Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘Maths’

Why I don’t believe in testing in schools

tests teach us we're wrong and badHere’s the thing: what does a TEST actually measure? You see, when I was at school, I aced tests. I really, totally, was awesome at passing them, as evidenced by the 90% average I maintained for pretty much all of school. Academics came easily to me.

I was one of the lucky few.

But just because I passed tests didn’t mean I could do, or understand, the work. As it happens, I could and did, but that had no bearing on passing the test. Or at least, very little.

In practise, all tests did very well when I was taking them was stress me out – and, as I said, I was one of the lucky ones. Less academically-inclined students were reduced to near panic. In fact, when we were in matric, a student in a nearby school killed himself as he sat down to write his Maths paper, by jamming two pencils up his nose into his brain.

Seriously?! Can it POSSIBLY be that important?? Surely, if you can do the work, you can do the work, and there are more effective, and far less deleterious (because it’s a cool word) ways to measure that?

I’m no expert, so bear with me here. But what if, say, the teacher observed the kids, and saw who could do it and who couldn’t? And what if (and yes, I know it’s “out there”), the people who couldn’t do the work, instead of being ridiculed and penalised, were taught – gently – to actually be able to do the work? It’s just a thought.

Maybe if we had MUCH smaller classes, more teachers, and more focus on imparting valuable, useful lifeskills relevant to each specific, UNIQUE learner, they’d actually learn stuff?

And that, my friends, assumes we’re talkiong about schools AT ALL.

I mean, when last did you use long division, or trigonometry, or advanced calculus? I really do want to know. And yes, I’m even talking to you architects and engineers out there. Because even the ones I know personally don’t use the stuff. (No, Maths teachers. You don’t count in this particular poll. We all know you use Maths. You’re paid to.) Even my accountant uses a calculator – and he has a head for numbers!

So, let’s say you’re not great at spelling. Now, this is not even a thing I relate to because, like, spelling, dudes. It totes rocks! (See what I did there? That’s just how I roll ;)) Okay, I’m back. You’re not good at spelling. Or at least, you’re not good at spelling hard words. Like tourniquet, and epithet and halcyon. You know: every day words. And then you write a test to see whether yoou are good at spelling or not. (You already have an idea on the outcome, mind you.) You fail the test. Or even – you just don’t pass well. The message your brain gets is NOT: oh, wow. Thank heavens I have spell check and the inifinite wisdom of the web should I ever ACTUALLY need to write words like that when I compile those ambulance hand books and grammar usage guides I’ve been dreaming about. No. The message you get is a lot more succinct, insidious, short, and evil.

“You can’t spell.”

In preteen this is sometimes abbreviated to: “You suck.”

The result is NOT a sudden urge to study the dictionary (yes, it happens. no, it’s not a disease). The result is a fundamental alteration in how you see yourself, and what you believe you can achieve. Which is: nothing. Your brain gets the message “I’m an idiot and I’ll never be able to spell”. This cancer grows and destroys everything it touches. Soon, it becomes “I’ll never be able to write a book”. From there, it’s not a big jump to, “I’ll never be able to write a report”. Then, “I’ll never be able to write a letter … an email …”.

I know it sounds extreme. But I work as a writer and let me tell you: every day – every single day – people tell me they can’t write. They apologise for their grammar and spelling and vocabulary and phraseology BEFORE they even contact me at all. Just so that I don’t judge them or something. And because they are so sure they won’t do a good job, they also waste no effort trying to do a good job. They don’t look up spelling and grammar – they don’t even know where to start. Their communication is stunted and immature, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s all because they don’t believe in themselves. And why not? Because they’ve been measured and found wanting.

The truth is a different matter. We all have value to offer the world. Any of us could communicate it in writing and, with today’s amazing (MOSTLY FREE) tools, easily get the writing RIGHT. Or at least good enough. We all use Maths every single day. And we do it well: we buy groceries and balance budgets and plan petrol consumption all the time – and we’re all still here, doing it. We just don’t think we can.

Tests teach us we are wrong – and that that’s bad. But, folks, life is all aboout making mistakes: grand, glorious, bold, beautiful, colourful mistakes of enormous chaos and value. Mistakes teach us. Tests diminish us.

And that’s why I hate tests. Because they are artificial measurements of a reality that doesn’t exist, and the only thing they achieve is to diminish us to the point of being too afraid to share our glorious value with a needy world, simply because we’re so afraid we’ll do it wrong.


How we home school: keeping it really simple

Our “school” does not use a curriculum. This is because I haven’t found one yet that, a) I can easily afford AND that, b) actually suits our family. In other places on this blog I’ve discussed the various talents, challenges and learning styles that make us who we are, so I won’t go into all of that here.

