Parent and child, each journey into the world of homeschooling differs and that’s okay! But the end of the year in schooling can lead to questions of How did they do? Did they retain the information? Are they among their peers or more advanced? While state to state varies there are ways to test your student beyond the standardized tests that you’ve heard of. Join Janna and her guest Marcia Manz, a former high school counselor who currently homeschools her two children and assists homeschool families in finding the best way for them to look back at their year and see what direction to head in the future. Don't think of it as a test, think of it as a growth chart.
Janna (00:36): Welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host Janna Koch and BookShark's Community Manager. In today's episode, we continue our goal of encouraging families to homeschool their way. To know that their journey is going to look different than anybody else's. And I think my guest today is a perfect person to speak to that journey and that individuality. Her name is Marcia Manz. She is a homeschool mom, a former high school counselor, and a former BookShark Convention Representative. Marcia, thanks so much for being here.
Marcia (01:10): Thanks for having me, Janna.
Janna (01:13): So right away, I think most people when they tune into this podcast just want to know where did you start your homeschool journey?
Marcia (01:22): Sure. So I, like you, probably like many people, never in a million years thought I would homeschool. It just never crossed my mind. I grew up in public schools, and I enjoyed and had a positive experience, I obviously worked in a public school for many years, so I just didn't think it was even on my radar.
(01:47): When my oldest was four and we were starting to look at schools, there were just a couple of concerns with our local public school, and I was talking to my husband one day and he was like, "Maybe we should homeschool." And I said, "We? Do you mean me homeschooling? Are you kidding? That's probably not a good idea." But the seed was planted with that. And after looking into it, Colorado, where I'm based, has an incredible opportunity for families to do one-day-a-week enrichment programs. Also, offer a curriculum library where you can check out materials for the year. And so I felt like, "Okay, this is doable. I can do four days if I have that day off." That's how I was introduced to BookShark through their curriculum library. So it all came together and we've been doing it ever since, and I think we're on year seven now. So it's been a really good journey for our family.
Janna (02:58): And how many children are you homeschooling, Marcia?
Marcia (03:00): I have two kids. One is 12 and the other is almost 10.
Janna (03:06): It's always different. Dynamics, different years, even different days, as we are on this journey, sometimes just barely scraping by, and other times we feel like we're thriving. I always say like a Disney movie, the birds are chirping and the stars are aligning, and you think that the rest of your week's going to end up that way and it just doesn't necessarily pan out that way.
Marcia (03:31): True. Very true.
Janna (03:34): So you bring a very unique perspective to the homeschool community. What is the service that you now offer homeschool families?
Marcia (03:42): So Colorado, like many states, has a standardized testing requirement for homeschoolers, and in our state, every other year starts in third grade. And standardized tests definitely have their purpose, but for many families, they might not be the best option. And so we have the opportunity in our state, and I know in many states to have a teacher or a licensed educator do an evaluation instead of that standardized test to meet the requirements.
(04:17): And so I had a neighbor who was homeschooling her son, and he has dyslexia and some challenges, and he was starting to homeschool during his third-grade year, which is the testing year. We were talking about it, and a standardized test would not be helpful for their family. A standardized test has its purpose and it's good to practice. I'm not against standardized testing at all. For some families, it's discouraging. The point of an evaluation is to be able to look at the individual student and see, okay, what have they done this year just compared to themselves? Not comparing themselves to anybody else. So that's the beauty of an evaluation is that you get the opportunity to talk through with an educator what you did throughout the year, and dive into some of those different areas besides what just shows up on a standardized test.
Janna (05:31): I would say from personal experience with those standardized tests in our family, there are times when we are like, "Oh look, they're three grades above grade level in a certain area." And then there are other times we're like, "Oh, according to this we're behind in ..." It's only ever been in math, honestly. But I know that in the day-to-day when my daughters were younger, sitting down with their math and doing those skills, they were able to do them. So many people are not good test takers. We have seen this time and time again from children to adults, there's test anxiety. There are so many things like you said, learning disabilities are going to affect. Then how much time do they take? Did they get all the answers in before the time was up? There are so many different aspects of that that have nothing to do with what they have learned that year, or what they're being educated with.
