3. In schools, grade levels serve a purpose. At home, they are just numbers.
When I first started homeschooling, having kids at “grade level” was important to me. I had asked the school where Jason works to print me the curriculum guides for each level so that I could ensure that my kids were getting what they needed. Every few weeks, I would run down the list and determine my worthiness as a homeschooling mom by the number of checks on my list.
While they helped in a few ways, I don’t have lists anymore. I don’t worry about what my kids know and what they don’t know compared to other kids. What I do worry about is that my children are making progress. I want to see that they are steadily inching forward in their knowledge and understanding in different subjects.
But this is where homeschooling really offers an amazing advantage: if I notice that one of my kids isn’t making steady progress (and not for lack of motivation), I have the freedom to set it aside until they are ready. I don’t have to push forward in the hopes of finishing a book or unit before Christmas break. I don’t have to close the last page of 3rd grade math before summer begins. We aren’t bound by numbers.
For Caleb, I had to put reading away three years in a row. He was not ready and pushing him was leading towards his frustration (and mine!) Instead, I watched him carefully and I brought it out every once in a while. I prayed for wisdom and discernment as I searched for signs of readiness. They came. One day, when he was almost eight, we were sitting in my room and I turned around and saw him reading a book that he picked up voluntarily. It was a very happy moment.
I am so thankful that I didn’t push him. I have often said, “I don’t ever want to take away the love of reading from my kids. If I take that away, I take away the world.” I knew that if I pushed him before he was ready, he would hate to read. Reading would always be associated with frustration and feelings of inadequacy. I didn’t want that. Books are one of life’s greatest gifts and I didn’t want to make him forever hate them just so I could rest knowing he was at grade level. And now—a year later—that steady (albeit slow) progress that I was looking for? It’s there. Each day we pull out his reading and although it doesn’t come easily for him (there are definite learning disabilities), he presses on. He doesn’t feel ashamed at his reading ability. He doesn’t feel left behind. He wants to read aloud during family worship. He feels good about his progress and he is excited for the successes to come.
With Alaina, I noticed that math was a struggle for her. Every day the tears would fall and her measly three pages would sometimes take her hours. She was frustrated. She felt defeated. Math was always easy for me so my sympathy didn’t come naturally. One day, I decided to sit and really watch her do her math. I wanted to see if there was a specific issue at hand. It didn’t take long to find it: She hadn’t memorized her times tables. She had done multiplication before and skidded by, but as her further lessons depended on that multiplication, not only was she trying to understand new concepts, but also she was trying to figure out the multiplication. No wonder it was taking her so long!
I looked her in the eye and said, “We’re putting this math away. No more pages. Your only math assignment from now on is to spend 30 minutes working on memorizing your multiplication tables. That’s all. Memorize them. I want you to know them so well you can do them in your sleep. I want them to ooze out of you. It will be hard work now, but I promise you, it will pay off. If you do this well now, you’ll never have to do it again. And every day for the rest of your life you will be thankful that you have these memorized.”
She wasn’t happy with me, but we did it anyway. We put away her math curriculum and she worked on memorizing her times tables. I didn’t worry that she wouldn’t finish her book by summer. What I cared about is that she knew her math facts so that when she did return to her curriculum, she wouldn’t be doing double-duty learning. She did it. She learned them backwards and forwards. And now, although days like yesterday sometimes happen, she enjoys math. She moves through her lessons quickly and fluidly. When we come upon real-life math situations and she knows the answer to something I say, “See…aren’t you glad you memorized those multiplication tables?” Her smile shows that she understands how important that break in curriculum was.
Levi is my whiz-kid. Ever since we started homeschooling (when he was three), he has been my most eager student. In preschool 3 and 4, I give my kids the option of “doing” school or not. If they want to be with us, great. If not, they can play. In all of our first year, Levi chose to play once. One day. Every other day he was learning right alongside Alaina and Caleb.
If he were in school, he would be in 2nd grade. Currently, he is blasting his way through third-grade math. I suspect he’ll finish third- and fourth-grade math this year. He gives Alaina a run for her money on multiplication tables (I learned my lesson and I drill all the kids every day in times tables). I love that I don’t have to hold him back. In first-grade, he closed the last page of first-grade math and opened second-grade math. A few months later, he closed second-grade math and opened third-grade. His own ability dictates his progress. It isn’t his grade level.
I understand why there are grades in schools. I really do. The days of one-room schoolhouses are over and there has to be some semblance of order. There has to be a set curriculum. Chaos would ensue if every kids was working on different things at different times. There are amazing teachers doing amazing work accommodating students with various needs. But no teacher (at least that I know of) has the complete freedom to put curriculum away indefinitely until a specific student is ready. No teacher can be working through different math programs with different students. It’s not that they aren’t willing, it’s just that it doesn’t work.
But that is one of the benefits of homeschooling: schools need to group students by a specific criteria (and in most schools, that criteria is age). I don’t have the same restrictions. I get to look at my children and their ability levels and move at their own pace, not a pace set by my curriculum. I get to work one-on-one with each of my students, for as long as it takes. For all of my many reasons for homeschooling, this perhaps, is one of the most important. God made each of my children unique in their abilities and strengths and weaknesses and I love not having them bound to a specific number.
The numbers are needed in schools. They aren’t at home.