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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Valentine

The Bane of Their Existence

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

Benjamin Franklin

Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.

Kofi Annan

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Albert Einstein

One of our family objectives was to excel in education. My mother was a teacher and she passed that teacher spirit to me and my sister, who is also an educator. Having three sons, I wanted to give them every possible advantage in the classroom. So much has been said about public school education. I am a product of private (elementary) and public schools so I understand the pros and cons of each setting. The home school move was also very interesting to me. Being the sole provider, I couldn’t home school on a full time basis, but this was my opportunity to make sure my sons had everything they needed to be their best selves in the classroom.

All three attended a daycare that used the Abeka curriculum. This curriculum has a phonics component which is how I learned to read. Their daycare even had Spanish instruction so they learned their numbers, colors, and some nouns in Spanish in the 4 year old class. They were all reading before kindergarten. With this solid foundation, my objective was to keep feeding this learning frenzy. I researched the Abeka curriculum to find out what the grade level objectives were. With this as a guideline, I looked for creative ways to stay on task. My measure would be standard testing results – grade level achievement as the baseline with the goal of reaching scores two grades ahead.

There are a lot of opinions around standardize testing in this day and age. Parents and children get nervous, teachers are judged on their student’s performance and schools are ranked by test scores, which most agree is not the sole measure of a school’s success. My approach is when you are well prepared for something; you are less likely to get nervous. When I coach people in public speaking I ask them to tell me about their family. They start telling me wonderful things about their family with enthusiasm, without the least bit of nervousness or hesitation. Why – because this is something they know well! We took this same approach with standardize testing. When you think about it, we don’t have an objection to testing in other parts of our life. Are we going to go to a doctor that hasn’t been board-certified or an attorney who hasn’t passed the bar? Tests are the way we determine who is prepared in our society, so we took a proactive stance.

This is my story from the parental side. On the child’s side, there was a different perspective. When the guys were little, we were playing school so that was fun and games. As they started elementary school and realized that everyone didn’t play school, there was some “conversation” on the topic. I purchased workbooks from an educational supply store in our neighborhood. We started with grade level books and then slowly ramped up to two grades above their current grade in school. We made adjustments based on the level of difficulty of the subject matter. We also had an abacus so they could visually manage math. We were a busy family, balancing school and school clubs, sports, and church so there wasn’t a lot of downtime. The fellas were not allowed to watch TV or play video games after school from Monday – Thursday. (I didn’t watch TV either.) They could play video games on the weekend, but only after doing 3 – 4 pages in their work books.

Sometimes they would take the smart approach, humor their mother, get the pages done and move on to the next thing. Other times there were “efforts” to avoid the task, followed by consternation. This is a mother that doesn’t tolerate contrariness so a nap was the answer to that problem (before I resorted to pow-pow) and the last thing a boy wants to do in the day time, is to take a nap. Once the rested child returned, we took care of the workbooks and moved on.

My sons will tell you today that they really didn’t enjoy doing the workbooks, but they really understand the benefit and would reluctantly follow suit with their children. From my perspective, I saw the benefits throughout their time in school. One day my oldest was so excited to tell me that they were learning long division in class, but he already knew how to do it so he was helping his classmates learn. I said “Oh, how did you learn that?” He, with his smart Alex self says, “Oh, I taught myself!” Then that little smirk showed up on his face and we both laughed. The largest benefit to me was the sense of accomplishment and confidence this gave them. There is no substitute for preparation.

Post script: I was doing some spring cleaning and found two workbooks that didn’t have one page completed so clearly someone pulled a fast one on me. I am thinking I may have a workbook session here soon to rectify this.

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