When they were little, M&K loved to "play school." Actually, they've never stopped. Our school curriculum & tempo are already guided, in large part, by their self-motivated learning styles and interests, so there is little difference when school is "on" or "off." Every now & then, however, I feel the inexplicable urge to exclaim, "Give me a break!... Please?" That's okay, the girls happily take charge and institute some discipline around here. And, since it's merely semantics anyway, I write down all the stuff they do "for fun" on our "vacation" and count it as school without their knowledge.
So, what are they doing? Well, there's the usual summer stuff: all-day playdates, lots of hiking & outdoor activities, plus baking, crafting & gardening. We're also visiting museums, zoos and state parks before they get too crowded. (FYI, we generally begin 'summer vacation' around mid-April... uh huh, homeschoolers are renegades.) And they're currently publishing the fifth issue in yet another newspaper venture...
But, mostly, they are preparing for the SAT.
No, I did not manipulate them into this (not that I'm knocking that technique, don't get me wrong). All on their own, they proclaimed one day that they weren't going to college because "We're going to HOMECOLLEGE, Mom!" Believe it or not, I wasn't immediately filled with a sense of maternal pride or teacherly accomplishment. When Mikaela was born, I'd come to terms with the idea that I would have to do my best by the kids for the next 20 years or so and, in our case, that includes homeschooling them. But, after that, I want to rest (or learn to fly airplanes, not quite sure). So, with no ulterior motive except perhaps to completely discourage the idea, we eventually came to an understanding. If they got such high SAT scores that they could win academic scholarship offers to competitively ranked universities of their choice, I would then agree to let them skip college. Otherwise, no dice. (Of course, I'm also counting on the inevitable, evolutionary desire to get as far away from one's parents as possible kicking in at around 17. Ok, who am I kidding? - maybe 16? 15? Do I hear a 14? Or, if they really are so smart, certainly they'll divine the genuine lure of further education: no full time job required. So, I'm not too worried. Yet.)
It all started last summer. At the bookstore, Mikaela picked out the gigantic, comprehensive Barron's SAT prep book which included several practice tests, the longest & driest vocabulary list she could find (sans cartoons or cute hints to help you remember the definitions - perused but rejected as "too easy") and infinite math problems with obligatorily convoluted explanations (not the entertaining, user-friendly versions Chris was leaning toward because he might be able to understand them). She was fervently commending the (national?) merits of this particular guide when, lo and behold! a guy suddenly pops out from behind a corner display to concur, for - did we all realize? - he himself had used that very same study guide when he was in high school, and had, in fact, made a [dramatic pause] ...1600! What the dickens?! He was an indisputable apparition of Christmas future - vividly demonstrating to our impressionable, starry-eyed pupils the fate of those who get a perfect SAT score: You shall forevermore spend your evenings haunting test prep aisles in bookstores to pounce on unsuspecting passersby, the only ones who might still care 15 years after that momentous day when the postmaster delivered verifiable proof of your preeminence to the mailbox. But, that's not all: if you continue to strive & work hard, like this admirable chap, you might turn your laudable efforts into a full time career as a Princeton Review tutor. I guess what the College Board attests is indeed true - SAT scores are obviously the #1, infallible indicator of a person's potential for life-long success.
Despite the genius hustler in our midst, Mikaela stuck with her choice and was quite pleased with the prospect of spending her "free time" riffling through 1,000 vocabulary flashcards and even looked forward to solving for x. (Since higher arithmetic had often been an exercise in patience with poor instructors who didn't understand the problems any better than I did, Chris took over math teaching duties when we hit algebra. Hey, I figure that if the kids do well on the math portion, we'll look back on this as a wonderful father-daughters bonding experience. And, if they don't, I have someone to blame besides myself... I fail to see any negatives in this solution.)
However, Katrianna spent much of the car ride home slowly brooding & fuming until we turned around just in time to see Mt St Katrianna erupt right there in the back seat. POW! She was incensed:
Why is Mikaela getting a SAT book and I'm NOT?
I never get any challenges! Why can't I have any challenges?
My math's too easy! Don't we remember when Mikaela was learning her times tables, who yelled out all the answers first?
Same with spelling - admit it! So, tell me, exactly why can't I have a good vocabulary, too?!
