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.


Who should do a virtual public school?

We lasted in a virtual public school, our state’s first, for only eight weeks. It’s now been about eight weeks since our decision to quit, and I still get emails from people asking me why we joined, why we quit, and whether or not they should try it.

The “why” anyone does anything is a pretty personal question, but I’ve thought a lot about this and thought I’d pull together some questions that may be helpful to ask yourself before you sign up for a state-sponsored virtual public school.

* Are you ok with having someone else telling you what to do?

At first, I liked having a teacher oversee our progress thinking it’d feel like having a safety net below us. In short time, though, I felt like I was constantly being watched, constantly being reminded how much more progress we needed to make. I realized that after over four years of DIY homeschooling, the oversight of an outside teacher rubbed me the wrong way–though I think some people would appreciate the accountability this forces on them.

* How many kids are you homeschooling?

This was a biggie for us. If your kids are young, I think MAVA (Massachusetts Virtual Academy) is very, very time consuming for the teaching parent. Between the workload of my two girls who were in the program, it was really hard on my youngest son who was not enrolled. I felt like I told him, “Go play—I’ll be there in a minute!” about a hundred times a day. It wasn’t fair to him.

* Can your enrolled student/students work independently?

When I published my “why are my kids crying every day?” post to the MAVA message board, I had one woman tell me that things were going wonderfully for her. Turns out, her daughter was in 8th grade and could do almost all of her work on her own. If you have a very dedicated, task-oriented, independent learner, they may really enjoy a virtual school.

* Has your child been in public school before?

The K12 workload (the curriculum used by MAVA) is pretty intense and can take up the majority of the day to complete regularly. A child who has come out of a full-day school environment may not be as affected by this. For my kids who were used to lots of unstructured time, field trips and classes with friends, this longer school day was a real drag.

* Do you want a boxed, soup-to-nuts curriculum? Really?

In hindsight, this is another reason we should never, ever have joined MAVA. The curriculum we have used over the years has always been pieced together to take advantage of each child’s learning style and ability. Finding ourselves locked into a single curriculum—even one as strong as K12—would not have suited us in the long run.

I realize eight weeks isn’t really long enough to give to a new situation, but I don’t regret our decision at all.

Have you considered a virtual public school, or are you enrolled in one? Do you agree with the above or am I missing something?

Closing a door

I wrote this on January 25, to an online message board for MAVA, the virtual school in Massachusetts (sorry for the wonky text–it was a literal cut-and-paste job):

We have almost finished our second month and I’m begin to lose my grip. I can

honestly say that I haven’t had a day doing K12 when one of my two kids hasn’t
been weeping over their work at one point or another. I am so tired of the
stomping, the whining, the tears—-

Here is the thing: They are not strangers to school work. We have always done
sit-down math, history, science, grammar, spelling, It wasn’t as scripted as it
is now, but we weren’t totally unschool-y. I don’t make them do the tedious work
and we skip anything “optional” b/c I’d rather they just go and relax/play.

And don’t even get me started on what the heck do I do to keep my 6yo son busy
when I’m locked down in the dining room for the morning and into the afternoon
with the girls.

My kids are generally pretty well behaved and do follow rules. They will do
their work (eventually) but I feel like I’m fighting with them almost all the
time when school is “in session”. It’s almost like a tag team—-one kids will
be a model student while the other is a wreck and then, “POOF!” they switch. I
jokingly said that I’m going to get an ulcer and gray hair from this. Not
jokingly: This isn’t fun.

And, I’m no newbie—this is my 5th year homeschooling! When the girls do their
work without complaint, we have no issues with the program at all.

Would love your advice. Is this unique to my household, or are most of you
finding this to be a fight? Do you reward good behavior or punish the bad?

This, in a nutshell, sums up what life has been like for the past couple of months. (Can you tell how much I wrote this post to myself, as if to pick myself up and cheer myself on?)

What I didn’t include in any of my public statements is that my son had started throwing huge angry tantrums daily, my kids were at each other’s throats most of the time, and I was barely able to make it through the day without having to go sit in the bathroom to cry and question why I couldn’t make this work.

So, this past Friday, I made a decision. We are leaving the virtual school, effective immediately.

We’ll take a week off to regroup and go on field trips (heck, we didn’t even take off “school vacation week”, so I guess we deserve it), and then finish out the school year as regular old homeschoolers.

As soon as I made this decision final in my head, the feeling in our house–in me–changed. I wasn’t running a list of what we needed to finish up over the weekend, mentally ticking off all the ways in which we could do better if only we applied ourselves more.

The kids felt the lightness too: That night, D—our little guy—crawled into bed with me and said, I love you, I love you, I love you over and over again, and then wrote John and I notes: “You are the best Daddy in the world”, “You are the best Mommy in the world”.

I’m not sure what life holds in store for us going forward, but I do know I made the right choice for us right now.

And for everyone who has commented, called, written or even just wished us luck during this decision-making process, thank you, thank you, thank you. I am so fortunate to have you all in my life.

While MAVA wasn’t right for us, I do hope it succeeds in our state. I plan to post more thoughts about the program specifically in the coming weeks since I think some families may be interested to know if it would work for them.