We all can recall that feeling from our days in public school when the teacher distributed a test full of items to arrange in order, letters to be bubbled in, and blanks to be filled in. Our freshly sharpened pencils would start to tap on our desks and the nerves set in as we tried to recall something—anything—about what we had crammed the night before, but it’s gone. We drew nothing but blanks.
We carefully read and reread the questions, maybe ruling out a letter here or there and making our best guess between what was left over. We'd hope and pray there were no points taken off for spelling on those dreaded fill in the blanks. Then with the test mostly filled in, we hand it in, hope for a passing grade, and it’s on to the next chapter in the textbook to repeat the cycle again next week. Whether or not we were prepared for the next lesson. Whether or not we'd mastered anything we'd need in order to do the next lesson. These icky memories of tests are why I’ve never been a traditional test-giver as a homeschool mom. That and my anxiety ridden kids freeze using traditional testing practices.
I know that my son who is soon-to-be a highschooler will need to have testing skills eventually. We will work on that as it comes, but for my daughter and, especially kids who stress out easily, paper tests can be the straw that breaks a love of learning for your child. As parents/teachers though, don't we want to make sure the things we’ve spent hours teaching our children has stuck with them. For that reason, I want to test my kids but not with "tests" in the conventional sense. Here are some non-test ways I use to gauge a child’s learning without completely stressing them out.
At the end of a unit or section, have your child prepare a presentation to give to the family. Invite the grandparents over to make it seem more official. Give them a short list of things from their Science or History lessons that you’d like them to prepare, for example, recite a part of a speech, create and explain a model of a battle, or complete an experiment. Set a date for the presentation and have them work a little bit on it daily until it’s ready.
Oral or Written Report
Do a report, whether it's several pages, a comic book your child creates, or just a picture that your child talks about are great ways to see all your child has learned. There are lots of ways to do a report.
Have them type a traditional research paper based on what you’ve studied together.
Create a lap book.
Cover an empty cereal box in construction paper, then print pictures, write out information, and draw maps and cover all the sides of the box with information.
Retell the story as a comic book
Have your children choose roles to play based on things you studied and write out their own skit. Have a lot of it be ad lib, because then you’ll know it’s not just memorized to get through the skit. Have them create costumes and a simple setting. When my kids acted out a scene about Abraham Lincoln and Helen Keller, I saw exactly what they learned about them in a playful, no-stress way.
Put on one of dad’s ties, set up a desk, give your child a coffee cup, and have them play newscaster for an evening news show. In advance, have your child write out what he’ll talk about on the news. Makes sure he adds in lots of facts and details. It could be all about a new science discovery or ways to do long and short division or a battle in a war in history —anything you've studied in homeschool. Just pretend he’s saying it on the news! You could even create a YouTube channel to share all their news broadcasts.
I love tying up a unit study with a great dinner. Plan a dinner based on a time in history or a fun science theme you’ve been learning about. Gather supplies from around the house and let your child take the reins. Cook food together, let them decorate, and allow them to have talking points throughout the dinner about things they've learned. Have them share these facts with the guests at dinner. He’ll love showing off what they know. Have extended family over with whom they can discuss new and interesting facts they've learned. Not only does this reinforce the lesson it is a great way to teach public speaking and talking in front of people who are not peer aged.
So much can be learned or shared through play, even for older children. I got my kids a states and capitals puzzle they had to put flags in to identify the capitals. I covered the names of the states and they had to put the puzzle together without the border. They really learned how to identify all the states by shape. We also had a game called Buy it Right. We tweaked it a bit to reinforce working with money, multiplying decimals, and adding and subtracting decimals. Seeing them be able to buy items, add tax, and figure out costs is just so amazing. We also use so many critical thinking games from Timberdoodle Co like IQ Circuit, Code Rocket, Battle Sheep, and Tenzi. These are a few of our favorites but, there are just too many to list. These games really help my kids with higher level thinking they will need for standardized tests.
There’s more than one way to make sure your child is retaining what you’ve taught. Pay attention to how your child learns and what makes them tick and what makes them shut down and use those clues to figure out creative ways to test them. You’re going to learn so much together!
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