The pros and cons of standardized testing for homeschoolers

pros and cons of standardized testing for homeschoolers

Though standardized testing might not always be the best method of assessing a child, sometimes, as homeschoolers, we find ourselves without a choice. Currently, we are in a homeschool situation that requires regular testing. It’s taught me a lot, about myself, about my kids, about the pros and cons of standardized testing. Whether you are deciding if testing is right for you or trying to make the best of a state-mandated testing policy, here are some pros and cons of standardized testing that may help you gain a little perspective.

The Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing for homeschoolers

Cons of Standardized Testing

I love the emphasis that learning styles have received, in both homeschool and public education. I love that we are appreciating differences in learning and equipping kids to understand how they learn. But the great irony is that while we are making strides in educating according to the different learning styles, we are still assessing in one style—the standardized test. Consequently, my number one reason for disliking testing is that it is, more often than not, an inaccurate reflection of what a child knows.

Tests are long, boring, and intimidating. Children zone out, or don’t test well. If the material is asked in a way the child is not familiar, he may answer incorrectly even if he knows the material. Tests hurt a child’s self-image, especially if that child is already insecure about certain learning struggles. And honestly, nothing kills a love for learning like struggling through a standardized test. I’ve seen smart children (including my own) feel like they are losers or stupid because of a less than gratifying score. For all the time we spend praising differences, standardized tests reduce a child’s learning to a single line on the graph. And not every child is going to follow that graphed trajectory. We don’t expect them to be on the same trajectory for height or weight at the doctor’s office. The growth of their bodies is expected to vary, but the growth of their brain is supposed to march along the same upward incline as everyone else.

Pros of Standardized Testing

My kids have struggled and excelled on standardized tests at varying points in time. Being in a situation that requires testing has been a growing process for all of us. But as my kids struggle through the emotional roller coaster of testing and test scores and national averages and learning trajectories, etc., we’ve learned a lot, too. Sometimes, the tests confirm struggles I felt we had, learning gaps I was pretty sure were there. Sometimes, a test will help a homeschool parent see a struggle she wasn’t aware of at all. But perhaps the greatest advantage to testing, the one I remind my kids about each time testing comes around, is the practice and preparation for life. For better or for worse, our culture is a testing culture. Driving tests, college entrance tests, college midterm and final exams, further education for job training, performance and certification testing—bottom line, our children will grow up to be adults who have to take tests.

If your kids are anything like mine, they have a lot of testing anxieties. Both my older kids have an ADHD diagnosis, my daughter has anxiety and dyslexia, and both panic any time you say “timed” anything. We’ve worked for years on the “timed” test anxieties, and made great strides. Now, in one sense, we are stepping up that test anxiety with standardized testing and scores. I tell my kids that standardized testing is merely practice for the tests that matter. My kids are told to do their best, but not to stress about the final score. The end goal right now: learn to take a test.

By the time my kids have to take the ACT or SAT, they will have had lots of experience with standardized testing, without the pressure of performing. They will have had lots of time and room to grow beyond the anxieties they experience today. They will learn what questions look like and will have the maturity to think critically and problem solve. There will be a day when the test matters, but for right now, standardized testing is just practice for life.

Whether you have the choice to test, or the choice was made for you, your child can benefit from your knowing the pros and cons of standardized testing. A whole lot about the testing experience is determined by the adults involved. Coach your child through the process and the results. In the end, it could be a great asset to your child’s curriculum for life.

Homeschool planning a new year

homeschool planning and curriculum | thinking through a new homeschool year

As we are wrapping up the last of our subjects, I’m in the throes of homeschool planning for the new school year. My decisions are all made, my online carts are empty, and the boxes of curriculum are beginning to roll in. In my routine, May and June are my intense planning months. I like to get all my homeschool planning out of the way so that I can truly take a break. Nothing homeschool related is swirling around in my brain come July and August; it’s done, on the shelf, and just waiting for us.

I plan the new year while the struggles of this year are fresh on my mind. I map out my solutions to all of our homeschool problems, from learning struggles to organization-fails, and then give it all a rest. My kids salivate over the new folders and books they are dying to read, and I dangle next year in front of them—my proverbial carrot—tantalizing their appetite for next year’s menu. It’s fun. We all love this time of year.

