Recently we were in line at the grocery store when the checkout person asked my daughter what grade she was in. Jeya looked at the lady blankly and then turned to me for an explanation. “Just what is this woman talking about?”, her eyes asked.
I have found no reason, personally, to assign Jeya a grade. She is learning what is appropriate for her and it includes a mixture of things – some of which would be considered “advanced” for her age, some of which would be considered “normal”, and some of which would cause educators to label her as “behind” compared to other children in her age-group. She is just a kid, walking her own path, learning at her own rate, absorbing information that is completely appropriate for her own mind, heart and body at this particular time.
How do I possibly convey the myriad that is my child with a single grade assignment?
Last year – our first year “officially” homeschooling – I assigned her to kindergarten. However, this never sat right with me. Jeya has a Fall birthday, and is one of the kids whose grade placement in regular school was complicated by the September 1st birthday deadline. I spent years worrying about which year we should start her in public school, were we to go that route. Ultimately, we chose to try it last year, when she was only four, in order to have a taste of public school before the impending statewide change to full-day kindergarten was to come into effect. We also were concerned that she’d be bored if we waited until the “correct” year. Our local school overlooked her late birthday, and she started kindergarten as a four-year-old.
Luckily that experiment only lasted two weeks, and we quickly verified that all of our reasons to not want Jeya in regular school were entirely valid. So we transitioned to homeschool, yet retained the kindergarten label without much thought. It wasn’t until midway through last year that I realized what an inconvenience it was to have her labeled as a kindergartener. I felt restricted to planning kindergarten-age appropriate activities. I felt constant concern over whether or not we had started her too early – should we have waited until the “correct” year to begin school? Would she ultimately graduate at seventeen and be sent into the world too young?
Jeya, in her own right, wanted to learn whatever seemed interesting to her – most of which would not fall under a legitimate kindergarten label. And I could not escape how having a “kindergartener” unnecessarily confined my mental world to planning for a child who meets the generalized criteria set up by educational departments.
It struck me finally that, as a homeschooler, there is no requirement for me to squeeze my child into boxes defined by national averages – that this is, in fact, one of a thousand reasons my husband and I have chosen to homeschool. So I dropped the kindergarten label altogether and continued to teach my daughter exactly what she was ready and willing to learn. I can’t tell you how relieved I felt after making this simple mental switch!
And finally – in order to liberate my family even more – I shifted our school year to January through December, with regular breaks strewn throughout. This places her birthday in a more central point on the calendar and works much better for our family.
In my own mind, I know that we will transition to a *new* homeschooling year in January. But will I call this a new grade? Probably not – I see no need to. Will I make a big deal out of moving forward? Perhaps we will celebrate the accomplishments of 2014 without emphasizing a change in grade, and this will be our way of marking the passage of time and successes of school. We can really do anything – we are homeschoolers! It is our job to create the space in which our children can flourish, and – as so many of us parents continuously learn – this often requires unlearning all that we ourselves have learned about how education should look.
I am curious to know how you handle grade assignments and if you find them important or not in your own homeschool – feel free to to comment!