I doubt this has an actual answer, but it seems very common, on this board at least, for Americans to casually refer to kids by grade level, rather than by age. It’s always intrigued (and confused, as I never know how old it means) me as to why.

In the UK, no-one would refer to their child by what year of school they were in unless they were actually talking about school. Maybe they’d answer a ‘how’s your kid doing?’ type question with ‘He’s doing OK, he’s just starting year 7 this year,’ but I’ve never heard anyone say ‘I’ve got a year 7 kid at home who loves this book.’ In fact most UK adults would have to stop and think for a second (or may even be unable) to work out the age of the child if someone did.

Do other countries refer to their offspring in casual conversation by school grade or year? Why school year rather than age? Can’t you fail a year and be a ‘4th grader’ even though you’re a year older than everyone else? :confused:

Just a WAG, but I get the sense that, for a lot of American parents, their child’s school is essentially their social connection to other parents. (Largely) gone are the days when adults interacted with each other through gardening clubs, fraternal societies, bowling leagues, that sort of thing. So the school has stepped in to fill that void; it’s the place where parents network and socialize with one another. So for that reason, the kids’ grade is a more meaningful touchstone for them than their age.

Again, just a WAG.

However, a corollary to this discussion is the American tendency to refer to distances in travel time rather than distance. “We live about 45 minutes outside of St. Louis,” or “Work is about 20 minutes away.” Travel time is a more meaningful touchstone than distance; someone may actually live only about 25-30 miles from St. Louis, but with roads & traffic it’s a 45-minute drive. Or I may live about 8-10 miles from my workplace, but thanks to traffic and stop lights & such, it takes me 20 minutes to get there. Whereas someone may life 25-30 miles from L.A. and the journey could take an hour; or their workplace is a straight shot down the interstate and they can make the eight-mile journey in seven minutes.

I’m not sure why it’s all that puzzling. In the U.K., within a school kids & teachers certainly talk about the kids being in 1st year, 2nd year etc. (used to be “form”, but I think that’s outdated now?); but the in U.K. the count resets to 1st year as you move from primary to secondary school, which might explain why in the U.K. it’s not such a convenient shorthand more generally (out of the context of a specific school) to identify the stage of a kid’s education.

In the U.S., just add 5 to the grade to get the kid’s approximate age.

Despite the fact that American schools are run at the state and local levels, some things have become pretty well standardized across the country. Student ages is one of those things.

Most schools have pretty specific requirements for how old a child must be to start school in the first place. Thus, most children in any given grade will be the same age. For instance, if a child is introduced to me as “a 4th-grader,” I know just from hearing that that he is probably 10 years old. If he is 9, he is almost certainly nearing his 10th birthday.

The only significant uncertainty comes during summer vacation.

Both of those are outdated; when I was at school, which was nearly 20 years ago; it was ‘reception’ followed by years 1-13. If you said ‘first year’ we’d know what you meant, but they were universally ‘year 7’ from teachers and almost all students. ‘First year’ was only if you were trying to be patronising (Aww, ickle first years!). Same for friends in other schools, and friends now with kids in school, with the exception of my brother’s school, which was notoriously old fashioned.

(Yes, I know Hogwarts uses the old year system, private schools may still use the old naming system, but not state schools).

I think this probably confirms why we don’t tend to use year/grade as a convenient identifier for kids in the U.K. - our year system has not been as stable and consistent across time and space as the U.S.

For me at least it makes it easier to contextualize with a time in my own life. For most of my childhood memories I don’t automatically remember what age I was when it happened but I do remember what grade I was in. So now when I hear someone was a 9 year old, the first thing I do is convert that to 3-4th grade.

Definitely this for me. I think of childhood memories by what grade I was in, not what age I was. I usually have to do a little math to figure out what age I would have been.

Children will generally show the same mental and emotional development based on what grade they are in, rather than how old they are. A sample of 3rd graders will be more alike than a sample of 8 year olds, as the latter may include 2nd graders and possibly 4th graders. Kids in the same grade tend to like the same things, know the same things, act the same way, etc. A nine year old in 3rd grade doesn’t act like a nine year old in 4th grade, despite only having a 5 or 6 month age difference.

Yes. And in most cases I wouldn’t have known exactly what age the other kids I knew at school, church, little league, etc. were, but I would have known what grade they were in.

