So, do you remember, in the beginning…when I said we were schooling with NO tests, NO curriculum, and NO grades??
Welllllll. I might have been a little bit wrong about that. It turns out that in fact, yes, our umbrella school DOES require grades. I found out about this at Christmas, when they sent me an email asking for semester grades. WHOOPS. I kind of panicked.
First, let me back up and explain some of Tennessee’s homeschooling options. I might be missing some, but these were the options I knew about when we plunged in.
- You can sign your child up through the state and use public school curriculum at home. Your child still must be tested as every other public school child is tested.
- You can sign your child up under a homeschool umbrella program that acts as a liaison between you and the state. Many of these sill require testing.
- You can sign your child up with the Farm School, which makes YOUR HOUSE a “satellite campus,” and technically, NOT a homeschool. You can use any curriculum (or not curriculum) you want, because YOU are the teacher at this particular satellite campus. And, because The Farm School is a private school, it is exempt from state testing requirements and therefore, so are you.
Because I DID NOT WANT TO TEST, I chose option #3. But I also really, really didn’t want to give grades. And when I got that email it was a huge bummer.
But thenI realized something very important. The required grades do not actually have to be “letter” grades. All they want to know is that the girls were learning something.
The Farm School gives a “pass/fail” option, as well as the option to mark the child’s grade as “excellent,” “satisfactory,” etc. I didn’t like the sound of pass/fail. My girls worked hard all year and enjoyed learning. They did more than just “pass.” So I decided to use the excellent-to-poor scale as my system of measurement. For older students, or for people keeping more rigorous records, there is still the option to enter letter grades.
Sidenote: I think grades are SO ABSOLUTELY arbitrary. Who is anyone really measured against anyway? What do any of our “grades” actually mean? If a teacher gives a super easy test, and the student gets an “A,” how is that the same as a student who receives an “A,” on a very difficult test?
I know they are trying to fix this with the Common Core…but what about college? There is no Common Core in college that I know of.
So back to our grades.
You might be wondering how this works. First, the Farm School instructed us to register at a website called Homeschool Reporting. Here I was able to register classes for each of the girls, record their attendance (180 days, y’all!), and enter their grades.
You might be thinking, “But how did you decide what classes to enter grades for? Don’t you count almost everything as learning??”
Well, yes. But nearly everything we are learning can be classified in broader terms. For example, planting rain gardens falls under Community Service, baking cupcakes counts toward Home Economics, and reading thousands of pages together this year counts toward English and Literature. On the website, there are a bunch of preset class options in a drop-down menu, and I just chose a few broad subjects keeping a mental note of what we did that would fit that category.
Then I gave the girls and “E” for every.single.thing. Because you know what? They didn’t learn about anything they didn’t WANT to learn about, so they pretty much excelled at whatever they tried to learn. Follow me? Unschooling is a beautiful thing:)
This is just a very quick overview of what we wound up submitting, and what a finished transcript looks like. This website was NOT user friendly. So if you ever decide to homeschool, and you ever decide to go this route, please call me/contact me/FIND ME and I will absolutely help you.
You do not need to panic. Everything will be fine. I actually never entered grades at the end of Christmas, and no one came knocking on my door accusing us of truancy. But today I entered them all, for both semesters.
I’m glad I waited until the end of the year to enter grades for ALL of the subjects, and this is why:
At the beginning of the school year I bought a planner. I only used the FIRST page of that planner, and now I cannot return it because it is used, and I cannot sell it because it is not 1997, and no one (except for me, apparently) buys paper planners. But my homeschool journal? Filled nearly to the end with everything we did this year.
As I flipped through my journal and remembered all of the many ways the girls have been learning this year, it hit me anew. This retroactive indexing of what we have already learned is what unschooling is all about. I couldn’t have planned out a better year or stuck to it if I had tried. We followed our curiosity, and we made enough discoveries to fill a notebook–and as far as the State of Tennessee is concerned, it is all legit!
And now we have arrived at my favorite part of this blog post. This is something I’ve been thinking about ever since I entered our grades. This is just a sampling of our year:
- We learned about: Shovel-Head Worms, birds, hummingbirds, Snowy Crickets, meerkats, salamanders, mussels, and bats
- We read: Little Women, Little Men, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh, Farmer Boy, and Peter Pan, among others
- We finished the first 5 books of the Bible
- We went on field trips to: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Traveler’s Rest, Land Between the Lakes, McKay, the Library, Old Stone Fort, the Zoo, Mr. Bond the Science Guy, the Frist, Chattanooga, Warner Park, the Outer Banks, Whites Creek, Cheekwood Botanical Garden, Sewanee, and the Farmer’s Market
- We did science experiments, made slime, painted air dry clay, and made borax crystals, and we learned about taxonomy and the periodic table
- We learned what a bioblitz was, and we did one
- We built rain gardens for our friends, and for ourselves
- We studied the American Revolution, the Civil War, and a hodgepodge of things (the Stuarts, the Vikings, the Romans, etc.) via Horrible Histories. We also learned about Memorial Day, and our grandfathers’ roles in American History
- We hosted out of town guests from California, Colorado, and even England
- We wrote plays, performed plays, sewed purses, took part in art and drama shows, danced in a ballet, and performed in a handbell choir
- We baked cupcakes, made jam, learned how to scramble eggs and brew coffee, made dinner, made mayonnaise, and tapped a maple tree, made syrup, and wrote about it in the newspaper
- We made a record
- We celebrated Burma’s independence day with Burmese refugees living in Nashville
- We studied the biographies of Gladys Aylward (a missionary to China during WWII who rescued over 100 orphans) and Deborah Sampson (a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to fight in the American revolution)
- We hosted tea parties
- We did ordinary things: we worked on the farm, we cleaned our rooms, we did math and grammar, we took sick days, and we snuggled
- We played in the rain, and in the snow
- We lost teeth, celebrated birthdays
- We learned the limits of our freedom, and we learned to give up control
- We did extraordinary things: we played in the golden light of the day and we learned to love one another
- We built community; the girls, AND me.
- We started with day one, and tomorrow, we will finish with 180.
See? Isn’t that so much better than grades?