So since homeschool planning is consuming all my mind and energy right now, I thought I’d share with you the method to my madness, my steps to mapping out our next year. And over the next couple of weeks, I’ll go into more detail.

My steps to homeschool planning:

Planning our core curriculum: Tapestry of Grace

I’ll just give you a brief summary here, but just know this one step is getting a complete post of it’s own. For one, 60% of my homeschool planning is tied into Tapestry of Grace. It’s a huge undertaking, and when it’s finally done, I feel like I’ve scaled Mt. Everest. When I plan Tapestry, I’m not just planning our history studies; I’m planning our reading list, literature skills, Bible study, writing assignments, arts and crafts, and geography—for all three kids! This year, I will be teaching Tapestry of Grace on three of the four different levels that the curriculum provides: lower grammar, upper grammar, and dialectic. I combine as much as I can, and have my upper grammar student practicing her reading-aloud skills by reading the lower grammar book choices to my kindergartener. A lot of the writing, arts, crafts, and even Bible we will be doing together. The key to teaching multiple ages and keeping your sanity is to combine as much as you possibly can so that you can maximize your time. Tapestry of Grace is wonderful for this.

Gathering our other curriculum.

I have to see what I have to be able to plan. I can’t visualize anything on my own. Whether my husband is discussing house renovations or I’m planning math, I just can’t imagine what something is going to look like until I have it in front of me. Thus, the next step for me is to lay it all out where I can see what I’m working with. I’m also a sucker for the downloadable, print-your-own curriculum. I have a decent printer that uses inexpensive ink, and I shop paper prices and buy it in bulk by the case. So, in order to see what I have, I usually have a ton of printing to finish. Once everyone’s curriculum has been printed or has arrived in the mail, then I’ll take a look at one child’s complete curriculum at a time.

Mapping out the weekly/daily schedule.

In order to make sure I’m not biting off more than we can all chew in a reasonable amount of time, I sketch out a rough daily schedule for each child. It’s not a precise schedule. I simply jot done each child subject’s, the days of the week they will work on that subject, and how much time I anticipate them spending on that subject. I’ll also jot down how much time I expect to work one-on-one with each child. This way, if I’ve planned for a subject to take 15 min. each day, then I need to be sure I don’t assign more than 15 minutes worth of work. If I’ve decided that a total of one and a half hours of independent work is appropriate for one child, than I need to be sure I don’t assign him more than that. If I have only 45 minute with each child, than I need to be sure that I don’t assign more work than we can get through in that amount of time. A rough-draft of our schedule provides boundaries for me as I plan the assignments.

Tackling the master plan.

Some subjects require more planning than others. But in general I usually keep this as simple as possible. I divide our year into three 12 week terms. Some resources I use for just one term, to add some variety to our year. For the subjects that we will be doing through out the year, I schedule out how many lessons we need to accomplish each term or how many page numbers we need to get through. Some subjects, like math, require nothing more than that. Other subjects, like science or writing, I need to think through more specific assignments. Because I’m a little OCD about my planning, I plan on “scrap paper”; I actually have a notebook of grid paper that is specifically for these rough draft plans. Then, when I’ve sketched it all out the way I like it and I’m finished making all my mistakes and alterations, I’ll copy it into a finalized plan for my planner. (I’m an editor at heart, even more than a writer, so everything I do has to have at least a few rough drafts and revisions—even my text messages.)

Organizing the resources.

This is not necessarily a final step. Usually, I’m organizing resources throughout the whole process. And this year, I’m totally overhauling my system of organization. We had a major “loose-paper and missing-supplies” crisis this year. As a result, I reworked and revised how I’ve doing everything. Where will books go, where will loose paper go, what folders will go with what subject, how will each subject be organized, how will the kids recognize their own supplies, what supplies will be shared, how will I be able to quickly and efficiently double-check to make sure books and supplies get back where they belong—I’m serious! I rethought everything. (And I’ll be sharing the final results when it’s finished.)