Instead, what I’ve chosen to do is to distill the essence of what I believe the girls need to get from education – and their preparation for adulthood.

That “essence”, for our family, can be summarised thus:

  • I believe my children need to love learning, and have the ability to learn by themselves.
  • I believe that the ability to read is paramount. No door to knowledge is ever closed when once you’re able to read.
  • I believe that a strong foundation in Maths is key to success. Maths is everything and everywhere.
  • I believe that a sense of where we fit in time (history) and space (geography) gives us an indispensable sense of perspective, and the tools we need to make wise decisions.
  • Above all, I believe a thorough knowledge of the Bible underscores all truth, wisdom, hope, meaning and comfort.

These five simple values form the bedrock of our home school experience, and we flesh them out as follows:

Every morning, we start with a devotion. We love Keys for Kids, so the girls read the passage given (in their King James Bibles – good English starts young!), then I read the story. We discuss it, and then we pray about what we’ve read, and for the day ahead. Theoretically, we also have memory verse time, but since I’ve been sick (which is its own post), we’ve slacked a bit on learning our verses. I’m very pleased to say that they still know the fifty-odd verses we’ve learnt already this year, so that’s a start.

After Bible time, we take a brief look at the day before’s reading, and identify the parts of speech. Sometimes we do this as a game instead: “I say a noun, you say an adjective to go with it, then it’s your turn to find a noun”. Or else, identify four verbs you can see around you right now. Enchanted Learning’s Parts of Speech Wheel has been an invaluable aid in this part of our day.

Next up, we usually have French. This is just because we’re all snuggled up together on the couch anyway, so we may as well do all the “together” bits right away. We either work through the French flip cards on Brainrush, or we watch an episode of the JeFrench channel on YouTube. (After school, I listen to 20 – 30 minutes of native French speech to get my ear in, and that has been very useful).

Finally, while we’re still together, we often watch something fascinating online. recently we’ve been watching the Pale Blue Dot series, by Carl Sagan, the Crash Course in History series, or the Creature Feature on National Geographic.

All of this takes about an hour and a half. After that, I sit with the girls individually and work through 4 – 5 exercises on Khan Academy while the daughter I’m not working with reads a book (Goldilocks is working through “Breverton’s Encyclopedia of Inventions“, and “Red Riding Hood” is about a third of the way through the first “Harry Potter“. We’re also all big fans of “Information is Beautiful“).  Then we switch.

Before school, beds are made, dishes washed, and the house is cleaned and tidied, and after school, the girls help with cleaning up their school stuff and hanging out the laundry.

By this time, it’s usually about 09:30, and Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood are more than ready to go and play. They’re allowed to play computer games between the end of school and 1PM, and often that includes self-taight (and very good) graphic design, spreadsheet manipulation, and updating their blogs. I catch up on work until 11:30, when we all make salad together. While we eat, I read stories. Three days a week, I read a history story (we’re busy with An Island Story right now). On the other three days we read what the girls call a “STORY story”. At the moment, we’re reading “The Princess and Curdie“, “The Swiss Family Robinson“, and “The Blue Fairy Book“.

Every afternoon (since the doctor told me to), we go for a walk. On the way, we talk about everything. We discuss philosophy, religion and morals. We talk about driving and walking and cycling and sustainable transport. We discuss the plant life we see, and keep a sharp eye out for animals and birds. (This week we were lucky to have a decomposing blue snake to walk past a couple of times, and watching the process was fascinating). Often, we stop halfway and the girls will draw or dance or chat – or all three. We talk about which way we’re walking and from which direction the wind is blowing. We discuss the seasons, the weather, the sun, moon and stars. Then we go home.

Most afternoons include a playdate with friends, and that is when I get most of my work done. Red Riding Hood loves to design and build dams and irrigation systems at the moment, so she’s often completely brown by the end of an afternoon. Goldilocks is more interested in architecture and inventions, and a lot of her free time is spent on those subjects. Theoretically, the girls help with supper and the dishes, though often I let them have a relaxing bath while I cook. While we eat, we talk about health and food and friendship and work and school and faith and anything else that comes up. Officially, we encourage questions, but in our house that simply means “being in the same room”. Questions are never far when the girls are around. Sometimes during dinner we’ll watch a movie (usually something rollicking and full of moral gravitas and adventurous fun), or we’ll play a board game. After supper it’s story time, and then they’re off to sleep.

Reading it like this makes it sound like a lot, but it really and truly isn’t. The bulk of the more “formal schooling” is done before 10AM, we do a bit around lunch time, a splash in the middle of the afternoon, and some evening stuff, which I am sure is what every family does. We certainly always did the evening stuff we do now before we started home school.

