Homeschool 101: How to Know Your Kids Are Learning

How did we ever get by without standardized tests? Those little bubbles on a sheet that tell us how much we’ve learned and how much we haven’t. Those are magic, right? (Yes, that’s sarcasm, kids! Here’s your sticker!) You can actually learn a little about your student’s knowledge and learning with a standardized test, but they are flawed. Some students perform poorly on tests in general. They are just not equipped to focus on tests, or they get stressed out and cannot focus on the material, so they perform poorly. They may have an advanced understanding of the material, but because of the way it is presented in the test they don’t get it correct. So they can’t be fully relied upon.

Okay, so we didn’t always have standardized tests. But what about regular tests? You have to give a test in order to know if the kids have learned the material, don’t you?

Well, testing is one way to gauge knowledge. But it’s not the only way, and certainly not the best. When you teach a student to memorize facts to pass a test, you teach them that they don’t have to really learn about the subject, just to memorize some facts to pass a test. What often happens is that once the test is over, a lot of those facts fly out the window, never to be seen or heard from again.

But how do you know if your student is REALLY learning?

One of the best ways is to engage them in their learning. If the material is not something they are particularly interested in, you can still find ways to make it engaging. Videos, creative projects, oral presentations, notebooking, are all excellent examples of making the subject a little more interesting.

You can have them explain the lesson(s) to you. Have them tell you what it’s about, and ask questions to encourage them to explain further. For example, if they are reading a literature selection ask who the characters are, what did they do, what are they like. Ask what happened in the chapter, and as they answer and you come up with more questions, go ahead and ask. If they can answer your questions, you will know they read the material and they are learning. If they can’t answer, then you’ll know they skimmed it or they were thinking of something else as their eyes were moving across the page (we’ve all done that, right?). Then you can have them re-read the chapter, or encourage them to pay attention for the next.

If it’s for history or science you can have them create a project around the lesson. A diorama, salt dough map, an essay, or if your science program has projects built in just have them complete those (if they are able; you may have to do some shopping to make sure they have the supplies on hand). You can also ask engaging questions about their lessons in each of these subjects.

Of course, if you prefer to use tests, by all means, do so. You can use the tests that come with your curriculum, if they are included. You can order standardized tests online and administer them yourself, or you can enroll your student to be tested locally. Some states do require you to test annually, so you may not have the choice.

In conclusion, I hope that this helps you see how there are several ways to gauge your student’s learning and comprehension of their subjects, without having to test. And I hope it encourages you to try to keep learning fun for your students, no matter their age.