Tests Do Not Tell All…

Next week the boys will go to their umbrella school (the school where we report our grades and attendance) to take part in the standardized testing. They are familiar with the process, especially the older boys who have been through it many times. The boys attended this school until we began home school two years ago, so they know the drill.

 

For the most part they are not intimidated by the testing. We have talked about the need for the testing, but also that we are not defined by these tests. Last year I wrote a bit more about testing, and as I read through the post again this morning I thought it was worth sharing again:

 

The boys are testing this week. Testing to see not only what they know, but how well they have been taught. Those in the schools…well, the teachers are being tested as well. I know in some areas these tests bring stress and anxiety and frustration; there is pressure to do well.

I told the boys not to worry and to have fun. I told them I’m not worried a bit…I know they are bright and I know they are learning, and I know this year will be a bit different since we began homeschool. We are using a different curriculum, and I know that will show, especially in math.

They are relaxed and they are not worried about the results, although they know I expect them to do their best.

Yesterday I saw a video and it has been on my mind since. See, I know there are loads of opinions on education, and I know that not one way is necessarily the correct way for everyone. We’ve chosen homeschool for this season, and we have done so for a number of reasons. I am excited about this venture, and I am hopeful. I truly think this is the best option for us, and I think there are some opportunities in the homeschool arena that simply can’t happen in the classroom.  Opportunities to pause the syllabus and explore.

That is a touchy issue because some people feel judged just by my saying that…my choice for our family can frustrate others who have not made the same choice. Some think that I am making a statement about public education or private education…and I am,  to some degree. Still, because I have found our niche and am celebrating that does not mean that another’s choice is worse. I have friends who have children flourishing in public school and friends with children flourishing in private school.

Here is the real thrust of my thinking, though, and here is where this video comes into the discussion.

My kids, all boys at this point for the discussion of education, get bored easily. They are not avid readers or avid ‘learners’ and there are many days in the classroom or at home where they just want to get through the material so they can get on to something fun.

That bothers me.

I love to learn, and I love education. I know I didn’t always…but I have found that I love learning about people and about places…I love reading and I love learning new things.

I want them to catch that. I want them to see learning as something vital and alive and filled with wonder and imagination and truth…and not drudgery.  It can be drudgery in the classroom, in the home, wherever. The same education can be exciting and grab our attention…in the home or in the classroom.

I am not completely sure how this will play out, but I know that something is stirring in me about how I approach teaching the children. There are still facts they have to learn, and sometimes those facts are drudgery. There will, however, be things that will grab their attention and spark something…and those things need to be given the room to grow and the space to breathe.

When something makes them sit up and makes their eyes sparkle and makes them talk excitedly, I need to pay attention. I need to be listening for that moment, and I need to breathe life into that spark. 

That doesn’t happen in testing. That doesn’t happen in drudgery. That requires attention and the flexibility to give room to that interest. The hope is that as that interest sparks learning, the enjoyment of learning will spread to the other subjects.

There has to be room for imagination and for experiments.

And for failure.

And for play.

Space to find out that actually, I don’t care at all about this subject.

Testing doesn’t make that room.  I am not saying that testing is meaningless; we do need to know that our kids are learning the necessities. I am saying that our kids are so much more than the testing reveals.  I love this video because the young man is obviously bright and intelligent and creative and passionate. He is not saying education is meaningless…he is saying to pay attention to that spark and not just learn because you have to learn a set of facts.

Give room for that love of learning without suffocating it with facts that become drudgery.  

I am not good at this yet…I still make it drudgery sometimes. I can remember my teachers who were able to grab my attention and I can remember when the realization began to take hold that learning is really amazing. This is an amazing world filled with some pretty incredibly stories and people and facts and wonders…that is what I want to convey.

 Here is the real kicker…I can lose sight of that wonder just as easily in the home school setting as the teacher can in the classroom. I need this reminder as we near testing. 

Check out this video, and thanks to my friend Tina Hunter for posting it, and then watch the one after as well. I want my boys to think like this…I want them to think and to challenge and to explore, not just to prepare for tests.

