There you are, homeschooling the normal and natural way, not worrying about grade levels. And, then, BAM! Someone asks you that question. "What grade is your child in?" 

After all, when your child is younger, how can you really tell what grade they are in? Because they could be in 5th grade math, 8th grade spelling, and using a 7th grade history curriculum. But when you have a high school student, suddenly everyone wants to know. And, then it gets complicated - with graduation and their graduation age. Ugh ... how do you answer these questions?

I agree with you that grade levels can be arbitrary. I think as homeschoolers we need to focus on what we are doing for our own children, because we know what our own children need; we don't know what other children need! Focus on providing a curriculum that is challenging and not overwhelming. Be sure to keep it academically rigorous and encourage them to do their best, but guard against burn out and overwork that can lead to frustration. Instead of giving a label of freshman at this point, I encourage you to take a step back again. When do you really need to label a high school student with a grade level Junior year.
The easiest way to determine grade level is to decide what year the child will be graduating from high school, and then count backward. In other words, if your child is graduating next spring, this is the senior year. If your child is graduating a year from next spring, then your child is a junior this year.

The only time grade level REALLY matters is when you take the PSAT for real. They will ask the child what grade they are, and only the 11th grade PSAT will count for the national merit scholarships. (You can take it in 10th for fun, but only the 11th grade level counts for scholarships.) Other than that, it's all about when will the child graduate.

The standard age and grade level for high school children may be helpful to know.
  • Freshman, grade 9, begins at age 14-15
  • Sophomore, grade 10, begins at age 15-16
  • Junior, grade 11, begins at age 16-17
  • Senior, grade 12, begins at age 17-18

But do standard age and grade levels matter? Not always - it depends on the child and the family. And sometimes it depends on the grade level of their friends, too.

I know many homeschoolers who intentionally delay graduation. They may provide high school curriculum from the age of 14, but they continue to provide high school curriculum until the age of 19 or 20. They do that to provide additional maturity before their children move away from home. Parents are completely capable of making these choices!

There is one word of warning I can provide with my 20/20 hindsight and advanced age. Kids mature a LOT in the four years of high school. Imagine the difference between a 1 year old child and a 5 year old child. Think about the physical differences (toddling vs. biking, for example). Think about the intellectual differences (saying a few words vs. asking endless questions).

There is almost that much of a difference between the first year of high school and the last year of high school. At first it seems like your child could never possibly be ready for college at 18. And then one day it happens; they're ready!

When you are making the decision about graduation, keep in mind the magic number: 18. When children turn 18, they will usually want to become independent. This is a good thing, because we have worked our entire life to create independent, confident, capable young adults. The problem is that an independent, confident, capable young adult may not want to be homeschooled by Mommy. That can result in stress and difficulty at home, with even the most pleasant and compliant child. Without the agreement of the child, it may not be possible to homeschool a child over the age of 18 without some angst or drama at home. 

Remember that when you are applying for colleges, you will need a great homeschool transcript and other college admission records. The good news is you can "do-it-yourself". Discover the Comprehensive Record Solution and save thousands - all while making your child look their best!

Leave yourself some flexibility. When they look ready to move on, graduate them. When they are almost ready, make them a junior.

If your child is ready before others their age, or after others their age, it doesn't matter. Our job is to educate our individual child. You know your child best!

Is your child working ahead or behind their age level in your homeschool high school? Please share!