Why You Should Ignore Grade Levels to Help Your Homeschool Thrive

One of the questions my kids get asked often is, “What grade are you in?” It’s also the hardest for them to answer because we don’t follow grade levels, and at any given time they are likely in multiple levels depending on the subject! Here’s why you might want to ignore grade levels in your homeschool so your students will thrive.

Why You Should Ignore Grade Levels So Your Homeschool Will Thrive

A traditional school system prescribes grade levels as a way of grouping students so they can more easily teach a large number of students in a systematic method. It doesn’t mean that everyone is on the same academic level in that group.  

I was an advanced student myself, and I sought a summer learning opportunity that would have pushed me a grade level ahead of my peers. However, my school didn’t offer the next level so actually changing grade levels wasn’t an option. 

As a homeschool family, you have the flexibility that isn’t an option in the traditional setting because your teacher-to-student ratio is so low! Instead of only teaching what your students “should know” based on their age, you can guide them to learn as fast or slow as fits your family!

Learning to Walk and Read

Think of it this way: when a toddler learns to walk there is a range of acceptable ages for that to happen.  I have three students. One of them walked before their first birthday, but another one waited until they were over 18 months old. Both were considered typical.  

What if we replace walking with reading in a 2nd-grade classroom? Consider that their skills are as varied as walking. We would start to worry about the one who was slower to read, but research shows there is a healthy range at which students learn to read. Why are only the early and average readers celebrated?

I have a dyslexic reader. They didn’t learn to read at the same age as their siblings and their reading readiness signs were confusing to me. We took our time and they learned to read in time. All of my kids were reading similar books by age 10 regardless of when the reading clicked, and none of them felt negatively about themselves or about reading as a result, because there’s no reason that they should. 

Focus on a Love of Learning

Grade levels are an important tool for teaching large numbers of students, but in your homeschool, where your class size is much smaller, you don’t need to adhere closely to them. Children are curious beings and will learn whether we teach them or not. Instead of focusing on what they should know based on their age and grade, focus on teaching them a love of learning and the rest will take care of itself.  

Work on being a student of your student and figure out how to teach them the way they learn best. If you are new to homeschooling after some time in a traditional classroom, you may want to spend time finding out what exactly your student knows so you can decide what to teach them next. It’s OK to take a break from formal learning while you make the transition. Before you start learning at home observe what your students learn without you teaching them:

  • Which books do they seek out at the library?
  • What questions do they ask at the dinner table?
  • What do they want to look up on the internet?
  • What themes appear during unstructured playtime?

As you make notes about what your child loves, you can include it in your homeschool, showing your kids that learning doesn’t have to exclude the things they love.  

Encourage Their Passions

I have a child who loves turtles. You would be surprised how often he finds ways to include turtles in his other subjects. The writing program we used for middle school intentionally allows students to choose the topic of their writing assignments. We wrote about Angry Birds and Harry Potter for a whole year!  

I would have told you one of those middle schoolers was a reluctant writer but after writing about Angry Birds for an entire year, suddenly I saw his writing skills grow exponentially because his passion could shine. His encyclopedic knowledge of the topic was now an asset rather than an annoyance or a distraction. Some of the assignments were a challenge for him, but he found for himself that it was worth persevering because he enjoyed the topic of the assignment.

Confidence Beyond the Classroom

I have students with multiple learning disabilities. Grade levels are hard because each child could claim multiple grades depending on the knowledge needed. At our house, we focus less on the grade they should be in and more on learning the next thing needed. This approach has seen each student grow in confidence which stretches beyond the classroom.  

One student has dyscalculia and struggles with math greatly. Working with numbers just doesn’t come naturally to them. Last year, however, in their 4-H robotics club, they found themselves in a lead coder role on the team. The code they wrote had multiple variables and calculations they had to repeatedly adjust throughout the testing. Now as they head into high school they are exploring other Computer Science career options. Math is still hard but they have the confidence to conquer the world because their passion motivated them to persevere and push through.  

We Can’t Teach Them Everything

We can’t teach our kids everything about everything. I have gaps in my own education and I’m learning alongside my kids some days. The greatest thing we can teach our kids in our homeschool is to love learning and how to use the tools around them to gain the knowledge they need to learn what they want.  When we ignore grade levels and teach our kids the next thing they need to know, they also grow in confidence in their own abilities. Confident kids who know how to learn what they need to know are unstoppable. Our kids will change the world.  

Cynthia Heren

About the author

Cynthia Heren is a speaker, writer and homeschooling mom of 3 since 2014. With a variety of learning disabilities and other challenges across her 3 kids, her homeschool requires Outside the Box ideas. Normal at her house includes 2 trampolines, 5 sizes of pencils and indoor and outdoor swings, and a whole room full of LEGOs. She loves working one on one with other homeschool parents, encouraging them to create the perfect education plan for their Outside the Box kids.

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