In most cases, there isn’t nearly as much that changes about your life on the day when you go from being, say, an eight-year-old to a nine-year-old, compared to what changes when you go from being a third-grader to a fourth-grader.

Interesting… I haven’t the foggiest what year I was in for most memories, unless it was, say, year 7, which meant starting a new school, or year 11, which was dominated by GCSE prep (and in my school had a different uniform). Outside of those, I’d have to assign memories to school year from how old I was at the time from some memorable event and working from that.

A new school year just wasn’t a significant change most years. Same classmates save a few, most years the same subjects and same teachers, gradually dropping to just a few topics in the later years.

Yes, a kid can be held back and made to repeat a grade. Or at least they could when I went to school. A kid who was outpacing his classmates could also be skipped ahead to a higher grade level, making him younger than the other kids in the same grade.

In my (American) experience, new school year = new teacher (or teachers, in middle & high school), new classroom, and (in a school big enough to have more than one class per grade level) some new classmates.

Since the OP asked about experiences in other countries, I will offer that I think it’s pretty common in Japan to refer to children by their year in school, always with reference to the school level; that is, middle school 2nd year, junior high 3rd year and so on. Possibly this tendency gets stronger as the children advance. I stayed with a family with 4 kids once; I was told the youngest was 5 and the next one up was 7, but the older two were junior high 2nd and 3rd years, and I was never actually told their ages. This seems to be supported by what I see on Japanese TV.

I went to school in Pakistan, and now have a kid in American schools. A seventh grader. Every single one of 165 seventh grader in her school is within 9 months in age of my daughter.

On the first day of Class VII in Pakistan, just the 30-odd kids in my classroom ranged from 10 to 14 years old. Skipping grades and repeating grades was very common.

In our school system until 8th grade, skipping grades is not permitted, nor is anyone held back, except that you can start Kindergarten a year later if you are born 90 days before the cut-off, or you can repeat kindergarten. I think this has been typical for a couple of generations in most American schools.

Being held back or failing a year is possible but definitely not common.

And those age requirements have changed over the years, making kids slightly older when they begin school in the US.

I was born 12/31/54, and back then kids could start kindergarten at four, if they would be five by 1/1. So I could have been the youngest kid in my grade. But it wasn’t required, so my parents started me when I was five, going on six. It made all the difference in my schooling, I did much better than I would have.

I guess we had a new ‘form tutor’ each year, who was basically the teacher responsible for taking the morning register, and that was in a different classroom each year, but that was basically it. We normally had the same, say, geography teacher year to year, at least for years 7-9 and 10-11 (7-9 being before we had any elective subjects, then maybe a different one for GCSE prep).

Aside from a few students moving in to the school or leaving, we had the exact same class from year 7 through 11 except for elective subjects. The classes for the electives stayed the same year to year as well. Moving from class to class was not an option, though we had 4 classes in the year, I never heard of anyone doing it, and it would have been blatantly obvious as we were divided up alphabetically (which was a bit odd, yes, but at least we didn’t have an evil class). They kind of went out of their way to minimise changes, thinking about it.

What’s more common (and has become moreso in the past couple of decades) is the concept of “redshirting” – parents intentionally choosing to not start their child in kindergarten at age 5 (or 1st grade at age 6), but rather, to wait a year.

This appears to be done more often for boys than for girls, and is often specifically done for kids who would have been barely old enough to start in kindergarten or 1st grade when they “should have.” The idea is to give the kid another year of maturing before putting them into a classroom environment, though there are also anecdotes of parents of boys who hold them back a year so that they’ll be more physically mature once they reach middle school and high school, thus hopefully giving them an advantage in sports.

The net of it is that there’s an increasing number of kids (particularly white, non-Hispanic kids) whose parents intentionally don’t start them in kindergarten until age 6, and thus they don’t start 1st grade until age 7.

For our non-US readers, the term “redshirting” comes from college athletics, where it’s a practice in which a college athlete doesn’t compete in his chosen sport for a year. In the US, most college athletes get four years of eligibility, but with redshirting, they can take five years to complete college, and still play for the final four years – as with “academic redshirting” above, the idea is to give the player a chance to mature physically a bit, before the clock starts on his college playing career. Particularly during college football telecasts, one hears the term “he’s a redshirt freshman,” which means that he’s actually in his second year of college (making him a sophomore, academically), but in his first year of playing.