How do you home school? Do you follow a set curriculum, or do you work around a set of core values? If you use a curriculum, which one do you use? And do you prefer any specific philosophy of education, or is yours (like ours) more of a “Philosophy Stew”, mixing the best of a number of views in proportions that suit your families tastes and needs best? I’d love to hear from you, so drop me a line in the comments below.

Read about the benefits to this approach in tomorrow’s post.


In yesterday’s post I mentioned a milestone that I feel needs some of its very own “ra ra”. Goldilocks got her first bicycle nearly seven years ago, when she turned three. Actually, I mean tricycle, and she rode it gleefully for a little while, then used it as an armature for tents and the like. We were later informed by her godparents that by age three she should have been proficient on a trike and progressing to a small bicycle with training wheels. Ha ha ha, how we laughed.

Eventually, around her fifth or sixth birthday, we got such a beast, and upgraded it when she turned eight (I think) – thanks, Grandpapa Bear! We never could find training wheels for the bigger bike, so when Red Riding Hood got her own bicycle for her fifth birthday, the girls simply took turns sharing that one. They’re not very far apart in size and Goldilocks will accept a variety of adverse conditions (such as hunched up knees) if it means getting her way.

To the annoyance and frustration of both girls, their friends recently moved into a much bigger house, and with the extra garden space both kids almost instantly mastered bike riding. This was particularly irksome for Goldilocks, who is fully two years older than the older of the two friends. Red Riding Hood doesn’t seem terribly phased by the whole thing. We took their bicycles to their friends’ new place so that they could practise together. Instead, Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood and the youngest friend (only 4!) took turns riding Red Riding Hood’s bicycle!

We brought the bicycles home.

This Monday I decided to take the girls out riding, and get a good walk in for myself in the process. Since Red has training wheels, I focused on keeping Goldilocks upright. However, I confess to tricking her by only pretending to hold the handle bars. When she realised what I was doing, she simultaneously realised she was riding by herself. Her progress after that was meteoric, and by the end of the hour and a half that we were out, she had mastered starting, stopping, turning around, and going fast both uphill and down. She LOVES riding her bicycle now, and has so enjoyed going out with Papa Bear for the past two days, showing off her skills. Papa Bear and I are getting a good work out in the process, too.

That’s my big girl! I knew she’d get the hang of it when she was ready.

(Yesterday we finished her maths exam. 63.3%, which is not bad considering it was a Grade 4 exam and she is doing Grade 2 maths with me, to make sure all her bases are covered).

Round up of some of the week’s funnies.

I may have overdone it. Red Riding Hood is learning to write. Every day she completes a page of exercises in a book, and theoretically by the end of it she will have beautiful handwriting. Although we’ll probably settle for legible, and frankly if that’s the case, we’re pretty much there.

She’s been battling with 2’s, however. They’re typically rushed squiggles with roundish tops and flat feet and not much in between.Funnily enough, this week the focus has been on 2’s – both in handwriting and in maths. Clearly The Time had come to address this issue. I suggested that she think of drawing a graceful swan each time she writes a 2. Wow, was that effective! She sat up straight, placed her little fete elegantly side-by-side and drew a beautiful row of elegant swans, subtly disguised as 2’s. Success!

A few days later she was writing the date. (I have them date and name all of their work so that I have at least some form of rudimentary record). She was writing 2012, and the last two looked a little – well, squashed. She began to erase it but I was in a rush to move on to the next piece of work and told her to leave it. She looked at me condescendingly, erased the offending digit, redrew it, and said smugly, “but it wasn’t a graceful swan!”

Aunt Fanny from Robots

Aunt Fanny from Robots

Later that same day, Goldilocks and I were working on S’s in language. For some reason, all of hers have big tops and small bottoms that sort of fall off the line. They look like dangly earrings on a washing line. Not bad by itself, but not quite the look we’re aiming at. So I had her practise a row of beautiful S’s, with small tops and large bottoms, neatly planted on the line. I suggested that she think about Aunt Fanny, the hospitable lady robot in the Robin Williams/Ewan McGregor animated movie, Robots. Aunt Fanny has a small head and ample derrière. Almost at once, Goldilocks began wiggling her own bottom and started singing to herself, “I like big butts and I cannot lie …” Hey, if it works, it works.

And one last one …

In winter I prefer the girls to wear slippers or socks on our uncarpeted floors. It seems to make good sense to me, and looking at their naked little tootsies makes me cold! One evening this week, Goldilocks came to give me a hug and as I spun around to hug her back I nearly stepped on her foot. I said, “Sorry for nearly squashing your little foot – but why is it bare?”

She looked at it earnestly before turning a serious face to me and saying seriously, “No it isn’t. It’s human!”

