The Fort Must Be Defended Against Alien Forces

So I just posted about E’s joy.  Now I’ll post about N to keep balance in the universe.

Different kids find their delight in different places.

Some background:  We’ve been seriously considering public school for N lately.  We revisit our homeschooling decision every year and several times in between.  If homeschooling is still the best choice for our family, we keep going.  It’s not easy though.  I’m pretty sure homeschooling is where it’s at for us, but we always wonder.  There are a lot of solid reasons in each of the Pro and Con lists, so we continue to wrestle with the topic.

N loves taking classes.  He also loves homeschooling.  These two things are not mutually exclusive, so we’ve been okay so far.  Homeschoolers take classes all over the place.  We drive and drive and drive all over the freaking place if that’s what we need to do.

All. Over. The. Freaking. Place. I. Said.


The term “homeschooling” is a major misnomer in our household.

N has dear friends he does not want to lose, which is his biggest personal sticking point.  He was recently elected president of the Cobra Club, an honor that comes with his campaign promise to bring the “club” some delicious snacks each week.

Some kids are into classes and organized activities, others follow their bliss in other ways.  Whatever works, is, well, what works.  Education is NOT a One Size Fits All proposition, so homeschooling is a fabulous solution to tailor an experience to what works for the individual child…or one that comes closest, anyway.  I’m a fan, though nothing is perfect.

Early on, back when our local school district pretty much told us we’d be better off homeschooling for Kindergarten, we had no idea what we were supposed to do with a kid like N.  Homeschooling was a neat idea, but not even remotely on our radar.  Jeff enjoyed school back in the day and claims he has a lot of great memories, some of his best even, are from public school.

It turned out N needed something starkly different than a room full of kids his same age.  He needed to learn how to exist in a hostile world of light and sound (mostly sound), not learn his ABCs and 123s or even how to read.

He worked those out on his own when we were not looking, thankyouverymuch.

Fast forward and here we are in “4th” grade, whatever that means.  N thinks he might like to see what school is all about.  This summer, he had back-to-back camps all summer long, a few of which were academic.  He loved hanging out with the same kids all day, all week.  He enjoyed the academic weeks the most, it seemed, even though he was disappointed to not learn anything new in many cases.  He appreciated the opportunity to delve into the same topic from different angles, however, and discuss with other kids.  Mostly with the instructors.

He said he liked sitting at a desk.  Ha!

Our school district has a magnet program that starts in 4th.  It’s small, has amazing teachers (I hear), and works two years ahead grade level.  That wouldn’t be enough, but the draw is a small group of kids in an outside-the-box sort of box.  It’s not a home run, but it’s getting the bat on the ball…if only for a change of pace for the short term.

Our family is exhausted.  We are truly burnt out.  Putting N in a box sounds appealing, even a really big box.

E is 6, so just now getting to an age that anyone cares what he’s doing with his brain or free time.  Obviously the “anyone” I refer to is not his mom or dad.  We cared back when caring wasn’t cool.

E thinks it might be interesting to check out 1st grade and see what the other kids are doing. He’s not convinced though.  I’m not either.

The 101 other health and wellness factors we/I constantly obsess over are reaching a tipping point in favor of checking out public school.

That brings us to wondering how N will adapt to such a different lifestyle, and, honestly, where he’s at knowledge-wise.  We are pretty loosey-goosey with our “official” learning.  If there’s something better than sitting at home, like a concert, play, roller skating, museum, leaves blowing down the road…  We’re there.  We don’t really sit while we’re at home either, so that makes seatwork kind of challenging.  It’s hard to write spelling words when your fort is being overwhelmed by alien forces, so the fort must be defended.

We’d refer to spelling as collateral damage in this instance.

We’ve been child led, for the most part, during this entire experiment, with a heavy nudge in math.  N really likes Thinkwell and Ed Burger, but he’d never do math again if left to his own choosing in that area.  Given his high level of interest in Physics, I’m forcing the issue a little so he’ll be able to hit the ground running when he’s called upon to calculate a blast zone.  Or prove his brother innocent. Or whatever.  Count cards in Vegas.  I don’t care.  He doesn’t go with the flow much, so if he suddenly comes upon an area of huge interest, but there’s a key piece missing in order for him to enjoy it…  He’ll just not pursue it.  He’s 9.  That’s what 9 year olds do, I hear.

