Test results: What really matters most

Test results_
Written by Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane

I didn’t need to wait for any test results: The findings were clear.

I wrote here about the day I thrust a practice test at my son with no preparation, and a hummingbird saved the day and reminded me that education is more than standardized tests.

I was reminded that nature and care for living things will teach us more than a million worksheet pages

But even with that gained perspective, I was still surprised by the results of the “real” test day. Thankfully, this time there were no tears. We had prepared. We worked hard finishing all my son’s curriculum for the year.

We had completed several practice tests. We reviewed the concepts from the year. Since we’d never done testing, I really had no idea how he’d do.

Mostly, I just wanted this test-experience to identify where we needed to focus our efforts for the next year.

It definitely did that.

The morning of the test, I found myself facing several behavioral issues in my son. I realized these things had been creeping up more and more — complaining, delayed obedience, half-hearted work, arguing, disrespect, and interrupting.

To my amazement, however, he breezed through the test. Like, he may very well have aced the whole thing. The test-administrator, a wise woman who had already homeschooled several children into adulthood, said with a smile that I could probably relax on academics a little bit.


What I needed to focus on became crystal clear:

It wasn’t math.

It wasn’t reading comprehension.

It wasn’t grammar.

It was character. The test revealed that we needed a subtle course-correction:

Attitude over aptitude.

Respectfulness over reading comprehension.

Gratitude over grammar.

Meekness over math skills.

Of course I know this, right? We all do. We’ve done Letter Lessons for years now. But that was easier to focus on when they were little.

The temptation as they grow older — and are subjected to more academic pursuits — is to let the character development slip since we have so many other subjects to pursue.

I told my husband afterwards,

“You know, we could probably take an entire year off formal school curriculum, and focus solely on character, habits, attitudes and life skills, and be just fine academically.”

Not sure that we will, but test-day was telling, that’s for sure. It reminded me of Charlotte Mason’s famous words,

“The question is not, How much does the youth know? when he has finished his education, but How much does he care?”


How do we teach this kind of education, then?

It’s easy to go buy the next grade’s math workbook. It’s not so easy to discern the hearts of our children, to see the subtle ways they are tending toward selfishness or entitlement, ingratitude or laziness. Even harder to discern those same things in our own hearts.

Of course this will look different for each of us. No package deal on character development. (How I wish I could just buy a character-kit off Amazon!)

For us, this means determining five key habits that have slipped, where we will choose to focus our attention in the days ahead, even if it means falling “behind” in academic pursuits.

For us, these are:

  1. Obeying promptly and cheerfully.
  2. Respecting others.
  3. Working diligently and enthusiastically.
  4. Expressing gratitude.
  5. Exercising self-control.

You know, if this is all we accomplish in the year ahead, I’d be satisfied.

Between these five things, gobbling down dozens of good books, and spending hundreds of hours outside in nature, I think I have our homeschool plan down.

So glad the standardized test taught me this.

How do you focus on character-development in the midst of academic pursuits? Please share! Thanks for reading.

About Kari Patterson

Kari Patterson and her family live out in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. As a 2nd-generation homeschooler she espouses the same philosophy her own mom did in the 80s: Cultivate a love for learning and one's education will never end. She bakes bread, brews kombucha, speaks at conferences & writes at Sacred Mundane. Her new book Sacred Mundane is available now.


  1. This is a timely reminder Kari. Our son has special needs and we too often let poor attitude and behavior slide because he has so many other challenges to deal with. But we aren’t doing any favors to him or the people who will share his life in the future. If he is clever, but not kind, then we have not focused our parenting efforts well.

    • Amen! Well said, Andrea. Of course it’s more challenging when our children have special needs, but it will be just that much sweeter to see them thrive in character and kindness.
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: Conquer Day

  2. Although we are using a character-based unit study curriculum, we use it more for the topics and activities than for teaching character traits. For that, we simply discuss heart issues with them. When I see something is amiss, we address it right away, and we talk about how we should respond. I also try to model these things for them in my own attitude- and sometimes this is the hardest part of all!
    Shelly’s latest post: Are You Feeling Overwhelmed By Homeschooling Your Big Family?

