Is your child ready for first grade? Earlier this month, Chicago Now blogger Christine Whitley reprinted a checklist from a 1979 child-rearing series designed to help a parent figure that one out. Ten out of 12 meant readiness. Can your child “draw and color and stay within the lines of the design being colored?” Of course. Can she count “eight to ten pennies correctly?” Heck, yeah, I say for parents of kindergarteners everywhere. “Does your child try to write or copy letters or numbers?” Isn’t that what preschool is for?
“Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?”
It’s amazing what a difference 30 years have made. Academically, that 1979 first grader (who also needed to be “six years, six months” old and “have two to five permanent or second teeth”) would have been considered right on target to start preschool. In terms of life skills, she’s heading for middle school, riding her two-wheeled bike and finding her own way home. It’s not surprising that I came to this link via Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids blog. What is surprising is just how shocking a jolt it is to realize how stark the difference is between then and now.
I’d probably be considered a free-range parent by today’s standards; I’ve allowed a 7-year-old to walk to a friend’s house unaccompanied and left a 9-year-old in charge of siblings. But the idea of a kindergartener walking “four to eight blocks” alone? Crossing streets? Turning corners? Even though I suspect I did it myself, I can’t get my head around it. I have two kindergarteners this year (and one will be 6 in just a few weeks), and I check on them if I let them walk solo to the bookstore’s bathroom. Yesterday, I watched one of them get lost in the grocery store, trying to go two aisles over to the freezer section, where she’d been not 30 seconds before. Two to four blocks?
But there it is, in the middle of the list, as though the ability to find your way around your world at 6 years old was quite ordinary. The country isn’t different (Skenazy points out that crime rates are actually lower overall than they were in 1979). We’re different, and not just as parents. A commenter to the post points out that her children’s school doesn’t allow students to walk home alone (even with an older sibling) until fifth grade. And it’s a difference most parents are aware of already. But to see it laid out so clearly is to remember that it wasn’t just my own mother who expected more from me than I expect from my own kids, but all the mothers. I’m not suggesting we loose our kindergarteners on our neighborhoods, and I don’t plan to send mine romping any further than the yard. But I will try to broaden my ideas of what else they’re capable of—besides math and reading—this year.