(06:25): So this opportunity to evaluate versus a test, like you were saying, it captures the whole year, versus a sometimes two-day, intense, three-and-a-half, four-hour days of testing. Who wants to ever do that?
Marcia (06:47): There is testing in the world, and so I get that it's good to practice sometimes. And I've gotten interesting feedback from different tests, but often as homeschoolers, we don't typically test at all in my homeschool program. My kids don't take tests normally. So doing a standardized test, I had to teach them how to do the test. Just the instructions were confusing. So it has its merits. I don't disagree with that. But yeah, there are so many special circumstances that families have. And to me, the most helpful feedback comes from looking at the full picture. Not just math. Because if you judge a kid just on math, wow.
Janna (07:43): Well if you just judged me on math, you'd get a very different picture of the person I am if that was the sole denominator in what you were judging me on.
Marcia (07:53): Right. Yeah.
Janna (07:53): I think too, when we talk about, especially with BookShark being a literature-based curriculum, when you're reading through these books when you are delving into cultural and ideas and geography and different things, that's not necessarily going to be captured in a test. My child may not be able to answer a question or a set of questions on a test that maybe other kids could answer. But man, if you started asking them about China when we were going through the Eastern Hemisphere and what they could tell you and what they had learned was so much more in-depth than a snapshot of questions about social studies in a standardized test.
Marcia (08:39): Absolutely, absolutely. I know for our state, we have requirements that certain subjects be taught, but there's no rule beyond that or law beyond the, "Hey, you need to have a history in your program," but there's nothing that says what that means. So some kids might spend an entire year learning about China, some kids might do a full curriculum on all of US history, and all of that is great. It's all wonderful and enriching and important, and I think you can take your homeschool program any direction you want, and it can be just a wonderful experience to go down these little paths wherever your learning takes to you.
Janna (09:39): Well, and I think you and I have talked about this in the past, how we can customize and be individuals within our homeschool. I would say across the board that is the case. There may be some requirements and some parameters, but homeschooling is about doing what works for you and your family.
(09:57): So you are a former advisor here with BookShark, and I know that you've talked to hundreds of families on the phone and in person. When we talk to those families who, let's say, their 10-year-old still isn't quite grasping reading, for whatever reason. On a test, well they're not going to place very well at all, because they are even struggling to read the questions. But how would then an evaluation look differently for that child specifically?
Marcia (10:27): So what we do with an evaluation is look specifically at each subject for that child and in that family. And so we look at, "Okay, for reading, what were those things that your family did this year to improve on reading?" Some families have to hire specialized tutoring, which is part of their homeschool program is tutoring, which is highly specialized. Some families focus on the curriculum. But I think in the bigger picture when I work with families with any kind of special need involved, it's what is the priority here in your year? Because if you have a 10-year-old who's struggling with reading, that is your priority. And so maybe science takes a back burner for a year. Maybe you're not doing a lot of those other pieces because you're focusing on the reading, and that's completely okay to do.
(11:36): The wonderful thing about homeschooling is that we can zone in on those areas where there's a struggle when we do evaluations. It's really talking through each subject and realizing, hey, you're not judged just on one subject. Just because reading might be a struggle, that doesn't mean that you're behind or that you've done something wrong if Johnny is still at the second-grade level. That's what you're working on bringing up. And the hope is to see a year of progress based on where each student is at. So if they started the year at a second-grade level maybe by the end they'd be third-grade level. And as you talked about, it can be different in math than it can be in other subjects, and that's just how kids work. Rarely are kids all at the same grade level for all subjects. I would say that's pretty rare.
Janna (12:45):: Well, especially in homeschooling, because we do have the opportunity to allow our children to be more interest led. So while my daughter for a few years really struggled with math and didn't really want to get into it, whenever she did there were tears from both her and me, so that was quite disastrous. But she excelled in other areas because she loves to read. She actually really enjoys science. And so we are going to be able to see that our kids will excel at other things, and you and I are both more of that classical idea that we should be able to do all things, not all things well necessarily, or at the same level, but we don't just walk away from a subject because it's difficult or our children don't enjoy it. But this idea of being student-led really does help homeschool families go, "Okay, well yeah, maybe they are struggling in something, but look how far we're going here."
