Beware of the “Random Assessment”
You know the one. Your mother-in-law drops by and suggests that before you serve your son ice cream, you make him spell “ice cream.” (Literally a mom shared this story with me in email.)

You’re at the Thanksgiving table, and your Aunt Bev springs a pop quiz on your daughter: “What’s 6 times 8, darling? Surely by fifth grade, you have covered the 8s.”

Your best friend (who doesn’t homeschool) looks at your child who is standing off to the side during soccer practice break, singing loudly to herself—arms extended to the sky, and says, “Kylie isn’t comfortable with large groups of kids her own age, is she?”

These are the un-standardized tests of home education. Everyone feels free to quiz your kids, to “catch them” in their particular gap, to discover how you (the instructing parent) have come up short as a teacher. It’s uncanny how universal this intrusive practice is! It’s as though everyone feels qualified to prove to you that you aren’t doing as good a job as the brick and mortar schools.

Let’s fix this. Here are a few ideas to head-off the casual interloping assessor, particularly on anticipated family holidays:

1) Display all evidence of substantial projects and studies. 

It’s great to have the telescope in the family room, to frame child artwork and hang it on the walls, to bind and publish beautiful copywork or writing and leave it on the coffee table, to hang well drawn maps on the bulletin board, to display science experiments and complicated Lego creations on the mantel, and so on. Say nothing. Let the artifacts speak their silent eloquence to your amazing homeschool.

2) Ask the sympathetic relative to lead the way with questions about a child’s favorite stuff.

Don’t feel the need to pretend your kid likes medieval history if what he really loves is roller coasters. Simply give that kid the chance to rattle off all he knows about roller coasters. Trust me. It’s always impressive. Homeschool kids self-express with enthusiastic detail when they are passionate about a topic. 

3) Encourage your kids to volunteer what they are good at and know well. 

Prime the pump. Let them know that Grandpa Eli is skeptical about homeschooling and may randomly test them. They can subvert that tendency by offering some well-told stories of their learning adventures (the time they created their own sluice for a pretend Gold Rush, the time they built their own light switch, their book of drawings of WWII tanks, their green belt in Tae Kwon Do).

You can’t stop the pop quizzing, but you can be ready for it. The best thing to say when the adult over does it with specific test-type questions is: “We’re on break. No tests allowed!”

Even though this isn’t how you operate, it’s familiar language and usually shuts up the nosey.

Finally, my best advice? Give them pie. That usually does the trick.


Julie Bogart is the author of The Brave Learner. She homeschooled her five children for seventeen years. Now she runs Brave Writer, the online writing and language arts program for families, and is the founder of The Homeschool Alliance and Poetry Teatime