What grade is your homeschooled child in?

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!

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9 comments

  1. My daughter is 8 and we say she is in 3rd grade whether the work we are doing is third grade or not. The reason is because she has many friends who are in school and they are all in grades. She wants to be like everyone else and to help her feel included, to help her answer those grocery store questions, and to help her school-attending friends understand better that she is not excluded from structured learning, just doing it in other ways, we have chosen to assign her a grade. πŸ™‚

    • That makes a lot of sense, Megan – thanks for sharing! I can definitely relate to how much easier it can be to have quick answers ready for those random questions posed by strangers πŸ™‚

  2. I love the post! Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts. It’s so easy to get caught up in the labels and to feel pressure to prove to others that homeschool is working. Often when Tommy tells someone he is homeschooled they feel a need to test him to see what he is learning by asking a math question or asking him to read something for them. I always cringe when this happens, but I don’t know what to do about it.

    • Crystal, isn’t that crazy?! We encounter random quizzes by strangers – and well-meaning relatives – also. Perhaps the best counter is to ask the questioner to remind you of how the quadratic formula works. That’s a basic enough, high-school level question that most schooled adults *should* know (in the same way that our homeschooled kids *should* know what public school kids are systematically taught) and an easy enough way to point out the inappropriateness of their unsolicited questions …

  3. We run into those quizzers too – it’s the strangest phenomenon!

    We are heading in a Waldorf-y direction, which means that my daughter will be a kindergartener until she is 7, when we will start first grade work. I really deeply identify with what the “work of the kindergartener” is in the Waldorf world, so that label feels fine for me. I suppose we could tell people that she’s in kindergarten but honestly mostly when someone asks “what grade are you in?” the answer is “we homeschool!”

  4. Yeah – I answer preschool when asked this and plan to use the “public school” labels when asked indefinitely into the future – even though I don’t identify him with them at home. It’s the easiest way to dead end the inquisitor because answering homeschooling always brought more questions and I don’t have the energy or patience to constantly defend my choices to complete strangers! I suppose it gets more tricky once they ask when he’s actually supposed to be in school that day and time…

  5. Wonderful post, Lindsey. And, wonderful comments from Megan, Annie, and Crystal. As my boys got older, we simply gave-in in a fun way to the ‘grades’ question. I also take a little guilty pleasure is giving a complicated answer. πŸ˜‰ When asking what grades they are in, other home schoolers understand but traditionalist either appreciate and find our answer intriguing OR their eyes glaze over in a moment of regret. Our answers can sound something like, “Well, they are the ages for 2nd and 4th grade but I have them registered as 1st and 3rd.” Here my boys pipe in with, “And I’m doing grade X level math and grade X level writing,” and on and on. Sometimes I go on to explain how I place them in activities based on grade level instead of age.

    We too focus on what the boys needs are and what is best for our family at any given season. This is our most academic year yet homeschooling and I suspect we’ll continue on this way.

    We also school year-round with 1-week breaks as it’s so much easier for me to smooth out all that we want to do in smaller amounts over 12 months instead of a concentrated 9 months.

    So, now that your eyes are glazing over ;), I’ll sign off and make banana pancakes for my crew.

    Brandy

  6. Isa was asked this question the other day and she had no idea what it meant. I replied ‘she’s 4 and a half’.
    I also have no interest in explaining our choices to complete strangers and I’m getting rather bored with talking about them with friends too so I try to change the subject.

  7. Absolutely not. I do not believe grades to be important at all. Most of my opinion stems from our state testing focused school we opted out of to homeschool. My kids were simply numbers to them and the pressure they put on my girls to score well was… Let’s say it was too much. It took an entire year for my girls to relearn how to learn! I live in a state where the Homeschool laws are lax, so we are able to get away with no grades or testing.. I figure I know if they are getting it and if they are not without a test to prove it. πŸ™‚ I was so outraged by our ps that I started a blog and joined a company that promotes learning in a much different style than what most ps schools do. Play! It’s funny because just today a lady asked my 7 yr old the very question.. What grade are you in.. I do not assign grades really either because what would a person think when I tell them my little one is doing middle school math? Either they wouldn’t believe me or they would make a big stink out of it. I believe in abilities, just like you said.. Thats the best part of Homeschool right? We can nurture our children & Foster a love for learning without pressure and negative influence. Sorry for the novel but I’m with ya! Check me out, I’m new but I suspect it won’t be long until my blog is bursting at the seams. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ http://www.letsmakelearningfunagain.com I hope to see ya there! And u look forward to hearing more from you.

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