(13:42): So I love when you talked about progress, because it's hard to see progress when your child is being evaluated against other students learning different things, different methods, different ideas, but when they are evaluated based on from where they started to where they ended, that is true progress.
Marcia (14:04): Absolutely, absolutely. And I've had the privilege now of working with families who have used, I would say, every type of homeschool method. I've worked with families who you'd probably say were the radical unschoolers, on one side of the spectrum. And then I worked with families who have classrooms in their basements set up very much to mirror the public school experience. And in working with all these families and different types of ... Everyone does it differently. Every single family does it differently. The name of this podcast, Homeschool Your Way, is that the greatest privilege we have as homeschoolers are that we can do it our way.
(14:51): And what's cool for me to see, over doing this for several years now and working with families every year, is that it really doesn't matter which way you pick. You can choose many, many different ways to do it, and it's all great. Kids are learning, kids are thriving. And so my encouragement is always to pick what works for you, and pick what works for your family. And if something's not working for your family, it's okay to change it and switch it up. So you don't have to get stuck, and you don't have to just try to do one particular method when there's something else that could work.
(15:35): For a strong reader, BookShark is an incredible, incredible program. Really just have that depth of learning. Some kids aren't readers, and I've seen actually kids who are profoundly dyslexic actually really thrive with BookShark because it changes their view of books to have it be a positive experience reading together with their parents, and so you never know what might work. And I know that can be overwhelming for families sometimes, but from my experience, whichever one you choose, it's okay going to be all right. You're not doing a disservice to your child in any way. Just from working with all these different families, it's very clear that you can pick these different paths. You're not going to mess it up.
(18:33): So if a family is listening to this and they're thinking, "Okay, while my state may not require a test, they may not require an evaluation, it may be just the freedom of doing whatever you want." You and I as moms who homeschool both know the weight of the question, am I doing enough? How does an end-of-the-year evaluation help answer that for families?
Marcia (18:58): Everyone can benefit from looking back at their year and kind of doing a check every once in a while of, "Okay, what have we been doing?" What I encourage families to do, and this is whether you do it formally for a state or not, is to keep a running list of each subject and think about, "Okay, what things count for those subjects that we're doing?" Because it's not just the curriculum that's providing learning throughout the year for your kids, it's also all the other things that you do. The books that are read, the cool documentaries that you see on TV, all the field trips that you do, the trips that you take as a family. You go out of state to see grandma in another state and you get the chance to go to a museum there. All of those things, when you start putting it down on paper, and if you keep a running list of those things, it's really amazing to see, hey, we are doing enough. We do a lot more than we think we do. We don't give ourselves enough credit for all the things that we're doing just as part of our daily lives.
(20:25): And so it's a good exercise, and I do it myself to say, "Okay, let's look at what things count. What things could be considered history, what things could be considered science." And if you start making a running list, it's pretty amazing to see. I always take notes during an evaluation and I show families at the end, just what we've talked about, and I hold up a piece of paper, "This is incredible, the things that you were able to do as a family this last year." That's an encouragement.
(21:07): And so I think no matter where you are or what your requirements are, I think having that practice of going and being intentional of like, "Okay, what am I doing for science?" and looking at that, I think it helps to see and say, "Hey, maybe I'm not screaming this stuff after all."
Janna (21:30): And I'm a firm believer that a third party is always helpful in those situations because we are so blinded to the things, I hate to say it, but the things that we do well. We really just remember the mess ups, the days that didn't go so great, the field trips that were a flop, but when we are able to have somebody else ask us those probing questions that are like, "Hey, well tell me a little bit more about that," and then it's like, "Oh, so you mean that trip to DC that I took my daughter to and we did all hit all of those historical sites and talked about all of those things?" Yeah, that did count for quite a bit of school because we were immersed in it for three to four days.
