I asked a question in my It’s Not that Hard to Homeschool K-8 Facebook group recently: “Do you feel like a success as a homeschool mom? Why or why not?”
As you can imagine, there was a wide range of answers — but more “no’s” than I expected.
But as I think about it, it makes sense to me that we don’t feel confident that we’re doing a good job. I think we’ve got an idea stuck in our heads about what makes a “successful” homeschool — and it’s the WRONG idea.
One aspect of this wrong idea that infiltrates our thinking is the concept of giving grades in elementary and middle school. We think that one indicator of whether we are being successful during these years is if our child is getting “good grades.” If not, we feel like we are not teaching them well, that it is our fault. Somehow we are not doing right by them — but we’re not even sure why or how.
I believe this a major cause of our lack of confidence. We are so brainwashed by the current public school system of giving grades to even young kids that we think we should, too — and yet we’re not sure exactly how to do it (“I don’t have a teaching degree”), and our kids aren’t getting A’s (“Don’t all homeschool kids get A’s? What is wrong with my kid? I must be doing it wrong; I must be homeschooling poorly”).
Grading elementary students is a relatively new thing, y’all. Now granted, what I’m about to say is from WAY back — the 70’s, gasp! — but when I was in elementary school, report cards were handwritten by the teacher. They EXPLAINED how I was doing in math, reading, and spelling. They DESCRIBED whether I was playing well with others (I wasn’t, lol). IF there was a letter, it was either an S+, an S, or an S-. (S stands for “satisfactory,” btw.) There was no need for the 100 point scale — the teacher observed and gave a very general evaluation of whether I was basically tracking with grade-level standards or I wasn’t. She gave VERBAL input to my parents about how I was learning and relating.
What happened to that? When did this go by the wayside?
All I know is when I enrolled my eldest for kindergarten in our first homeschool co-op in California, I was required to give her grades and hand them in. And not knowing any better, I bowed to the system and I did it, because I thought it was the “right” way to do homeschool, because that’s what they were telling me to do.
Which led to me trying to find ways to grade objectively, because I didn’t trust my own judgment. Which meant textbooks and workbooks and quizzes and tests and sitting at the table all day. Which led to a lot of regrets, as I look back and see how I made homeschool a chore rather than the wonderful exploration it could have been.
Related Reading: How I Wish I’d Done Homeschool
My kids are fairly bright, and they got mostly good grades. I totally felt like I was doing a good job, y’all; I was turning in mostly A’s for my kids. “I must be doing homeschool right!” And the regimented schedule and checked-off lists of lessons continued.
I wish I could go back and do it all over again. Because if so I would absolutely and utterly IGNORE the idea of grading during the elementary and middle school years. I would not give my kids grades AT ALL.
I would assess their learning based on their discussions with me and the family, on whether they basically understood stuff as they worked with it, on what books they were reading, etc. And it would be a general idea in my head — “Oh, John seems to have learned his multiplication tables pretty well” or “OK, looks like Suzy needs some more work on spelling dipthongs” — rather than a percent grade determined solely by what they write on a piece of paper.
It would be about whether they know more today than they did yesterday.
“But we HAVE to give grades,” you say. “Our state homeschool law requires it!”
Well, I used to think mine did, too (we are not in CA anymore, though). But the wording is very vague, and as I look at it with the eyes of experience now, I see that it doesn’t say “grades.” It actually says “A record of evaluations of the child’s academic progress.”¹ — which I interpreted to mean grades. But evaluation can take many forms — including a verbal description of what your kid is learning and how they’re doing at it, hello.
Here’s another thing: it doesn’t say I have to do it for EVERY STINKIN’ SUBJECT. If your homeschool law actually uses the “grades” word, does it specify all subjects? I’m thinking you could get away with just giving a grade for math, which is a very cut-and-dried subject to give it for. In math, I can totally see quizzes and tests being a thing, if it is necessary to comply with the law. Even just doing it for one subject would be “a record of evaluation.”
But to get back to my main point: we might be feeling inadequate because we think we should be giving grades; so then we believe we are falling short because our kids aren’t getting good ones. OR we might have a false feeling of confidence because our kids do take tests well or are naturally bright and get good grades — but in the meantime they are losing their love for learning; and homeschool is just no fun anymore, for anyone.
I am here to state categorically that as homeschoolers we do not need to buy into the “grades” system for elementary OR middle school. (Either the letter grade kind or the “what grade are you in school” kind, but the latter is a topic for another day, lol.)
Because that system ties us down to textbook learning and giving tests. Or it has us making wild guesses about how much we think our child has learned — when deep in our hearts there is a fear that we are not guessing correctly.
Why guess at all? Why CARE whether our child knows an A’s worth of a subject? This is NOT the determiner of whether your homeschool is a success.
I would like to present some other options for your SELF-evaluation as a homeschool mom.
Things I wish I’d concentrated on more, instead of checking off the lists:
- Are your kids joyful? Aside from the occasional bad day or the personality type that tends towards moroseness, are they generally happy?
- Do you do some things together? Are you reading aloud or exploring the creek or baking cookies or memorizing poems — TOGETHER?
- Do your kids contribute to the household? Is there a time for chores, or watching baby sister, or cleaning up after lunch?
- Do your kids feel LOVED? Do you praise them for their wonderful qualities and come alongside to help them with their behavioral challenges?
- Are your children progressing? Not how fast, not whether it’s according to “grade level,” — just, are they learning and moving forward AT ALL?
- By middle school, are they starting to learn some things independently? A wise mom knows when to start loosening the apron strings a little… More about that here: This is What Happens When You Use Independent Learning in Your Homeschool.
- Are you accomplishing your WHY?
That last one is a big question, and it will be different for everyone. The best way, in my opinion, to determine whether your homeschool is successful is to know WHY you are homeschooling — and then to evaluate if that is actually happening. For me and my husband, our goal in homeschooling was to protect our children’s characters from the influences of the public school system. To allow their personalities to develop without peer pressure and drugs and bullies and all the other yuckiness. Why did I think giving grades was necessary to evaluate THAT?
Related Reading: Our Main Reason for Homeschooling: Character Development
If you are accomplishing YOUR WHY (not somebody else’s), and if many of the other things listed above are true of your homeschool, then you ARE a successful homeschool mom.
If they are not true? If your WHY has fallen by the wayside? If you still feel like a failure? HUGS, first of all, and then consider this: the fact that you are taking the time to read this article (and have gotten this far, lol) means you are wanting to learn and grow. And that is worth far more than the mom who claims to be a success but won’t listen to anyone. Am I right?
So listen right now, homeschool mom: DON’T feel like a failure because of academics and grades.
Instead, look at the overall picture of your homeschool. I speak from experience when I say that raising responsible, caring human beings is more important than producing kids who get A’s.
This is a tough job we’re doing. Let’s not make it harder by placing unnecessary expectations on ourselves.
One final note: there are still going to be really good days and REALLY bad days. Don’t judge the overall success of you or your homeschooling by either. This is a long-haul journey we’re on, after all. As long as you and your kids are moving forward, that is the main thing. Eventually you will look back and realize that you have actually progressed quite far, and that these people you raised are pretty neat. Enjoy the moments along the way! 🙂