Grade levels are a funny things for homeschoolers. They still matter on state forms and for church and community activities, but they don’t really mean much otherwise. Yet grade-level decisions were still a source of stress for us as we began our homeschool journey, so I thought I’d share our approach for anyone struggling with the same questions.
Four of our kids’ birthdays actually fall within a tiny six-week window in the fall. While the proximity of their birthdays presents its own challenges, one of the biggest was trying to decide whether we wanted them to start kindergarten when they turned 5 or wait an extra year until they turned 6. Did we want them to be the youngest kids in their grades or the oldest?
For years I struggled with this decision, and it wasn’t until I read the words of a wise blogger with older kids that the solution for our family became clear. She said they made the decision to hold their kids back in the early years, knowing it would be easy to move them up later. They then chose a path of dual enrollment at a community college in the late high school years to give their kids a head start on college without actually turning them loose a year early.
Oh, the relief. The concern about college was one of my main reasons for not wanting to push them forward, and her solution felt perfect.
However, our oldest is very precocious, and she was clearly ready for kindergarten the year she turned 5. Because her birthday is October 3rd, and the Virginia cut-off is September 30th, she was automatically grouped with the younger kids in church and community activities. At the time, we strongly felt she needed to be with older kids, as she was getting a little too good at bossing around younger kids thanks to her experience as the oldest of four. So that year we bumped her up a grade.
However, as the end of the year rolled around, my concerns about keeping her with the older class returned: she wasn’t reading yet, she was struggling with math, I was afraid she’d have to be held back at some point later in her school career, and I didn’t necessarily want her graduating high school at 17 years old.
We decided to go ahead and hold her back for a second year in kindergarten, knowing it would be easy enough to bump her up later if we felt it was warranted.
We found that a second year of kindergarten really helped her stretch her wings and strengthen her skills. Creativity, vocabulary and critical thinking come easily for her, but “school” does not, so the extra year allowed those academic skills to catch up with her natural abilities.
When our third daughter approached kindergarten with her slightly earlier September birthday, we went ahead and let her move up (at church and in activities) with the other 5 year olds…but then we held her back for a second year of kindergarten as well.
Unlike our oldest, she had actually completed most of her kindergarten-level work in both reading and math, but we don’t use grade levels as the be-all and end-all for what they should be doing in each subject, so we continued moving forward in those areas even though “officially” she was still in kindergarten.
This coming year she’s moving into 1st grade with strong math skills (she’ll be starting Teaching Textbooks 3rd grade math in the fall) and reading skills that have really blossomed in the last month.
Because “two years of kindergarten” is the norm for our family, they’ve both handled the transition very well, forming friendships with kids in both the older group and younger group without feeling bad or like they were actually being held back.
But the biggest benefit for us is it allows us to approach kindergarten in such a relaxed way, without the pressure to master certain skills by a certain date.
I debated simply waiting an extra year before starting kindergarten work with our youngest daughter (who has the earliest birthday, in mid-September), but I like that she’ll have an extra year to practice her school skills, moving slowly through them and without pressure. Maybe she’ll take both years to get through her kindergarten work or maybe she’ll surprise us (like her big sister has) and fly right through it. Either way, we’ll have plenty of time to discover her learning style, form habits and master skills!
How do you handle the fall birthday dilemma?