Unschooled kid vs. standardized test

As is probably obvious based on the fact I’ve been doing it for a dozen years, I’m a fan of homeschooling. I’m confident in the fact it works and doesn’t have to look at all like traditional school. This far into the journey, I rarely have doubts because there have been more times than I can count to show me it really DOES work. But sometimes, in a weak moment, I do wonder if we’re too relaxed about it because what we do is so different from what most folks do.

homeschool kid on field trip to NC Aquarium
my goofy boy on a field trip to the NC Aquarium

One of our state requirements for homeschooling is annual standardized testing. I don’t like standardized testing but I simply don’t make a big deal of it. We do it at home so it’s low-stress. Back in Georgia, we could wait until 3rd grade, and then only tested every three years after that. Here in North Carolina, we’re required to do it every year starting at age 8. I didn’t need to test my youngest last year because of his age, but I was dreading it this year because we’ve done so little formal schooling.

Kathryn has always done the CAT from Seton Testing. She has always done exceptionally well, but she was always advanced in language skills and we were somewhat more structured in her early homeschool years.

Standardized testing and my unschooled child.

This was my first endeavor into testing an unschooled-from-the-beginning child. The only subjects our state requires to be tested are math and language arts, but the best test option I found for my boy also included mandatory science and social studies sections. I’ve never tested on these subjects and wasn’t thrilled about doing so.

I have no problem giving a little extra instruction mid-test if I know he knows it but we’ve used different terminology. For instance, I’ll explain that “suffix” just means the ending of a word. However, if I know we absolutely haven’t covered the question, I let him guess. I was pleasantly surprised how well he did with reading comprehension; he’s come a LONG way on that in the past year!

He did well in the math section, as I expected. This is, after all, the boy who declared multiplication “the funnest math EVER!”

going fishing with Daddy

When we came to the science section, he blew me away! Most of his knowledge came from our totally informal nature study: watching birds and talking about what they eat, helping the neighbors in their garden, watching Kathryn’s avocado seeds grow, listening to her talk about astronomy or looking through her telescope, reading about sea creatures and going fishing… all those things we do and talk about because we enjoy them. Other answers came from logical thinking based on other things he’d learned informally.

I have done ZERO formal science or social studies with this child. His typical school day includes a whole lot of playing, a little bit of math at the table with me, a read-aloud or two, and simply going places, doing things, and talking about it all.

And then there’s social studies. He’s looked at maps with Ken, but never done a map skills worksheet. We’ve discussed what makes our island an island, which bodies of water around us are rivers, or ocean, or marsh; but we haven’t done geography studies. We’ve talked about slavery and civil rights and how ridiculous it was that his “brown skinned” friends wouldn’t have had the same legal rights back when his grandparents were his age — but we haven’t studied which presidents did what, or when. We haven’t memorized a single date in history. But once again he surprised me with how much he knew!

Cue the homeschool mom happy dance.

So, in the middle of my happy dance — it works! it works! — I’m sharing this to remind you, on your doubting days, that informal unschooling is nothing to be feared. Inspire your kids, involve them in life, and they’ll amaze you with what they’ve learned when you didn’t even realize they were paying attention.

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Thank you for this. I live in North Carolina as well and have been looking into unschooling.