A Change in Perspective on Testing for Homeschoolers

Taking the plunge into any type of unconventional schooling can be nerve racking for a parent. When I decided to homeschool my children, it felt like I was alone in the world and no one else had chosen the same path. I felt relieved to discover how wrong I was. Life is full of things we just don’t notice, until we do; things that have always been there, but don’t enter our line of sight until our perspective changes. Once I started homeschooling I realized that there were tons of people that did as well, and when I started road schooling, I was surprised to find that there was a huge community that chooses life on the road.

But, fears tend to evolve with perspective and the question of “are you doing what’s best for your kids?” tends to be presented by those around you. These are people of differing opinions. People asking: how are they tested? Are they on grade level? Do they know their times tables? And many more questions. At the beginning of this adventure I would panic when asked these things and worry about my kids. But, that too has evolved with perspective. Now one of the most magical aspects of being the parent of an unschooled child has become watching them “know” things. The learning is not always immediately apparent as it becomes part of life, but the “knowing” tends to blow me away. The type of testing a child receives in a traditional school setting is very black and white. They are scored on the right or wrong answer, and how many right answers a child is able to achieve. But for those that grow in an alternative setting, tests are presented by life experiences.

Teaching my youngest to read was quite the challenge as she seemed to have a very strong emotional reaction to reading out loud. This lasted for years, so I slowly backed away from the traditional teaching style and gave her more space. Almost like magic, one day she simply read a sign in front of her and asked me questions. Then she read other things and would come to me to discuss what she’d read. To this day, I give her complete credit for teaching herself to read because I was not a full participant in her learning. It was only when I gave her space that the learning took place. And it was in the organic tests provided by life that I realized how much she had learned on her own.

Some tests are a bit more extreme and unexpected. The most shocking was as we hiked a less popular trail in the Grand Canyon called Hermit Rest Trail. We had woken up with the sun to avoid the intense heat and as many tourists as possible. Our early rising paid off and we had an amazing hike with not a soul in sight. On the way back up the canyon, climbing a narrow two-foot-wide path with very steep rock on either side, we came across a young rattle snake that was getting ready to feast on a freshly killed bird. Our danger was not apparent until we were two feet away from the rattle snake and we were immediately taken over by our fight-or-flight response as the fear kicked in. But…. not with all three of us. Nope, my oldest became a knowledgeable expert at that moment and began spewing information like an auctioneer. With no phone service and no human beings anywhere is sight, she calculated: how long it would take us to get to the top of the canyon, how long until a bus would show up, how long it would be until we got the proper care if we were bitten, how much venom was likely to be deposited considering it was a young rattle snake, and how low our chances of survival were. Did any of this help my fear? No, but boy was I impressed! I had no idea she knew so much about venomous rattle snakes or that she would be so good under pressure.

And then there are the tests my children give themselves when they have a goal in mind and want to achieve it. My youngest has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and when faced with a new and upcoming adventure she said “Mom, I want to have enough money do extra things on the road”. So, she sat down, did mathematical calculations of her own creation to figure out how much she would have to make on a weekly basis, and created a business to make that happen. She even hired her sister when she saw that her return on investment would be higher. As a lifelong entrepreneur, my heart melted when I saw her passion and confidence.

Of course, every homeschooling parent gets asked how their kids get tested, and these stories may not suffice for someone that is used to traditional schooling. However, if the essence of parenting is to raise a child that excels at life, seeing them succeed when life presents unique challenges is the best test result I could ever ask for.  I am thrilled every day to see their knowledge shine through their daily activities and my perspective changes the more I learn from them. I no longer feel the old panic and doubt because I see my children daily demonstrate that there is more than one way to learn.

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