Bonus: Accommodating ADHD and Dyslexia

There is a difference between coddling a child and accommodating learning struggles. If one of my kids has an attitude or behavioral issue that does not necessarily stem from their difficulties, I will not coddle that behavior; I allow my kids to experience consequences of bad decisions. However, I do believe in accommodating if there are legitimate struggles. I my kids have some legitimate issues. For instance, we have always accommodated ADHD with short bursts of learning. I keep most subjects limited to about 15 minutes each. For my fourth grader, her longest subject is scheduled for 20 minutes. That means on a good day, when her attitude is right, she has no problem completing the assigned work in 20 minutes. On a bad day—well, yes, we have bad days that require further adjustments and natural consequences. For my sixth grader, 30 minutes is a good average for his major subjects. I arrange my schedule according to which children will need me most. This next year, that will be my kindergartener and dyslexic daughter. My oldest is not suffering from this arrangement; he’s old enough for the responsibility and, in my opinion, it’s part of his learning process to need less of me. My daughter, though fourth grade, requires more hand-holding than my other two; it’s a combination of her dyslexia and ADHD. She’s my “Dory,” and she needs some accommodations for her short-term memory struggles. (I also make accommodations to fill in her learning gaps.)

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to and what I’ll be wrapping up next month as well. By July, I hope to be posting pictures of me on the beach with not a single homeschool planning thought in the world!

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Homeschool Theme Days: Teddy Bear Picnic

teddy bear picnic | homeschool theme day ideas | hands-on homeschooling for ADHD and active learners

Sometimes, the weather doesn’t always cooperate with our homeschool theme days. If your spring picnic gets rained out, indoor picnics can be just as much fun. There are lots of possibilities for theme ideas. Recently, I had a dear friend in church, a retired teacher, suggest a homeschool theme day “Teddy Bear picnic” with my kids. She and my kids put it together, and I got a lunch date with my hubby! (I am so blessed!!) My daughter was in charge of decorating. My youngest gathered teddy bear guests. My oldest prepared a report with facts about bears. I helped gather our bear-themed books, and my friend brought a teddy bear craft. My kids had so much fun, they were bummed when I came back home! Lol! So here are a few ideas for your own teddy bear picnic.

Homeschool Theme Days: Teddy Bear picnic

Decorate with a blanket, teddy bears, and some homemade bear prints. My daughter drew her own bear prints, cut them out, and created a trail of bear prints to our picnic. We kept it simple, but the kids had so much fun taking this on themselves, gathering teddy bears and donating blankets to the cause.

Gather bear books and activities. Winnie the Pooh, The Ice Cream Bear, Going on a Bear Hunt, Paddington—there are so many fun bear classics that could make the list. We didn’t get to all of them and will probably soon have a Winnie the Pooh picnic at our favorite nature spot as soon as the weather cooperates. My friend brought a very cute teddy bear craft and found a fun teddy bear picnic song on Youtube

Include older kids with bear facts. My oldest is a writer and took this project very seriously, searching our home library for a variety of bear resources. He chose to write and read his two page report, but there are plenty of other ideas as well. Have your older child make a display board, write their own teddy bear story, or present bear encounter “survival tips.” 

I love adding these fun spontaneous days to our learning, but the key is always to keep it simple and flexible. Pick your favorite book (or books), spread a blanket, and have some fun! 

Want more homeschool theme day ideas? Check out these posts:

Star Wars ideas for every subject

Spring and Nature activity ideas

St. Patrick’s Day ideas

Dr. Seuss theme ideas

Finding the right homeschool curriculum for ADHD

finding homeschool curriculum for ADHD

I love homeschooling my ADHD kiddos, but it’s challenging for sure. Even with diet changes that have been more effective than their ADHD medications ever were, it’s still a challenge. If you can imagine with me, I homeschool Flint Lockwood (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) and Dory (Finding Dory) with Winnie the Pooh keeping an eye on meal times and snack options. It’s noisy, high energy, messy, and loads of fun. Certain days are rough; some days rocket and dive and veer into a range of extremes: anxiety and emotional melt downs, high distractibility, zero self-regulation, etc.

If you are homeschooling or are thinking of homeschooling an active or challenged child, finding a homeschool curriculum can seem even more daunting. How do you know what will work? Will they be able to stick with something for the entire year? Can we make it through all the subjects when we can’t make it through a single meal? But let me reassure you, finding homeschool curriculum for ADHD isn’t as hard as it sounds.