Lesson #5: Money matters

This spoke to me this week. (from AlphaOmega)

Playing with Money7 June 2012

“The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again” (Psalm 37:21a).Playing shopkeeper was one of my children’s favorite math games while homeschooling. Frequently, we would set aside our math workbooks and set up our little store to learn money values, counting, and subtraction principles. Using miniature replicas of food items, a toy shopping cart, and a cash register, my children played for hours and never realized they were learning in the process. Substituting real money for play money made this educational game even more exciting and lifelike. Playing frequently, my children progressed until they could easily add amounts mentally and count back change correctly. Due to their play, handling money became second nature. Plus, they also learned a lifelong principle — no money, no purchase.

Unfortunately, the correct handling of money in real life is not as easy for some Christian families today. Although the Bible sets forth principles of being good stewards of God’s blessings, many believers fail because they make purchases based on fleshly desires with the convenience of credit. Forgetting that these charges require an actual payment of real money, many Christians sink themselves and their families into large debts with no ability to pay. Interest rates accrue, and soon the debt load becomes so great that there is no hope of ever getting out of bondage. Breaking under the financial stress, some Christians lose friendships, ruin marriages, and perform foolish acts. The Bible speaks to this problem when it says, “The borrower is servant to the lender,” and “Be not thou one of them that strike hands, or of them that are sureties for debts” (Proverbs 22:7b, 26).

What about you? Are you being tempted to abuse credit as you face homeschooling on one income? Don’t do it! Heed God’s warnings in His Word and run to Him with your needs instead. If He has called you to homeschool your children, He will provide, but He also expects you to handle what He provides correctly.

Lord, forgive me for purchasing items I have no way of repaying. Help me to discipline my spending before I destroy the things in life I truly love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Storms, calms, highs, lows, deep breaths and stepping back.

After my last post, I took a little time for reflection. It seems necessary in this life to step back and gain some perspective, and some of us need to do this more often than others.

The very next day, we sat down, zoomed through all our school work with no hassles of any kind, and the girls spent the rest of the day exploring their best friend’s wonderful new house and riding bicycles. It was idyllic for them and gave me a chance to evaluate things. I realised that I had expected far too much: we’d already done 30 minutes of maths when we had our altercation, and that was after reading, language, writing and Bible studies. Without a break. No one can be expected to stay focused for that long, especially when the work at hand is boring and repetitive.

I don’t think I was wrong to reiterate the value and importance of focus and concentration, but I do think I pushed too hard. I’m grateful for gracious daughters who forgive and understand (as much as they can) that their parents are human.

We all know the idiom “Calm before the Storm”, but I’d like to introduce (or revisit) “the Low after the High”. This weekend and the few weeks leading up to it have been full of energy and achievement. We’ve had wonderful family devotions, learnt valuable lessons, applied those lessons and seen the fruit of our labours. We have been deeply aware of God’s blessing in our lives on every level, and the activity seemed to culminate in DH preaching one of his most successful sermons on Sunday.

Since then, not so much. There seems to be a slump hanging over the whole family. Moods are low, health is quivering and tempers are short. I was listening to a sermon on the radio recently where the pastor described this very scenario. He gave some Biblical examples of it, too: Peter acknowledges Christ’s deity and messiahship, then denies Him three times! Elijah defeats and destroys 450 prophets of Baal in one of the Bible’s coolest demonstrations of divine power, then runs and hides in the desert from a single (albeit powerful) woman.

It’s comforting to know that we’re not alone in these experiences. Even heroes from the Hall of Faith share them with us, and received their due reward.

It was also interesting to be reminded of Elijah’s trials, since we’re studying this prophet’s life in Konos at the moment. In fact, we’ve just covered that very bit about the prophets of Baal being destroyed and we’re heading towards Elijah’s flight to the desert. When all the messages from all the channels say the same thing, you can be sure God’s got a lesson in there for you. What is this one? Well, I suppose it’s trust.

As I was trying to get through the appropriate amount of educational material today, while juggling some perilously late deadlines, I began to spin into my panic-mode: we’re only studying Elijah. We’re not doing any contemporary history, geography, science … I’m not giving my kids what they need! I’m a terrible mother – and everything else. AAaarrghh!

I took a step back.

I returned to the Konos resource material and saw that we’re about to start a unit full of geography, history and science. I remembered that this week the girls presented some of their own parables: allegories for Christian living today. The metaphors were rich, detailed, accurate and full of scripture. What a blessing! Who really even needs history or geography when you have a living relationship with the One who made and owns the mountains, who was there for all the history?

When I have a chance, I’ll transcribe and share their beautiful parables, but just for today I take comfort in the fact that they are getting what they need: they’re getting Life.

The beauty of mathematics.

Happy Freedom Day!

Isn’t this great?

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