Are Standards Too Low Or Too High For Kids?

Last week Slate highlighted a blog post listing what constituted first grade readiness back in 1979. Everyone seemed to focus on one item in particular:

8. Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?

Indeed, while children back in my day were expected and given the opportunity to do just this, now parents seem to think that letting a child out of sight will result in immediate harm. The idea that we’d let a kindergartner travel to the park by herself is crazy for many parents.

But what was also interesting, and pointed out to me by The Elephant’s Child, is what else has changed in our expectations of first graders in the last 30 years. Namely, they’ve gotten much, much higher. Check out the whole list:

1. Will your child be six years, six months or older when he begins first grade and starts receiving reading instruction?

2. Does your child have two to five permanent or second teeth?

3. Can you child tell, in such a way that his speech is understood by a school crossing guard or policeman, where he lives?

4. Can he draw and color and stay within the lines of the design being colored?

5. Can he stand on one foot with eyes closed for five to ten seconds?

6. Can he ride a small two-wheeled bicycle without helper wheels?

7. Can he tell left hand from right?

8. Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?

9. Can he be away from you all day without being upset?

10. Can he repeat an eight- to ten-word sentence, if you say it once, as “The boy ran all the way home from the store”?

11. Can he count eight to ten pennies correctly?

12. Does your child try to write or copy letters or numbers?

Can he repeat an eight-word setence? Can he count to eight? Does he try to write letters?

I mean, we’re now at the point that if your three-year-old doesn’t do this, you bring in a specialist. Right?

Elephant’s Child points out:

Although it is now expected that children be well on their way to reading by the end of kindergarten and it’s not uncommon for first and second graders to have significant homework, my sense is that overall school achievement is not dramatically better than it was in 1979. In the very early 70s Mad Musician’s mom (very wisely, I believe) opted not to send her son to kindergarten at all but start his formal schooling with first grade.

Kindergarten was considered completely optional as recently as thirty years ago. But when Sparkle Kitty was three and four years old I would occasionally get stunned looks when I stated that she was not going to be attending a pre-school.

A friend was told, sternly, by her child’s school, that she would be compromising her child’s chances for sucess by removing her child from four-year-old preschool. Her child would not be ready for the academic rigors of Kindergarten.

When I was in kindergarten, we learned to cut paper in straight lines and in wavy lines. We played circle games. In first grade, those of us who were not already reading began to learn to read. (In a class of less than 20, four of us already were reading fluently after a kindergarten curriculum that would barely pass muster as a pre-school one today.) Within just a couple months, most of the first grade class was reading at grade level. The few stragglers got extra help from a reading specialist, the same specialist that worked with the four of us who were reading above grade level.

It just doesn’t add up, this push for earlier and earlier formal academics.

It’s true. Our standards are much higher and begin much earlier, but are we seeing positive results from this?

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