Recently I wondered aloud on social media about grade levels in homeschooling. I asked how many people in my circle of peeps were homeschooling a child 7th grade or older.
Innocent enough question, I thought. And it was for the most part. It brought about good discussion on the issues that come up when homeschooling an older child.
But there were more than a few people who answered with “we don’t use grade levels” or “we don’t keep track of our child’s progress that way.”
Listen. I get it. And this is not to call people out for answering that way because I remember being in the place of you can’t identify my child by what nine month period of time he was born in and please don’t assume things of him because of what grade he would be labeled as if he were in public school. I also understand that for a good chunk of homeschoolers, the stuff we’re doing with our kids at home has nothing to do with a certain grade level – especially if we’re not hard core curriculum users.
Here’s what I’ve learned since we started this gig in 2007:
If you intend to fraternize with most of the world, grade levels actually do matter. It’s how my sons know what class session they can sign up for when looking at Community Ed video game design classes. It’s how my sons know when they can participate on the trap shooting team. It’s how my kids know if their purple ribbon 4H project is eligible for a state fair trip or not. It’s how my oldest knows how many years there are until he can participate in the PSEO program and get free college. It’s how my youngest knows he’s too old for the Tae Kwan Do class that he wanted to take. It’s how my kids know when they’re done with Sunday School and old enough for confirmation.
When people ask what grade my kids are in, more often than not, it’s because that question is far more socially acceptable to ask a kid than “how old are you” – especially as kids get older. Fellow homeschoolers, we are guilty of making this question such a big deal – and it’s NOT. When people ask now what school my kids go to, they answer “we’re homeschooled.” If people ask what grade my kids are in, they answer “heading into 7th and 8th.” It’s not a big deal. After nine years, my kids have learned that the majority of times, the question is not an attack on them or our educational choice. The question is not digging deeper into our educational principles. It’s not trying to figure out how we label our kids. It might be something as innocent as our most recent encounter: an adult trying to figure out if my son was old enough to be on his basketball team.
Someone in 6th grade might read at a college level and do math at a 4th grade level. That’s true of children, regardless of how they are educated. For some reason, homeschoolers make this a BIG deal—we don’t want to say our child is in a certain grade, either because we don’t use a grade specific curriculum, or because it would take a year to explain all the different grade levels that each of our children are operating at or because we just don’t want to identify with anything that makes us a part of the system.
The longer I homeschool, the less I understand this.
Friends, you don’t have to commit to a specific grade level in your homeschool for your kids to know what grade level they would be in if they were in public school. If your kids plan to do anything with the public school or in your community, it’s important for them to know where they fall in the grade level system. It’s almost as if “admitting to a grade level” is a sort of taboo, traitoresque thing in some homeschooling communities.
Y’all. Empower your kids.
Don’t leave them with that deer-in-the-headlights, “Mom, what grade am I in again?” look when someone engages them in conversation. Part of opening the world to your kids is helping them understand that even though you might not use grade levels in your home, grade levels are how a big chunk of the world operates and so here, Johnny, this is what grade level you would be in this year.
The walls of your homeschool will not come crashing down. I promise.