How my oldest kinda sorta ended up skipping eight grade

I shared on Instagram recently that my oldest child had decided to stop homeschooling and attend high school this fall (she started this past week). And I got several inquiries from people saying, “wait, wasn’t she in 7th grade last year?” Yes, she was. It’s kind of a long story and I thought I’d write about it here.

We have always been Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers and – in line with that philosophy – I waited to start my oldest child in first grade until she was seven years old. She has a July birthday so she’s one of those kids who is the same age for a whole academic year. This was a good fit for her in the early years of elementary but something shifted when she was 13 and only in 7th grade. By fifth or sixth grade I had gotten a lot more flexible about academic content so she was getting her academic needs met at home, but by age 13 it was no longer possible for us to meet her social needs at home. Her social life was made more challenging by the Covid pandemic, her extroverted nature combined with my introverted nature, and the needs of her two younger siblings (carting along a five- and nine-year-old to teen homeschool hangouts or driving to a million outside-the-home classes were just not options that felt right for us, for example). She was heavily involved in ballet outside the home just to be clear – we aren’t hermits. 🙂

The most obvious choice was to put her in school right away at our local public middle school last fall. But Ellie was very anxious about the idea of starting school mid-year and even more anxious about starting as an eighth grader, which would have been required by the public school system based on her birth date – no flexibility there. So, we nixed that option.

The next obvious choice was to finish out last year, unideal as it was, and put her in eight grade this fall. We also ended up deciding against that. She didn’t want to start in the final year of middle school with a bunch of kids that had known each other for years, maybe even all eight or nine years of their education.

We realized that her best opportunity was a fresh start. We accepted that most kids her age would be starting high school the following year and that it wouldn’t be the end of the world for her to be on the very young side of her grade’s age spectrum. Socially, she was more than ready. Academically, we weren’t really sure. So, last fall we started looking at high schools.

I did my research and found out all of the open house schedules for our two closest public high schools and we decided to also look at a nearby public high school she would have to lottery into, and two Catholic high schools. We spent a lot of time attending open houses, talking with friends and neighbors about their experiences with various options and Ellie attended shadow days at a couple of schools that offered that option. We knew that Ellie would automatically be able to attend her public high school, but we weren’t sure if she would even get into a private high school given that she was possibly skipping eighth grade (and all of the content that’s taught in that year).

The Catholic high schools require an entrance exam and Ellie did well enough on those to not be worried (exceptionally well in one area, and less well in another, which is what I could have told anyone as her teacher these many years).

Ultimately Ellie found the best fit at a Catholic all-girls high school in downtown Portland. It felt like the right choice not because of the academics (because really those were feeling fine at home) but because of the wonderful community she’s found there. She’s found girls that are serious about doing well at school, who are kind and accepting and who I hope will become her lifelong friends. One of the perks of the high school she picked is that everyone is starting fresh. Girls come to this school from all over the metro area from all kinds of backgrounds and no one has blinked an eye that Ellie has always been homeschooled. She’s not trying to break into an entrenched social structure and that is really a gift.

The staff at her school were willing to have multiple conversations with me about her age, her homeschooling background and our concerns. The head of the math department went so far as to review Ellie’s seventh grade math curriculum and make suggestions for what else I might want to cover last year to get her ready for high school. Those conversations made it easier to feel confident that we weren’t making a crazy decision.

Some people I have chatted with over the summer have expressed shock at what a 180 this change is for our family. We’re going from having Ellie at home full time to her taking the light rail into downtown to school and being gone about eight hours a day. It’s true that this is a massive change that we’re all adjusting to, but I also view this as a continuation of the commitment I made to her when I first decided to homeschool her. Homeschooling has always been an extension of attachment parenting to me, and the core of that is an awareness and a responsiveness to our children’s needs. When she turned 13 her needs changed dramatically. She needed to be around her peers, to understand herself within the context of a community of peers and to be challenged by teachers who are not her Mom. While that last part stings a tiny bit, these needs are all developmentally appropriate and to have kept her at home any longer would have been the wrong choice for her.

It’s only been a week but already there is more peace in our home as she comes home with her cup filled up, and my younger kids get to continue being young a bit longer. She is ready for the responsibilities and the freedom she has now and I can see that having her home this year would have been like clipping her wings.

So, no, my kid didn’t skip eighth grade because she’s an academic genius or anything. I think there’s actually a real misunderstanding out there that all homeschoolers are gifted or have some massive academic advantage because they’re learning at home. She’s an average kiddo who needed a different environment and we took a chance by making an unorthodox choice to set her up in high school a year sooner than we had planned. It’s one of the harder decisions my husband and I have had to make on our parenting journey but thankfully this time we had a smart and capable teenager steering us in the right direction.

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