  3. Bethany Delgado says:

    I couldn’t agree more! We’ve found the resources from Doorposts.com to be very helpful in teaching these same character traits (and they cover much more too) as we look for Scriptures, ideas, activities, opportunities & how to jump properly on those opportunities, and just in general look for ways to love & train our brood. No two families are the same and I encourage you in your quest! (And if, in the end, none of my kids benefit from these ‘character development opportunities,’ then I can rest in knowing that I have! 🙂 )

  4. I love reading your posts; I can always relate. I am encouraged by them to know someone else has the same challenges (and joys). I, too, sprung a test on my son just days before your post only I didn’t have a hummingbird save the day. Your post helped set things in perspective. I chose to have a teacher evaluate him at the end of the year, and found things quite fine. I learned I needed to teach test prep, study skills and techniques, and equip my son with a set of skills that work best for him as we transition to teen years. So, I adapt.

    If your interested we read and discuss short stories from Book of Virtues. There is even a free curriculum for younger kids out there somewhere that I used. Now it’s more discussion and prayerful introspection.
    Thanks for your beautiful posts. Keep it up

  5. Kari, my children are now ages 20-12. I used to teach character traits directly. Now i focus on developing habits which can produce desirable character traits, like: personal prayer, Bible reading and gratitude. Really character is an internal state of the heart. Curriculums can’t deal with our motives and attitudes.
    Mainly, we address character in the course of daily life, and by discussing characters in books and movies. As you wisely stated, the best character lessons are shown in the way we live our lives. Surrounding our children with family and friends with desirable character traits will have far more impact than sitting down to have a formal lesson.
    Alecia Baptiste’s latest post: When Life Gets Really Clear and Simple

    • Amen! Love that. This is the first year both our kids are reading through the BIble on their own; and yes, it’s making for such great discussions! Thank you so much for this encouragement. Bless you, sister!
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: Conquer Day

  6. I needed to see this post today. As I have been overwhelmed with deciding which curricula to get for my boys, what are really the most important things to teach them and why. Thank you.

  7. Thank you so much for these blessed words of wisdom. I have only homeschooled two years and in that time, have figured out that we definitely need to focus more on character issues. So much rises to the surface during the summer months when there is less structure and focus. But this is when it matters most! Thank you for the encouragement!

  8. Kari, dear friend–thank you for this reminder! I sat down to order my formal curriculum for this school year and started with reading your post. I’m so glad I did. 🙂 I’d be really interested in reading about how you address these character traits during daily life. Do you have a plan for addressing them? Key words or scriptures you use to remind your children? Do you debrief with them after good or bad expression of these character traits? I’d love to hear what you do! xoxo, Caila

    • Hold on! I just downloaded your Letter Lessons. These are so helpful! I’m going to use them this year. Thank you, friend!
      Caila Murphy’s latest post: Vintage May: Needlepoint Tapestry Wall Hanging DIY

    • Haha, great question! Obviously most of this is just on the go, training in response to seeing needs and areas that need work. But I’m *trying* this year to be more PROactive, and not just REactive, in parenting. So I’ve been compiling a list of behaviors and habits that I’d like to teach my kids to practice this year, that are simple expressions of the above character traits. Basically, seeking to address things internally (scripture, prayer, addressing heart issues) and externally (teaching habits, behaviors, and manners that train them to act in a way that’s a blessing to others and reflects God’s nature.) Yeah so, that’s my hope! (Cringe face here! Easier said than done!)
      Kari Patterson’s latest post: Pushing forward. {Fasting series}

  9. Thanks for sharing. May I ask how do u plan to focus and plan to work on the 5 points? Care to share more on the how to pls?

  10. I was just wondering the same things as Sophia. Do you have a practical plan for focusing on those 5 things? My list is exactly the same for this coming year…and boy does it feel like a big job!

  11. Kari, your posts always touch our hearts. We are also raising a special needs boy who struggles with ADHD and something yet-to-be-diagnosed. I don’t think he will be acing any tests sadly— but his attitude is definitely a higher priority ( and the main reason we took him out of school) As 2 Christians coming from very dysfunctional families, and struggling to learn how to walk out the Christian life ourselves, I would also be very interested in knowing how you plan to teach these things as well. ( As one commenter mentioned, I could benefit from the character training too!) Honestly, we are at a loss sometimes— how do we teach stuff our parents never taught us, surrounded by non-christians who don’t seem to think it is important ( kids will just be kids!) > Knowing how much we have struggled to overcome our character issues, it would sure be nice if I could train him in righteousness and avoid the main troubles we have faced.

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