Let's stop freaking out when we're asked about grade levels, shall we? Sometimes they matter and sometimes they don't. Here's how to know the difference.

Grade Levels: Stop Freaking Out When Someone Asks

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Some time ago, 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.”



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 about grade levels since we started this homeschool gig in 2007:

If you intend to fraternize with most of the world, grade levels actually do matter. And that’s totally okay.

It’s how my sons know what class session they can sign up for when looking at Community Ed video game design or cooking or swimming classes.

It’s how my sons knew when they can participate on the trap shooting team.

It’s how my kids knew 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 knew he’s too old for the Tae Kwan Do class that he wanted to take.

It’s how my kids knew when they were done with Sunday School and old enough for confirmation.

When people ask my kids about grade levels, 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.

Let's stop freaking out when we're asked about grade levels, shall we? Sometimes they matter and sometimes they don't. Here's how to know the difference.

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 the grade they’d be in if they were attending public school.

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.

In fact, it might be something as innocent as a 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.

I haven’t met a lot of public school parents who feel the need to to qualify a grade level question with my kid is in 4th grade, but reads at a 12th grade level. But 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,
  • it would take a year to explain all the different grade levels that each of our children are operating at or,
  • we just don’t want to identify with anything that makes us a part of the public school system.

The longer I homeschool, the more I think we’re making a big deal out of nothing.

We make grade levels a much bigger deal than they need to be.

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—but it’s almost as if “admitting to a grade level” is a sort of taboo, traitoresque thing in some homeschooling communities.

Y’all, let’s not let homeschool pride get the best of us.

Empower your kids. Discuss what grade level they’d be in if they were in public school. It’s not a big deal.

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.

Johnny, this is what grade level you would be in this year.

The walls of your homeschool will not come crashing down. I promise.

Let's stop freaking out when we're asked about grade levels, shall we? Sometimes they matter and sometimes they don't. Here's how to know the difference.

Tired of the sugarcoated version of homeschooling? Read my book The Homeschool Highway: How to Navigate Your Way Without Getting Carsick.


13 thoughts on “Grade Levels: Stop Freaking Out When Someone Asks”

  1. Great article. I found that it was helpful to give the kid an answer to share. Otherwise, everyone just feels awkward when it does not have to be that way.

  2. Ha! This makes me laugh. I know I never understood what the big deal with grade levels was. My girls work at different grade levels, but they know if someone asks that they are in 3rd and 5th grade. That’s what grade they’d be in if they went to school, that’s what grade they are in regardless of what level their book says 😉

  3. That is a tough question. And you’re right, why do we make it such a big deal? I had 3 friends graduate high school in May 2015…. one turned 20 in October 2015 so was 19 at graduation, one turned 18 in July and the other 19 in July…. and they all came out of public schools!
    And yes, for Sunday school and community sports, I have to know what “grade” my kids would be IF they were “in the system”, but that may not reflect what we are doing at home. But I want them with similar-aged peers for those “outside” activities.

  4. I don’t think grade levels matter, but I don’t think we should freak out about them either, especially since they don’t indicate anything meaningful.

    When asked, my kids will give the grade level for their age. However, my youngest is 14 and he plans to graduate next year.

  5. I wrote a post saying the opposite, of course. But you’re right, it’s not a big deal and never has been. I wrote My post because, as a consultant, I get calls from panicked moms freaking out that their kids might not be “on level.” It was my way of encouraging them to let their kids progress naturally. 🙂

  6. I agree! It’s not a big deal at all for us. My son knows what grade level he is but he is advanced in many subjects.

    1. PSEO stands for Post Secondary Enrollment Option and in MN (not available in all states) you can literally enroll in college as high school junior and senior and attend as a college student but it is paid for by…the state? I’m not sure who pays for it. I just know it’s not the kid or the parents. 😉 I used the PSEO program when I was in high school. It’s a hugely popular option here. I know of lots of kids who have graduated with a high school diploma and a two year college degree (AA) in the same year (for FREE!!), and then take that 2 year degree and transfer to another college/program. 🙂

        1. I’m not sure dual enrollment is the same as PSEO. With Dual Enrollment, you do have to pay (at the colleges I’m familiar with at least). Sounds like PSEO is completely free. We have something like that in the area that’s free, but it’s called something else.

  7. Our problem around here is that we have a hard time remembering what grade we’re in 🙂
    Not opposed to them at all, but the kids just forget. Lucky for them, I usually remember 😉

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