It was a full-blown temper tantrum, the likes of which we'd never seen, all over a SAT book. It didn't appease her when, in desperation, we suggested she could use the accompanying cd whenever she liked - appealing to her computer-geek nature, usually a surefire pacifier. The fact that she was technically supposed to be a 2nd grader didn't provide any solace, either. So, since there was nothing else to do, I pulled over, donned my powdered wig & black judiciary robe (stored in the glove box - heck, they thought of everything in those government-issue emergency supply kits, didn't they, Brownie?), and delivered a Supreme Court-level presentation of the evidence, with a full recounting of the history & progression of Mikaela v. Katrianna's scholarly preparation thus far: an exhaustive, logical proof of the necessary steps to SAT readiness. Unable to refute the fact that Mikaela had long been doing long division - the bane of K's existence (she always came up short) - Katrianna acquiesced on the condition that if she practiced her multiplication & division all year, we would allow her to participate in each & every SAT verbal and mathematics lesson. Furthermore, if she could follow the math as well as (or, we had to concede, better than) Mikaela, we'd rush out at once and purchase her very own, personal Barron's. A quick swing by the notary's office to formalize the contract & peace was restored on Katrianna's earth.
After months of long, divisive days (actually, they were colorful worksheets), Katrianna reached her quotient at last. In addition, she'd completed all of Dad's assignments & continued to get as many answers right as her big sister because she went more slowly, but with more accuracy... So, the steadfast tortoise met the rite angles of passage requirements & this summer ended up with a SAT 3-book set that was serendipitously on sale for $8 total (pshew, no cosineR needed). First thing, she devoured the writing book, highlighting significant tips and all the while talking nonstop about how it's improving her imperative skills moment by moment! She then started in on the practice questions and, when she "graded" them, her exclamations of "Hey, I got it right!" were just as gleeful as those of "Oh, I got it wrong!" Plus, we overheard her suggesting to Mikaela, "I wonder if anyone ever missed every single question on the whole SAT?" In other words, if you can't get a perfect score, consider that as the next best option...
Now M&K are envious of each other's SAT vocab lists & traipse around trying to outdo each other in erudite panache, dropping sophisticated word choice at will. They are also very possessive of their words and take great umbrage when the other kid tries to usurp their "turf," as in "Hey, you can't use that - that's my word!!" Mikaela enjoys taking the reading comprehension tests and then discussing why she missed a question and what possible mindset the test makers could so erroneously have employed when coming to such poor conclusions. And the essay prompt practice has led them, after two or three frantic paragraphs of timed writing, to that age-old discovery: "My hand hurts."
Still, they insist that they're having loads of fun. It adds a completely new dimension to what seems to be the standard(ized) practice of "teaching to the test" -- only instead of cramming for the two weeks before it's administered, they're blithely serving hard time of 5 to 10 year sentences (including some with No Error). And, finally, no test-taking detail is too small: they've meticulously planned out which snacks they'll take along for the break times between sections.
Irregardless, in a continued effort to promote collegiate aspirations, I make it a point to tour universities everywhere we visit. But, honestly, it's not helping. For instance, an amiable but overzealous Stanford co-ed's thrilling accounts of wild 'n crazy cafeteria tray stair sledding, unfettered splashing in fountains between classes, a finals week tradition of paper airplane combat, and the "totally hilarious" time capsule buried with a four-year-old pizza slice inside it didn't exactly light a fire - intellectual or communal - under M&K. Moreover, the absolutely mortifying idea of a nude beach on the campus of the University of British Columbia likely contributed to rejuvenating their homecolleging resolve. No, this is definitely not working. . . at least that's what I tell my husband when I look up long enough from How to Fly Airplanes for Dummies.
Pretty soon, I think we'd better start the new school year - and give the kids a chance for some "down time." Next spring, I vow to seriously look into options for summer camp. You know, the fancy free kind where you get to braid those ultra useful lanyards, build up the nerve to cannonball off the floating pier, spend forty minutes peering into your shoes to check for hidden scorpions, slap mosquitoes in time to Kumbaya and eat s'mores, like 'em or not. Golly, that sounds swell! Precisely what M&K need: no more moping around, complaining about being bored with nothing to do & asking every 15 minutes for permission to go outside and play - the girls just hate it when I do that. I wonder, should I sign myself up for two sessions or three?