Homeschooling Schedule for preschool, third, and fifth grades

homeschooling schedule preschool, third, and fifth grades | homeschooling multiples | homeschooling routine

Homeschooling is, like parenting, all about making adjustments. What works at one stage in life with one child, is not going to work two weeks from now. There is no perfect schedule, and there most certainly isn’t a permanent homeschooling schedule; it’s simply what works best for one point in time.

This year, we’ve kept a very fluid homeschooling schedule or routine. I’ve mentioned our casual Monday routine, with a mix of art and games and easing into the week. We tackle a lot of our whole-family learning on Mondays. Read-alouds, history projects, and science experiments are usually part of the Monday routine. As for the rest of the week, we’ve got a pretty flexible schedule.

To set the stage for you, here’s what I’ve learned about my different kids that has influenced our final routine.

  1. My oldest does best with as little involvement from me as possible. If a subject must be taught by me with regular meetings each day, we both struggle. He prefers an assignment and a list of expectations, which I do mostly when I meet with him on Mondays.
  2. That same approach would paralyze my third grader. She’s fine doing the things she loves on her own: art, reading, journaling, anything creative. But math, grammar—anything that involves structure and discipline—she has to have me right by her side. She wants, at the very least, companionship.
  3. My littlest is a mix of these two approaches. He likes time with Mom, but he prefers to merely impress me during this time. The actual learning he wants to experiment with on his own.
  4. I also factor my needs into the equation. Just how long can I endure the intense, hand-holding type of homeschool before I need a break? How much time can I devote to each child and their unique needs? With all that in mind, our homeschooling schedule has morphed into what is currently working well for us.

Our Homeschooling Schedule for Preschool, Third, and Fifth grades

Our schedule has two variations, depending on the extra-curriculars for the day. Monday is our only day with no obligations. Otherwise, we usually have something going every day, either in the morning or afternoon. On the days with afternoon activities, we use our morning homeschooling schedule. On the days with morning activities, we default to our afternoon schedule.

Morning Homeschooling Schedule

We are not morning people. A houseful of ADHD and insomniacs just doesn’t lend itself well to strict morning routines. Still, we manage to get up and at ’em by 7 or 8 in the morning. One child takes the dog out, the other starts breakfast. I will usually homeschool my preschooler either during this time while breakfast is being prepped or immediately after breakfast. I’ll drink my coffee and read my scripted Logic of English Foundations A. My preschooler will act out his various parts, complete his worksheets and play his games. We’ll break for his breakfast, and then finish with some learning apps (Montessori Numbers, Cursive Writing Wizard, and Logic of English Phonograms are our favorites.) His reward for doing school with me is time on Starfall.com. I’ve used this free website with each of my kids as they were learning to read, and we all absolutely love it.

homeschooling schedule | homeschooling preschool | starfall.com

This preschool time takes about half an hour to 45 minutes max. But keep in mind, I’m also parenting during this session. Reminding older kids to get dressed, brush their teeth, stop playing, stop fighting, do the dishes, etc. By the time I’ve wrapped up with the preschooler, my older two are usually fairly well on their way to starting the day. My oldest begins his independent work (I usually check in with him about once a week unless he needs assistance). And my third grader brings her clipboard, pencil, and Math Mammoth lessons. While my preschooler is playing his ipad apps and Starfall.com, I read and explain the overall math concept we are working on to my third grader, then she reads the directions out loud and proceeds to work through a section at a time. We work between 2-3 pages depending on how long it’s taking her and on whether it’s a good day or a moody/anxious struggling day. Once we wrap up Math Mammoth, we work through a short grammar lesson in First Language Lessons level 3. On a good day, this should be about 45 minutes to an hour’s worth of work. But some days, it takes us MUCH longer. It largely depends on her mood. Once she finishes up with me, she has some independent time with some computer programs (ReflexMath.com, Keyboarding without Tears, and Simplex Spelling ipad app), piano practice, and then her funschooling journal and reading books.

homeschooling schedule | homeschooling third grade | math mammoth

We break for lunch around noon, depending on what activity is schedule for the day. And that’s it!