Marcia (22:16): Absolutely. Absolutely. It can be ... There's so much of what we do that's learning. It's every single day, and it doesn't have to be a big trip. It could be a big trip. It could just be things that you're doing around ... I have families that have farms and ranches, and the kids are out helping with the animals. That's important. Those are learning experiences too. And I think as I said before, just finding what works for your family is going to be the best thing and trying to look at those experiences. "Hey, this does work too." Okay, maybe I didn't get through all my curriculum this year, but we did all these other things, and honestly, that could have been more valuable than the curriculum. Being together with your family is such a valuable thing. And that's why I think the specific curriculums don't necessarily matter because the learning's coming by having that one-on-one attention with your kids.
Janna (23:37): Yeah. And I think I would reiterate what you're saying is the difference between looking at a year and trying to check off boxes that somebody else has deemed important, versus being reminded of the things that you have done throughout the year. I think if you would compare those lists, hands down for us, homeschooling would outweigh entirely, which is why we keep doing it. Because we're afforded more time and more flexibility, my children definitely know how to cook, how much math is involved in cooking, and timing and temperatures. There are so many things that I feel like we can take for granted, but those are learning opportunities that not all children are getting because they don't necessarily have the time or the flexibility to be in the kitchen side by side with a parent or ask questions. These things that I don't know would ever come up on a test, but it's a life skill that they can use. Who knows if they end up having a job where that becomes important? There are so many things that I think we undervalue as homeschool parents because there's so much noise about academics and standards and things that while you and I agree are important, we have to have some box to be able to hold some things accountable in some ways. But the fact is, we are so privileged to be able to do it this way.
Marcia (25:10): It's a privilege and it's a great opportunity to make things your own and to do wherever those interests of your kids lie too. If they have that passion, if they get into cooking, you can really, by the time through high school, they could have gone through a culinary program, you can do things as homeschoolers that maybe you can't do in other educational settings, which is awesome.
Janna (25:47): I agree. I am so grateful. I am very grateful. Now, when we're talking about end-of-the-year evaluations, we're kind of using that in a general sense. If a family just started in January, how do you recommend a family look at an evaluation? Should they wait a full school year, a full 12 months? What are your recommendations when families come to you asking about it?
Marcia (26:14): So I typically recommend following, of course, your state laws. Typically our own family, we homeschool, because I feel like so much is considered learning, we count days all throughout the year. We don't have a set year, but some rhythms happen, and there's a lot that naturally happens with the typical August to May schedule. And so usually I recommend people just go with the normal school year as far as paperwork is concerned, but you have the freedom as homeschoolers to do whichever grade level or whatever you're wanting to do within that. So we can talk in June, which is typical, I talk to most families, in May, June, and July, at the end of the typical school year. But if that family's not through all their material, that's okay. Everyone's going to be on their journey. But we're still looking back basically at the last 12 months, the last year, whatever that means to you. What are those things you've been working on? And you can catch up that way, which is fun.
Janna (27:51): All these ideas, I had no clue that this was even a thing in homeschool. I'm seven years in, I was homeschooled, and I learn every day the beauty of another way, a different thing, a way to think about it differently. The possibilities with homeschooling are just endless, which keeps me really excited. Keeps me wanting to go forward.
(28:16): So as a homeschool mom now almost finishing her seventh year, what is a homeschool hack you can share with our listeners?
Marcia (28:24): Well, I think my biggest suggestion in just working with as many families as I have, and I work with a lot of new families as well who are starting off whole schooling, is to take things one year at a time. You don't have to make a decision when for now, for five years from now. You're not committing homeschool forever. I think it's scary sometimes if you think about, "Oh my gosh, if I homeschool, well what am I going to do about high school for my kindergartner?" You don't have to worry about those things.
(29:07): I am naturally someone who ... I have to be honest, I wrote down, I kind of planned six years in advance. I was one of those people that's like, "Okay, what curriculum am I going to do for this?" But it changes. Things change, and you want to go have that flexibility, which is the greatest perk of homeschooling. You want to be able to do that year by year. And I will say, I know since I was a high school counselor, it is tougher if you're transitioning to and from homeschooling at the high school level because of credits and those things at that level. But if your kids are younger, you don't have to make a permanent decision, and you can take it year by year and you can see, "Okay, this worked this year. But hey, maybe we'll do something different next year." And that could be curriculum, it could be homeschooling itself, it could be any number of choices that you're making. You're not stuck in that lane if that makes sense.
