One would think that giving a little oral quiz combined with a bean-bag toss game might be fun for young students. However, if your young students are perfectionists (like one of mine) or have a skewed…er…acute sense of justice and fairness (like my other one) then you’ll agree immediately that this is a set-up for disaster.
As unit study folks, when we come to the end of our topic we like to find a fun way to run through our factual knowledge. I’ve tried independent quizzes both with and without rewards. I’ve tried family incentives. I’ve added fun elements like throwing paper airplanes through hoops, completing a tic-tac-toe game and the aforementioned bean-bag toss for points for every right answer given. I’ve tapped my creative resources and teacher friends for ideas on how to discover what my kids were taking away from the study, what we need to hit again in a different way and what they were most excited about.
Everything ended in melt-downs. One child was mad that he didn’t answer all the questions right or throw all the darts exactly into the bulls-eye. The other child was mad that his brother answered a question that he couldn’t think of in a reasonable amount of time. Someone was always spied stepping over the line mid-toss. And if the score wasn’t exactly even at the end then no one was happy. None of the purposes for this end-of-unit review were being met.
Granted, there are other issues at the heart of competitiveness — and we’re having continual conversations about bitterness versus love – but in a very practical sense I needed something that would play out in their lives with some success. I hoped to find something I could point to and say, “Remember when you did this thing and you realized how fun it was to work together and cheer one another on?”
After 8 years of homeschooling, 4 years schooling multiple students I’ve finally found a solution for doing this without the boys pitting themselves against one another.
First, we have to have a mutual goal. I formerly thought that our mutual goal would be to test ourselves and have fun. (Sorry, Mom, but that’s not an attainable goal for these elementary siblings.) Our goal is now to solve a puzzle that will give everyone some enjoyment. I simply glance over our family calendar for things that interest both of them (“You get to play with Joe and Mark this weekend.”), write it out in letter-by-letter blanks and have them guess the letters hangman-style. This even works with my 8 year old reluctant, dyslexic reader.
Secondly, we have to disallow anything that could be determined to be injustice. This means one brother cannot answer another brother’s question. My solution is to ask the question in a different way a few questions later. No one seems to notice.
Furthermore, there are rules for me: I cannot couch two questions into one question (we agree that this is point-for-point) and I can only draw my questions from their unit study notebooks. No fair pulling things out of the air that they should naturally connect with what we learned — not for this assessment anyway.
Our game play is simple: All questions are asked orally and for every two questions he answers correctly, he gets to guess a letter in our puzzle. This lets me quiz them on all their unit knowledge before they solve the puzzle.
This method has worked perfectly for me two units in a row now and I couldn’t be happier that my boys have ended well, worked together, and had fun. I know where their knowledge gaps are, and my sons are still friends at the end of the day. Now…to figure out how to get their work done before 4:00.
Debra Anderson has three sons ages 10 and younger. Her passions are education, mentoring, her husband, writing, church ministry and missional living — not in that order. She has her seminary Masters degree in Christian Education and is married to her true-companion pastor-husband in their home of Denver, CO. In spite of moves between four different states, she has always home educated their boys — even on the hard days. She maintains a blog at www.emergent-homeschool.blogspot.com.