 

Update: I have to add something, as I’ve been thinking about this through the day. I have to add that I have so much respect for my friends who are teachers…who are able to create an atmosphere of creativity and individuality in the classroom. Those teachers who make our children feel special, who truly care about the children they teach…those are some special teachers! I know that there are many who have made an impact on my kids…and on our family as a result. There are many teachers who are simply tired, and many who are restricted and find themselves in a difficult position to try and create a unique environment. So, I wanted to add that I know there are not simple answers to how we inspire our children…and whether we homeschool or have kids in school, we have to continue the learning throughout our family life.

Enlarge That Imagination!!!!

Okay, I know I am repeating one more article, but again it says what I want to say. Part of the wonder of Christmas, and part of the wonder of the Advent season, is story. I have a multitude of friends who enjoy participating in the Elf on the Shelf tradition. This year Mr. Creative, our middle boy, has been pestering me for an Elf on the Shelf. He is at that precarious age where he knows Santa is not real, and he knows these things are imagination and play…and yet he is not quite ready to give them up. He doesn’t want to say outloud that all of this was fairy tale and play.

So, we’ll pick up an Elf. And we will heartily play with our imagination that this little doll can come to life at night and we’ll try to keep the cats from eating him. And hopefully we will expand our imaginations a bit, and we will mark the season by joy and by laughter mixed with the awe and amazement of the true Story of the season. All of these other stories are truly just play…and they pale as we begin to talk of the God who created the heavens and the earth, and then walked that earth.  Here are some thoughts again from last year:

December 22, 2012    Enlarge that Imagination

I did not know that the sugar cookie recipe called for orange zest, so I had to run back to the store. Yep, that sugar cookie recipe that I mentioned the other day…we’re making Grandma’s sugar cookies tonight and the kids are decorating so they can take them in the morning the Children’s church workers. They are, well, children-decorated. You can tell the kiddos did the work. We’ll do some more that are a little more, well, less “sprinkly”

Back to the story, though. I didn’t know it called for orange zest, so I had to run quickly to the store. The show ‘This American Life’ was on NPR, telling stories of how people celebrate Christmas across our country. The story I caught made me stay in the car in the parking lot at the store…it was a story about parents who made Christmas amazingly magical. The children, now around 30, were telling the story. Telling of the elf that lived in the attic before Christmas: they could hear him working wood up there, hammering and sawing. They would go up and find wood chips after Christmas. Their uncles and Dad would tell of how this elf could do great mischief, sharing stories of the past.

Then, they told of Christmas morning when the rather bedraggled looking Kris Kringle showed up. One of the boys said it felt a bit like they were helping him out; that he had had a tough night and they were giving him a little bit of rest before he went on his way. Then, one year they were walking near the golf course by their house and they saw someone ahead of them hiding behind the trees. Their father encouraged them to go and catch him. They did, and found another of the Santas, this one Klaus. His clothes were a little worn and he had a bag of toys. Well, sort of. He pulled out vegetables and finally bones. Telling the children that the bones were from Rudolph and it was what he used to call the reindeer.

Then the children, who had been 2, 4 and I think 8, told how this Santa, Klaus, asked them if they wanted to go on a sleigh ride to the North Pole. Only, it could only be the kids…no adults. And all three kids told how they were scared to death, even though a part of them wanted to go. Only, that part didn’t happen. Turns out the “Santa” never invited them on a sleigh ride…it was a suggestion of their dad when they were talking late that night.

The story goes on, talking about when they finally found out that all of this was an elaborate…very elaborate…ruse that their parents had developed. It was part of the story of their childhood and led to many discussions and a myth that their childhood chased after.

I was completely caught up in the story…laughing out loud in the parking lot. I was completely caught up in the lengths they went to in the attempt to create something magical and filled with wonder and imagination and surprise. The capers of the Santas, because they believed there were several different ones working together, became part of the lore of the family. To the point that the oldest boy defended Santa to his Junior High class and got in trouble, and even later blamed his parents for his inability to trust. He laughed about it as well, though.

So, here is what struck me. As I sat and listened to this really delight-filled story, I watched the people coming and going from the store. Heads down, furrowed brows, heavy hearts. There was not much wonder or joy or delight.