Janna (30:26): Absolutely. And I do think we tend to, as humans, make a plan, and then we kind of pigeonhole ourselves to this idea that it has to stay this way. This is how we said it was going to be. So knowing that you can even mid-year switch directions. This is the beauty of ... I remember looking at my daughter when she was crying through her math, and I thought, "Why are we doing it this way? I host homeschool your way. That doesn't make any sense. And I'm trying to force her to continue when it just clearly is not working. So I think that's a great encouragement to parents to remember that you can change your mind. You can realize that it's not working. That there is something better. A different way, a different habit.
(31:17): And so I appreciate that honesty, because I think we do kind of ... Not only are we jumping off the cliff to do something that is a little bit more normalized now than it was years ago, but we're still a minority group. We're kind of going against the grain, and we have all of these social pressures. The first thing people want to know is, "Well, how do I socialize, and how do you know that they're keeping up with their peers?" People would never ask you that if your kids were in public school, which is just so bizarre to me. "Well, how do your kids socialize and how do you know your kid's keeping up with their peers?" Because honestly, when I pulled my kids, they weren't necessary, and I had no idea. And honestly, I don't think their teachers did either. They had really good coping skills, so they just kind of moved in with the system and went with the flow.
(32:13): And so to encourage parents for sure, just breathe. That's my biggest thing. Goodness. We just all need to breathe. Especially if this is your first year, you're really new to this and you're coming up to the end of the year and you're starting to panic because you're like, "What week am I on? Am I behind? Did I teach my kids anything? Was this a good fit?" This end-of-the-year evaluation is such a way to bring comfort to families to know that, yes, you are doing enough, and let's walk through and remember all the things that you did do that were learning that you didn't even think about because it was so natural, and it happened, and you had so much fun.
Marcia (32:58): Yeah, yeah. It can be fun and I hope it's fun. If it's not fun, okay, what can you change to make it a little more fun? It doesn't have to be something that you're suffering through all year. It doesn't have to be a great slog. And yeah, there are some subjects. Language arts for me are not my favorite. But how can you make it a little better? What can we do? And I can say, "Hey, this is not the focus this week. We're going to do something else," and that's perfectly okay.
(33:41): We have so much freedom as homeschoolers. That's what we need to use, and that means we can change our minds. We can do things differently. We can leave space in our day to be able to say yes to other opportunities because yeah, those are learning experiences too. So it's a wonderful freedom that we have.
Janna (34:04): I would say a homeschool hack, for those who don't like language arts is Mad Libs. I have to tell you, doing Mad Libs as a kid really helped me understand adjectives and adverbs and pronouns and nouns and verbs. It's so silly. And I still enjoy Mad Libs even to this day, which is a little ridiculous, I suppose.
Marcia (34:25): Oh, thank you for that hack.
Janna (34:28): You're welcome. Tell me how it works out for you. If a listener is really excited about the things that you're saying, and they want to reach out to you and say, "Hey, talk to me more about homeschool evaluations." What would be the best way to do that?
Marcia (34:48): Probably the best way is just through my email account, Marcia Manz, M-A-R-C-I-A, M-A-N-Z@gmail.com. Usually, email's the best way to get in touch with me, and we can put that in the notes. I love to talk to families. I do a lot here at the end of the year, but it really can be an ongoing conversation of, "Hey, what can I do differently?" Or, "Hey, I'm struggling with this one piece." And I see a lot of what I do as just encouraging people. I want to encourage families out there that, "Hey, it's okay to reset and do it differently." So I'm happy for people to send me an email, especially if you're in Colorado.
(35:44) But otherwise, I think it's good to reach out to your Facebook groups for your particular state. Find evaluators that are homeschool moms themselves, if possible. It's really, I think, beneficial to talk to someone else who is going through it as well, and has that experience. I think that can be really encouraging for families to have someone to talk to and ask questions of.
Janna (36:20): Well, I want to thank you for what you are contributing to the homeschool community here in Colorado, and to our BookShark community in the past and hopefully in the future. I want to thank you guys for listening today. We will put Marcia's information in the show notes, and we also want to encourage you that you can definitely find homeschool evaluators in your local area too. Until next time, bye-bye.