Afternoon Homeschooling Schedule

Our default afternoon schedule is very similar to our morning schedule, except it gets started after we’ve made it home from our karate lesson or nursing home ministry and had lunch. I will not always do a preschool lesson with my youngest, depending on how he’s holding up. Sometimes, he just needs the play time. And I’m a firm believer in the importance of play time at this age. All in all, I work with him about three times a week, and that’s been plenty.

My third grader rounds up her clipboard and Math Mammoth, and we launch into our routine together. Hopefully wrapping up by 2:30 or 3 for the day. And I check in with my fifth grader to see what all he’s gotten done. Sometimes, he’ll surprise me by getting up early and finishing before breakfast; other days, he works through the afternoon, finishing up pretty closely to the same time as his sister. Occasionally, on rough days, homeschooling doesn’t wrap up until 5, when I have to start getting dinner. I hate that, and I try VERY hard to not let that happen often.

homeschooling schedule | homeschooling fifth grade

Our homeschooling schedule has not always gone this smoothly (even this year), but it’s worked well for the last couple of months. And next year, we’ll probably have to readjust everything again as I homeschool a kindergartner, fourth grader, and sixth grader (oh, my!!). It’s part of the package when your homeschool, and honestly, I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to make those adjustments.

Classically Homeschooling with Funschooling Journals

classically homeschooling with funschooling journals | homeschooling ADHD & dyslexia | homeschool curriculum for ADHD, dyslexia

I’ve been a fan of Thinking Tree curriculum, particularly Dyslexia Games, for awhile. The thinking skills, right-brained approach, and creativity of the curriculum and dyslexia therapy has made a world of difference for my daughter. So when I was looking for a way to help my daughter connect to our classical, literature-rich style of learning, I went back to the company that really seemed to understand her best, and I took a good long look at the funschooling journals.

There are so many funschooling journals, all with slight variations, that choosing one took me a long time. In the end, it was the bright pink cover with the kitty that ultimately sold us on the Homeschooling Journal for Creative Girls (though the YouTube reviews were also very helpful). The books are intended to be used with unschooling or delight-directed homeschoolers. The children are supposed to select up to 8 books that they want to learn from and work through 5-8 pages a day in the workbook. The pages cycle through similar activities that include drawing and narrating from the reading, copywork, nature study, some art and creative pages, recipe pages (to write a recipe), listening pages for audiobooks and DVD material, nature study pages, and more. There’s plenty of space for coloring, doodling, drawing, and other creative expression.

classically homeschooling with funschooling journals | homeschooling curriculum for ADHD, dyslexia

We obviously are putting our own unique spin on the funschooling journals. Because we use Tapestry of Grace as our main curriculum, I already had a shelf of books that I wanted her to read. But rather than assign particular books for each week as I had been doing, I gave her the new funschooling journal and allowed her to work through the books on the shelf at her own pace. Instead of 5-8 pages a day, she was assigned 5-8 pages for the week to work through at her leisure. 

The result: what would have taken her weeks to read (with tons of nagging and frustration on my part) took her a little over one week. She flew through her reading and loved journaling in her book about the parts of her reading that she loved best. She loved drawing the pictures, copying her own selections, filling out the listening sheet for her audiobook and science DVD, and the other various activities. She’s done much less coloring than I expected, but I could care less. I’m just counting my blessings that she loves this so much! 

classically homeschooling with funschooling journals | homeschool curriculum for ADHD, dyslexia

I absolutely intend to use these next year as well and have a couple more in mind to get (although I think she’d be perfectly happy to continue with another of the exact same journal). My intention is to continue using it as a means to supplement and motivate her to engage with our classical curriculum. While I do have books from our Tapestry of Grace that I want to be on her reading list, I also allow her freedom to add a few titles of her own. It’s a perfect blend of classically creative curriculum for my active, right-brained non-traditional learner.

And, of course, because these are such a hit with sister, my creative fifth grader thinks he really needs one, too. I may just relent. After all, this Minecraft Funschooling Journal looks way too cool. (Perhaps I’ll use it as a subtle way to add some summer learning.)