Grade level ain’t nothin’ but a number

“What grade are you in?”

When this question is posed to one of my kids, they often glance up at me for guidance. And then I stand there and think for a moment, which must look really ridiculous—Who can’t remember what grade their kid is in, especially when that person is their teacher?

The curriculum we use is no help. All three kids are following a middle-school life sciences program, and our history program is written for middle schoolers too. My 1st grade son is doing second-grade math, but also plays math games in a weekly class with kindergarten kids. My oldest is in a writing program with kids from about three different grades.

But, that doesn’t mean they are all “beyond” their grade. My oldest, a fifth grader, is finishing last year’s math program, which is technically a fourth-grade book. Same with grammar. But, when we started this year, rather than close the books we had been doing in June, I chose to roll them over and actually finish them, even if it took all year to do it. But, that doesn’t mean it was an easy choice.

I worry that by “falling behind” a year, she will be at a disadvantage when she hits the high school years. Then again, isn’t it more important that she master the basic skills before she moves forward? I think most teachers would understand the value of  the latter even if the school system pushes the former—we found this out when we joined MAVA, our state’s virtual public school, for 8 weeks this past year. Their insistence that we keep “moving forward” even when the girls got stuck on a concept was one of the main reasons we quit.

But while I’ve heard many, many families talk about how their third graders are doing “fourth grade math” or kindergartners are reading “third grade books”, I don’t hear as many admitting that their children are below grade level in any subject.  Are we embarrassed? Afraid we’ll be judged as bad “teachers”?

What about you? If you homeschool, do you use grade level as a basis for the curriculum you purchase? Will you move on to the “next grade” in September, even if you didn’t finish this year’s books?

Are you quicker to offer that your child is “above grade level” in certain subjects than below?  I sure am. But I wish I didn’t care.



  1. My unschooler/homeschooler is starting online high school courses in the fall, even though technically he’d be in 7th grade. I think he’ll have a great time with the materials. On the other hand, I’ve had several people ask me why I don’t just skip him up a grade or two, have him do his GED at 14, and go to college, etc. I’m very quick to point out that if there were remedial life skills classes, that’s what he’d be in. One of the things I love love love about homeschooling is that you can just meet the kids wherever they are. My kiddo is getting the advanced academic content he wants, sure, but he also spends his days with a group of kids primarily much younger than him, doing the (for him) hard work of learning how to be a social being in a world that he often finds confusing and scary.

    It all depends on where you’re coming from, I guess. My son is prone to bragging (a charming Aspie trait) about his academic achievements and I always remind him that everyone has challenges, and his are just as or more plentiful than everyone else’s. And you know what? Once we’re adults, no one cares who skipped up a level in math or who needed remediation. We care about who’s kind and helpful.
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    • Christina says

      Nicely put Mir. . .I think for someone (me) who put a great deal of effort into being a “top student”, it’s hard to have a child who doesn’t really seem to care much about academic achievement. But, I realize that is MY issue, not hers. And while she may still struggle with long division, she’s got the “kind, helpful” thing down pat, so I guess I should count my blessings!

  2. I know what you mean, Christina. The whole grade thing just seems silly, at least for us, as homeschoolers. But for so many people who don’t homeschool, it is a huge part of their child’s identity…albeit one that changes each year. I have found in taking a very slow Waldorf-y approach to learning to read with my youngest that I have eased up tremendously on my expectations as well as my comfort in telling others that he’s not quite there yet. I actually feel proud that I have let him determine the pace and set it as his needs dictate. My hope is that he will love to read as I do. This is just an example of how I have eased up on my expectations of my child, myself and how I have been letting go of caring what others might think. I’m not there yet, but someday I might be. 🙂

    • Christina says

      Oh, Lori, yes! I can’t tell you how much it’s helped for me to stop worrying about Every.Little.Thing. I still worry a LOT, but I’m so much better and happier with where we are right now. (and I’m so glad you guys are back in the homeschooling pool!)

  3. I love Lori and Mir’s comments. Thanks. ladies!

    Every time you mention your virtual school experience my blood boils. Because my boys are enrolled in a distributed learning school through the department of education in BC, I am suppose to keep them at grade level with their peers. But the school and administrators are flexible and forgiving and I’ve never had any pressure to “keep moving.” I’m grateful. Nonetheless until recently I despaired at the boys’ reading proficiency (my ego outstrips their interest) and to get them to write STILL requires bribery, cajoling, tears and liquor. It’s not pretty. And I’m more willing to admit that here (amongst my homeschooling peers) than I am in real life. Great post, Chris!
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  4. I always qualify that my kids are “geniuses” just because we homeschool. One is way ahead, one is right on target and another is behind peers. But they’re all moving forward and that’s the key.
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  5. Oops. I meant “AREN’T geniuses.” Heh.
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  6. You make a very good point. We live in the UK, close to London, but I expect it’s pretty similar system all in all. We initially homeschooled through force. We moved to a new area and all the school’s were full, but despite a complete lack of experience, threw ourselves head-first into homeschooling and are both wholeheartedly enjoying it. I agree with Lori that in order to achieve you have to relax your expectations, but I think my son is learning not only more from being homeschooled but a better quality of knowledge. We spend our days visiting museums in London, building rockets out of Lego to learn about space, writing adventure stories, and exploring the countryside and looking for mini beasts etc. So although he’s still a bit slow on his reading, who cares, as long as he can read eventually. I couldn’t be prouder.
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  7. I laughed when I read this post. I was a homeschooled kid all the way through high school. It is still a running family joke that when people asked my siblings and I what grade we were in we would always look confused and reply, “We don’t go to school.” much to my mother’s chagrin. I generally followed my grade level but I was all over the place some years. The year my family moved to Central America, my mom felt God tell her to put the books away for a little while. My siblings and I learned a TON without the books and after a couple of months asked to start school and caught up to where we needed to be in no time. I always loved the flexibility that homeschooling provided; I was at my grade level in most things or doing college level work in high school and I got to choose the things that interested in me instead of being crammed into a boring box. After the utter freedom I experience in homeschooling, adjusting to the dumbed-down life of public “higher education” is excruciatingly painful.

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