I used to loathe springtime. In fact, I spent many years resenting everything about it. The vibrant purple crocuses bursting forth from the damp earth were early reminders of what lay just a few short weeks away. The cheery sounds of our feathered friends as they busily nested after their winter hiatus assaulted my ears. The few days that the sun dared peek through the ever-present Pacific Northwest cloud cover made me want to weep. All these signs of life and hope seemed to taunt me and sharply reminded me of my enslavement. What could possibly be my issue with springtime, you ask? For a homeschooling family it is simple: mandatory state testing. (Insert Psycho shower scene music.)
Let’s see if any of you can relate. As spring burst into full bloom, I purchased the proper Test Prep workbooks and would begin to go through them with my children. They would groan under the added academic weight and my stress level would ratchet up a notch with every mistake they’d make. My heart would sink with the realization that they were not up to snuff in one area or another which would lead to frantic attempts on my part to cram the missing information into their obviously leaky brains. I mean, really, what is it with kids and retention? I know I taught it months ago–so why don’t they remember the difference between an adjective and an adverb? Or how to divide a fraction? Criminy! So while the neighbors would be out enjoying spring, there we were chained to the kitchen table attempting to get ready for test day.
I’m willing to bet that some of you are miserable right about now too. I’d wager that there are Test Prep workbooks on some of your desks even as I write this. And I’ll eat my hat if some of you aren’t feeling discouraged and nervous about the upcoming testing. After all, for those of us without a magical teaching degree, the burden of our illegitimacy can weigh heavy indeed. If only my kids test well, I used to think, then I will feel secure. Justified. Worthy to educate my children. If they score above average, then my friend/relative/co-worker will finally stop with the disapproving remarks. If their scores are super high I could hold them up as a badge of honor and everyone would see that I can do this. That I should do this.
Test scores became my measurement of success. If their scores weren’t high enough, I took it as a personal failure. We were all miserable.
One day after a particularly grueling morning working with my son, I was in fine depressive form. I’d crawled back into bed in hopes of forgetting the struggles we were having. I knew he wasn’t anywhere near ready for testing. The boy could quote verbatim any scene from any of the Star Wars movies, complete with sound effects, but anything language related just refused to stick. I was lying there feeling like an utter failure when the door opened. There stood my son. He was holding the special mug that he had made at the local pottery shop and he looked weary.
“I thought you could use some ice water, Mom.” He set it at my bedside. “I’m sorry you had a hard day. I’ll try harder.”
As I hugged my boy, the Lord spoke. Rarely do I ‘hear’ my God as I did that day. I felt Him say, ‘I could have given you a boy who is an academic genius. I could have given you a top athlete. I could have given you a different son, but this is the one I chose for you. Would you have me change it?’ I thought about my gentle son. A friend and encourager to everyone he meets. Intelligent and funny. And I realized that my focus had become so terribly wrong.
The apostle Paul likens our Christian life to an athletic event. (Heb. 12:1-2) He tells us that we must keep our eyes on the prize and that the prize is an eternal one. (Phil. 3:14, 1Cor. 9:25) I think this applies to our homeschool as well. It is a journey that requires endurance, discipline and focus. But what exactly is the prize we should be working toward in homeschooling? Is my goal really high test scores and the approval of men? No! What I truly want to accomplish in this is to guide my children into a real, vibrant, life-altering relationship with the creator and lover of their souls. Period. Part of doing that is educating them for the purpose of uncovering their unique gifts, talents, and interests so that they can walk in the confidence of being wonderfully made children of the King of Kings. However, when the focus shifts to cramming what the establishment says they should learn at predetermined times, we are left feeling discouraged and lost.
So, how am I planning to get ready for testing this year? I plan to push them outside on every nice day we have so that they can enjoy the sunshine. I plan to continue doing my normal routine and enjoy learning together. Not just using a curriculum, but with play dates, drama, church, youth groups, walks, and whatever else strikes them individually. Sure, we’ll refresh briefly on the basics, but I will not allow them to get stressed out or discouraged over it. I’ve learned over the years that when they are relaxed about the testing, they do better anyway. And attempting to cram a bunch of last minute facts usually backfires.
Lord, may I keep my focus on you and your direction for my children. May I put aside my own insecurities and pride and really see each of my kids for the wonderful and unique people they are. And may they look back on their homeschooling experience and feel blessed and loved and known.