It seems to me that children grab hold of stories of delight and wonder and they cling to those stories. I have friends who do the Elf on a Shelf, and I know their kids look forward to the antics. It is part of their lore. Our oldest just really came to grips with Santa not being real…but now he is excited about being in the lore himself and helping to keep it alive for his siblings.

In a world where terror is very real and where fear is easy to imagine, I think it is important to give our children a framework of fantasy and wonder and imagination. These stories, whether it be Santa or the Hobbit or Star Wars or Cinderella, they enlarge our children’s imaginations. They open their eyes to something beyond what is before their eyes. The create a lore for their childhood. When they hear their parents talking about the stress of some fiscal cliff, or they hear of children slaughtered in their classroom, or they hear of 9/11…they may not understand, but even the innocent little ones in our midst get the glimpse that there is something bad out there. These stories…they tell the children that there is also great good, and that that good is strong and creative and surprising.

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G.K. Chesterton.

I do not think that the story of the Gospel, or the story of Creation, or the story of Easter is diminished because we played around at the stories of Santa and the dragons and the hobbit. Rather, I think the mark of our Maker is a great creativity and imagination…and as we create a framework for wonder and surprise our children find that the greatest surprise and the greatest wonder is that the most amazing story….

Is true.

We play at Santa and we play at fairy tales, but the reason we keep coming back to them is we have this itch we cannot scratch…this desire for there to be someone, something, that puts it all right. Someone who rescues or who simply knows that we are lonely and we are desperate to know someone cares and will save us.

And the Incarnation, the Gospel….Jesus…tells us that that itch can be scratched. That ache we have to be known and to be saved…it can be fulfilled. The fantasies keep our attention and keep us coming back because they hint at the truth. Santa is fun to play at, but ultimately the truth of the Incarnation brings us to our knees.

So, I hope that I can have an inkling of the creativity of the family I listened to today. I hope that I can live in a way that inspires imagination and fun and wonder and creativity….but I also hope that as we laugh and giggle and tell stories the children catch when the hush comes over our voice and we proclaim…Unto us is born this day….in the City of David…A Savior…who is Christ the Lord.

He was my first…celebrating anniversaries.

I published this originally two years ago…thought it was worthy of another read- 2015

I know that today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. I was not personally impacted. I was not born for another 7 years, and I have no memories of the event. I know the importance, and the impact, as a student of history books knows things. I have a friend who wrote about his personal journey and the impact of hearing the news of the death of the President, sitting in a room of Southern 4th grade kids. Read about it on my friend Michael’s blog, the title of the article is “We Cheered…God help us, we did.” That should get your attention.

50 years ago, however, another man died as well. He has impacted my life in countless ways, even though I still wasn’t born for 7 years after his death. I know him, though, not as a character in text books, but as a living grandfatherly voice in my walk of faith.

cs_lewis_writing

C.S. Lewis was the first author who grabbed not only my attention, but my imagination. He understood the wonder that is around us, and his imagination fueled stories that have inspired so many of us. That is not a trifle.

We need imagination. We need wonder. We need those who can be in our midst who are filled with wisdom and yet can translate that wisdom through stories which capture the heart of children as well as adults.

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” – On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

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Stories are not an extra in our lives; they are a necessity. Our homeschool format is heavy on fiction. We study history, we learn our math and languages. We study science. But we fill our souls with stories which pull all those truths into a focus textbooks cannot achieve. Stories remind us we have a place, and that there are those around us who feel the same things we feel: who fear and wonder and get excited just as we do.

He mixed the innocence and wonder, and the hopes and fears and thrill of adventure, that is so raw in our childhood with wisdom which reminded us there is great depth and the imprint of the Father in the story.

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Lewis understood stories. He understood relationships and he reminded us of simple things that we sometimes take for granted or are prone to ignore. He wrote in a way we could understand.

 “The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal.” -The Weight of Glory

He gave us words that help to convey the wonder of faith. He helped us find a voice.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” -Mere Christianity

And….he knew what it was to suffer. He knew what it was to love and to lose someone. He understood pain because he had walked through pain, not because he simply thought about it.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – The Problem of Pain

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“God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.” – Collected Letters

So, today is a day of anniversaries. They evoke memories and conversations about where we were and how the event impacted us. They evoke conversations about what has happened since the event. They are our markers as we make our journey, and they are the opportunity to reflect and realize where we need to repent and rejoice.

