First Day of School Misfits

The idea that everybody took a year to a grade, no matter what! Was so fixed in her mind that she felt as though the teacher had said: “How would you like to stop being nine years old and be twelve instead?”

It’s not as if a child really does jump from nine years old to twelve, but some of those years are less laborious than others.

A kiddo who terrorizes you at age six might become an easy, funloving ten-year-old. You never know, but you go with it (you have no choice). You gird up your loins during the reign of terror, and read everything you can about how to deal with a difficult child. You drink wine and commiserate with friends. You call your mom and ask the question every grandmother is probably gratified to hear: “Was this what I was like?” You ask God, “What did I do to deserve this?” He stays frustratingly silent on the issue.

Then, four years later, after some magical combination of stretching and growing muscles and bones, your blood-sweat prayers, and fairy dust, you have a totally different, more mature child who is actually fun to be around.

Some stages of development happen more slowly and painfully than others, even for the same child.

“What’s the matter?” asked the teacher, seeing her bewildered face.

“Why—why,” said Elizabeth Ann, “I don’t know what I am at all. If I’m second grade arithmetic and seventh-grade reading and third grade spelling what grade am I?”

The teacher laughed at the turn of her phrase. “You aren’t any grade at all, no matter where you are in school. You’re just yourself, aren’t you? What difference does it make what grade you’re in? And what’s the use of your reading little baby things too easy for you just because you don’t know your multiplication table?”

“Well for goodness’ sakes!” ejaculated Elizabeth Ann, feeling very much as though somebody had stood her suddenly on her head.

“Why, what’s the matter?” asked the teacher again.

This time Elizabeth Ann didn’t answer, because she herself didn’t know what the matter was. But I do, and I’ll tell you. The matter was that never before had she known what she was doing in school. She had always thought she was there to pass from one grade to another, and she was ever so startled to get a little glimpse of the fact that she was there to learn how to read and write and cipher and generally use her mind, so she could take care of herself when she came to be grown up.

(From Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher)

I think it’s helpful to keep this developmental fluidity top-of-mind as we see a parade of tiny school children on social media posing with mom-made signs that announce their grade level, favorite color, and what they’re planning career-wise. (While he is precious, if Joey’s gonna be an astronaut, maybe we should work a little harder on getting out of the velcro shoes phase.) 

If those signs were more accurate, they’d read something like Betsy’s: 

First

Variety: We can look at it as either a blessing or a curse, but it will be there, and we will have to deal with it.

Ah, variety. Like, in my particular situation, just this week I had a child say both of these sentences to me in the same day. One was said with the utmost sweetness, the other, well, I’ll leave you to imagine the tone of voice: 

“I love you mom!” (Hugs, snuggles.)

“I feel like I’m being tortured with school!”

Super.

One of the great challenges educators face is a tremendous lack of uniformity among their students. Not only are Little Suzie and Little Johnny on different levels (along with the other 22 third graders in their class), but each has their own spectrum of levels in different subjects based on their individual aptitudes.

This is something I think homeschooling can address particularly well if we homeschooling parents can pay attention enough. We need to get our heads out of our workbooks and really use the curriculum instead of letting the curriculum tell us what to do.

Grade levels as a marker of development, for all their beautiful, organized standardization are truly meaningless if our students are bored out of their minds reading babyish books, while struggling because we pushed them too fast in math. Trust me, I have all the personality traits of a pocket-protecting, spreadsheet-loving NERD. I’d love it if my kids all fit into nice, tidy little grade levels.

Even as homeschoolers it can take a minute to work up the courage to buck the flow of the system and hold a student back or let her skip half a year’s worth of work. We’ve got the pressure of society looking in on homeschooling with a skeptical eye. We may have a husband or grandparents who aren’t confident we know what we’re doing. We, the homeschooling mama, may not be confident in our own abilities.

But I am here to tell you that you can do it. You can look at your child holistically and assess where he is in lots of different areas. You know him. Better than anyone, actually. It may seem a shock, but you do not need to rely 100% on a curriculum developer’s scope and sequence to get him through algebra/world history/essay writing.

If he’s frustrated and bucking you in a subject, look deeper. Ask him, flat-out, if he’s bored. Does he already get it? Is it confusing? He likely would love to collaborate with you on the pacing of his schoolwork (though he may not be able to see past his own frustration).

Try it and see what happens. Connect with me on Instagram @rhikutzer and share your experience!

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