain!

Extensive and up to date! Another Borders bargain!

(find here used at Amazon)

Universe…what can I say except this is a must see book! (another Borders bargain)

It takes you across our galaxy from stars to planets and moons to meteors all in the order of how many light years away from earth it is. And the pictures are phenomenal. One of my personal faves!

Visual Dictionary…bargain for us at Barnes and Nobles and now you can get it bargain priced as used!

Smithsonian’s Rock and Gem

Animal Tracks and Signs: Track Over 400 Animals From Big Cats to Backyard Birds

Animal Tracks & Signs…a gift from Grandma!

(The poop quiz is their favorite, of course!)

Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Birds

I think we use this one on almost a daily basis in the spring time! And the diminutive size means it is constantly getting lost as little hands snatch it and carry it around in pockets and purses.

The Bird Songs Anthology…which they’ve looked at so much that we’ve had to glue the sound part on several times and now we just set it in with the stuffed birds basket. Most listened to bird? The ptarmigan. This erupts in giggles for hours! (And the giggling is contagious…just to warn you! Don’t believe me? Go hear for yourself!)

Field Guide to Wildflowers

(native to our forests in Nebraska…will update later with a picture since I can’t find one online)

Trees of North America

One of the best identifying books ever whether you have a pinecone, a leaf, a piece of bark or a tree seed. Real time pictures of each part of the tree…just flip pages until you see what you’re holding in your hand from that nature walk!

And, of course, we can’t forget the Crinkleroot Guides! I don’t think there is a book alive by him that we don’t love!

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