Sometimes, they are simply the opportunity to recognize the gifts we have had in our lives. Lewis opened my imagination, then captured my desire to learn. He was the one who inspired me to read and to think and to write. For that I am so grateful, and today we will talk about the power of our words as I sit around the kitchen table for three young men who have imaginations eager for stories.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen — not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” -Is Theology Poetry

If you’d like to read a bit more about Lewis today, check out the following links:

BBC Profile on Lewis

Guardian article about a paper saved from a fire in Lewis’ home.

Anglican article about 50th anniversary

Official C.S. Lewis website

I See You!

Nope, we didn’t get the birthday shout-out we were hoping for. It is not because we didn’t try. I tweeted pictures of Nate to Taylor Swift and I harassed my friends to re-tweet the pictures. We knew it was a long-shot, but it never hurts to ask.

What impressed me the most was how Nate took it in stride. We were sitting in the nose-bleed section. I mean wayyyy up high. We still could see, but we no where near the stage. Nate smiled and said he liked the seats. I told him not to get his hopes up about a Birthday shout out and he said there were no worries. When we walked out at the end of the concert into a deluge of rain with no chance at the “Club Red” to meet Taylor, Nate simply said, “You know, I thought I would really want to meet her…but I don’t. I just really liked the concert and now I’m happy and ready to go home.”

Before that he had had a headache. The music had been loud and he had a moment of being overwhelmed just as she came out. We were surrounded by screaming young teen girls. Truly, literally screaming girls. The lights went down, the stage lit up and the music began pounding. Nate’s head went down and the tears welled up. The screaming began all around us and the tears rolled down his cheeks.

He handed me his iPod and asked if I would film as he plugged his ears. I was heart broken for my boy. His buddy sitting next to him looked concerned. I looked around at all these screaming girls and I wondered who would be the woman in years to come who would love this boy. As I listened to these girls scream as Taylor sang about love, I wondered about this boy who feels so deeply and is so impacted by sights and sounds…by hopes and expectations.

I whispered a prayer that his first concert wouldn’t end with tears, and God was gracious. The screaming abated and the boy came out of his shell. He even danced a little and sang a few songs. My prayers deepen as I think of who will care for this very deep soul as he grows.

NateERin

I know tonight was “just” a concert…simply part of a birthday weekend…and yet it is part of a childhood, and as such, part of a forming.

Sometimes we say no.  Sometimes we say wait, or sometimes we say that whatever the latest craze or the latest want or the latest drama is…is something that is unnecessary or is simply wrong.

Sometimes though…sometimes we look them dead in the eye and we say yes. We say absolutely. I will paint your hair red and I will drive you around town and jump out of the car and take goofy pictures. I will tweet them and harass my friends and make them tweet them. I will post them and I will repost them and I will do my best to help you win that certain something that means something to you.

I will help you in any way I can, and if it makes me look silly or ridiculous or altogether undignified, so what.

Sometimes, we look them dead in the eye and we let them know that we see them and we hear them and we understand and we are right there with them. That doesn’t always mean we win. That doesn’t mean we get the prize, or the shout-out or the meet-and-greet.

It does, however, mean we get the experience, and it does mean that we paid attention. It does mean that they know we saw them. It does mean that those times when we have to say no, the times when we have to teach them that we don’t always get to do what we want to, it is not because we didn’t hear them or see them…it is because we do. We see them well and we know what they can become. We see the beyond the moment we are in, and we know what they can become, and sometimes we have to say no. It is easier to hear that when they know we aren’t just ignoring them, though.

Tonight was a good night. We didn’t get a shout-out. We sat in the nose-bleeds. We had headaches and were in the midst of screaming girls. But it was still a great night, filled with friendship and laughter. Those of you who helped tweet and retweet in the hopes of a shout-out…you can help with a true birthday shout out over on FaceBook if you know Nate. Come by and wish him a Happy  Day over on my page!!