Although we have been "officially" educating our children at home for over 10 years, it was just a short time ago that our children began questioning the importance of having a grade level. For years we easily assigned grades according to their peers. A child who was in 2nd grade at age 8 with her peers and did grade level 2 work earned the distinction of being a 2nd grader. This was easy. It made sense.

A few years into our homeschooling adventure, we noticed a child or two who had a need for extra math work, or who excelled at spelling, creating a new dilemma for us. All of a sudden, we had a child who was now a 2nd through 4th grader. Now, for the most part, this was still not too much of an issue as we were able to remind them that due to their age, we would still place them in the grade of their peers and no longer pay much attention to the book levels they were in. They were typically able to follow that rule without great difficulty. And along we went.

This worked fine until the grade distances kept getting more out of line. Well-meaning strangers would ask what grade a child was in and it became a chore for that child to clarify that they were in 6th grade according to their peers, 5th grade in math, 8th grade in reading, no longer doing spelling because they had completely tested out… Well, you can see the confusion this was creating. It was time to look at the concept of grade levels again.

Let's look a little deeper into that concept, shall we? Our society has become increasingly more interested in sub-categorizing individuals than at any other time in recent history. For instance, up until 1941 when Reader's Digest first coined the term "teenager", there were simply children and adults. Now we use such terms as infant, baby, toddler, child, pre-teen, tween, and teenager, X, Y and Z generations, 40-somethings, adults, the elderly. That is not even a complete, exhaustive list. To further that, we are divided off by political grouping, locational grouping, socio-economic grouping, gender grouping, etc. Everyone is kept in their own neat and tidy little corner amongst those who are JUST LIKE THEM. We are no longer truly an individual who is held up to our own individual merits or abilities. And I believe it is a dangerous slope. After all, have you ever been in a corporate meeting where you were all completely identical in age?

Let's return back to grade levels. Perhaps it is time to simply let go of this one area of categorizing for a moment. The typical homeschool family educates according to the needs of the individual child. By offering work for each child based upon their ability as opposed to a set grade level, we may find them rising to a height they didn't know they could reach. After all, most homeschooled students are able to socially interact well beyond their peers. It is possible that they will adjust well to not having a grade level.

So how are we handling the issue of grade levels? At this time, we are allowing our children to answer with, "I am homeschooled and attend Shepard Academy of Fine Learning. Currently, I am 14." This seems to have stopped a few in their tracks, wondering how they might finally get a grade level out of our children. It has also opened the door to conversation regarding hyper-categorizing. We have an opportunity to discuss what a wonderful choice homeschooling is for each individual child. And for the most part, people are just generally interested in knowing how homeschooling works.

A final word: I don't believe that it is always possible to avoid a grade level. There are times when they are necessary. For instance, any time a homeschool child is going into an activity such as scouting, there will need to be some sort of peer grade level acknowledged. Another instance would be the latter years in high school for the purpose of the transcript. But for the sake of the individual homeschooler, this may just be an area of freedom that we have overlooked.

Teri has been happily married to her high school sweetheart for 18 years. They educate their 5 children at home. The Shepard children range from age 4-15. They no longer have grade levels. Thankfully, neither do Mom or Dad. Teri is currently serving with her husband on the board of SHEM providing a GREAT convention for Southwest Missouri and the Ozarks.

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