Charlotte Mason style exams are not high-pressure academic exercises. They are more an opportunity for the children to remember what they have learned, and to enjoy realizing how much they know. For me they are an opportunity to assess how I am doing in facilitating the "science of relations." There always seems to be at least one area that I neglect to some degree, and exams are always a gentle reminder to get back on track. On the other hand, exams are also always a reminder that no matter how poorly I may think we did in a term, the children still come out of it with Scripture, poetry, pictures and songs hidden in their hearts and a heart-warming eagerness to share all their favourite books and knowledge.
Really, an ideal opportunity to share with friends, wouldn't you say?
We had two friends come over for tea one morning, and Grandma and an uncle another morning. I wrote up some exam questions and recitation prompts on strips of paper and put them in a teacup.
As we enjoyed our tea and snacks, we all took turns pulling out the strips of paper and doing what they said.
If you'd like to try this in your family, I have some tips for you:
1. Invite encouraging, supportive, loving people.
We are blessed to have family and friends who are supportive of homeschooling in general and us in particular. I know that for some of you these people can be hard to find. Don't discount the obvious. If daddy is not involved in the day-to-day homeschooling, he will probably be a great person to include in this celebration.
2. Do not invite "quizzers."
Sometimes the most loving, well-meaning people can none-the-less be "quizzers." You know them...whenever they meet your children they challenge their knowledge. How old are you? Can you read yet? Do you know all the provinces of Canada? How far are you in math? If you do really want to invite a quizzer, maybe you could drop a hint that your purpose is to celebrate what your children have learned, and the questions in the teacup related to this term's studies are the only ones to be asked today.
3. Ask the right questions.
Not all exam questions are suitable for the purpose of sharing like this. Here are some that are:
- Recitations. Scripture passage, hymn, catechism, folk song, poetry, and Shakespeare recitations are ideal.
- Show and Tell. This is a great time for your children to show drawings, nature journals, handicrafts, music they've written out, and even math, copywork and dictation notebooks.
- Performance. Playing a musical instrument is an obvious choice, but also think about other demonstrations of skill. If your child has learned to read, have him read something. If he is quick at mental math, try a math question.
- Child's Pick. Have your children choose their favourite school book of the year and tell something interesting about it. My children surprised me by both choosing their Singapore math books the first tea time. The second time I had them choose their favourite book of reading and narration.
4. Limit narration questions.
Questions that involve narration are fine, but don't do too many at an occasion like this. For my two oldest children (introverts who need a minute or two to process before the words start coming), these questions feel more difficult and high-pressure in a situation where we are all eagerly waiting on their every word. For more extroverted children, these questions might release a flow of words that will take a disproportionate amount of time in the context of a casual teatime. I limited myself to one narration question for each child from a book that had consistently good narrations throughout the term.
5. Move on if something isn't going well.
Your purpose is to celebrate what your children do know. If, for any reason, they don't know, keep calm and move on to the next exam question as quickly as possible. Do not be embarrassed, do not take it personally. Do not prompt more than once or twice, or allow your guests to prompt. This will happen. For your children's sake, treat it as no big deal and carry on. A bit of humour at your own expense as the teacher can deflect the attention from your students and help them move on as well.
At our teatime exam with Grandma, I asked my boys a narration question about the great Canadian explorer David Thompson. They each said something, but I felt they could have said so much more. I started prompting ("I noticed you didn't say anything about crossing the mountains. Can you tell me more about that?"), and regret prompting more than once. I should have let it go. The boys also completely bombed a poetry recitation. I helped them a little, but in the end I let it go and moved on. Exams do expose where we have fallen short. We obviously didn't review our poetry recitations enough this term. We will do better at that next term. Moving on...
6. Don't overdo it.
Put lots of questions in the teacup, but don't put pressure on yourself to get through them all. Keep pulling questions out for as long as it feels enjoyable for everyone, both students and guests. If you notice stress or boredom rising, end with one last song and call it a day. For us, with two students and two preschoolers, our limit was about 40 minutes. We got through about ten exam questions in that time.
7. Don't forget the little ones.
I have an extroverted year 0 student that I knew would also like to share what he learned. Of course, he had learned all the recitations his brothers had. I also asked him to tell us about his favourite book, and to read some three-letter words. I did forget AJ(3), and didn't consider that he probably would like to do what his brothers were doing. Thankfully, one of our guests did not forget him, and asked him to tell all about our cat. He was ridiculously proud to do so. MM and AJ also took their turns pulling questions from the teacup.
I hope this gives you some ideas! We really enjoyed the exams we did with friends. I would love to hear if you try this.