So, I signed him up for the EXPLORE test, through CTD.  We’ve been curious how the homeschooling choice has shaken out, but we have no data.  We like data.  No, we LOVE data.  This particular test is an achievement test designed for 8th graders, though N can take it as a 4th grader for out of level testing.

The information came in the mail recently and on Tuesday he bought himself a calculator, with my assistance.  Up til now I haven’t let him use one to do math, but it’s recommended on the Explore.  He’s ecstatic.

We got home and talked about the test.  I read him the FAQs and told him their list of things to do to get ready…  Helpful hints such as guess if you must but don’t leave an answer blank.

He took the National Mythology Exam in 2nd and 3rd grade, including all the subtests up through high school level.  This proved to us that he knows a lot about mythology and he loves taking bubble tests.  He enjoyed the test quite a bit, actually, and only missed one question each year.  I figured he might enjoy the Explore, too, based on the only other schoolie test he’s taken.

“This sounds awesome!  I can’t wait!  It’ll be so fun,” he exclaimed. With exclamation marks and everything.

The first thing he did was type 01134 on his new calculator.

“hello, mom!”

There is nothing new under the sun, folks.

He finished the first practice section, which brought us toe-to-toe with MATH.  I read him the instructions and left him so I could take down Halloween decorations.

I heard sobbing and went to investigate.

“I can’t do this!  I can’t do this!  I can’t do this!!!!  IT’S TOO HARD!!!!!”

The sobbing continued for awhile while I rubbed his back and made what I hoped were soothing noises.

When he cried it out I told him he *could* do it.  “It” after all was fill in all the bubbles.  I reminded him that the test was designed for 8th graders and a lot of 8th graders have trouble with it.  If he didn’t know the answer he could just fill in whatever.  No one cared–it was expected that he might not know the answers.  It didn’t matter whether he got them all right or all wrong, or something in between.  No one was going to get a pot of gold for taking the test and no one was going to die for getting the answers wrong.  No pressure damnit!!!

I told him to just fill in the blanks.  Fill in the blanks, N, if it’s what you want or need to do, I said.  He and I both knew the math section was going to be a flaming bag of poo, and that was fine.

Then he told me it’s like cheating to just fill in a blank circle.  What if he got it right??  Huh?  What then?  He’d be getting something correct that he had no idea how to solve.

Face in palm. (my face in my palm)

I made such a point to tell him how inconsequential the test is that I can’t believe he’s even willing to take it.  Ahh…  but it’s for fun.

He made his way through the questions, solving a surprising number once he just chilled his shit out.  Then, down to the final three, I heard him solving them via the “eenie-meenie-miney-mo” method of solution finding.

I reminded him he’d need to be quiet during the test so others around him could concentrate.  N is a kid that’s always making noise, humming, tapping, etc.

Next he had a huge crisis of whether to select answers based on a syllable or whole word beat-per-answer letter. Is it eenie or is it ee-nie? Meenie or mee-nie?

Mo was the only certainty, really.

He finished and moved on to the final two sections.

I graded the test against the answer key.  He got almost everything correct.  He missed a couple on the math portion, but I was still pretty amazed.

Leave a kid alone to pick and choose his own path and he aces a test for kids 4 grades ahead.  So we still don’t know what he knows.

Back to square one.  He may want to go and sit at a desk all day with the same kids, every day, but that’s only going to last a few weeks.

I give it a month, tops.

I’m so conflicted.  This decision keeps me up nights.

Good thing we homeschool so I can sleep in.  🙂

Well, not tomorrow.  I’ll be up at the crack of dawn for Training Academy for Cub Scouts while N takes the real Explore test in Indiana.  Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house N goes.  To take a dumb test that doesn’t matter one stinking bit.

1 Comment

  1. Holly said,

    November 11, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    If Explore doesn’t tell you what you need to know, consider the Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement. It has a higher ceiling than the EXPLORE, even when Explore is taken early. That said, we had one kid take EXPLORE in 4th grade and it was helpful, but I think what was helpful was primarily the supplemental materials that U of Iowa Belin-Blank Center sent along. Maybe it was EXPLORE materials and not U of Iowa–it’s been a while now. Anyway, in each subset, it listed skills that should be easy, skills that should be challenging and a ‘what to work on next’ type of recommendation based on his scores in different subsets. I don’t know how Indiana reports their scores, but U of Iowa (or again, maybe it was EXPLORE itself) sent a comparison of our kid to the normed group (8th graders) and then also a statistical comparison to other kids of the same age who took the test. That I found interesting.

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