This First-Grade Readiness Checklist Proves the World Was a Different Place in 1979


Six-year-olds in 1979 seem to have lived in a much different world than we do. Today’s 42-year-olds were once little kids getting ready for first grade, and according to a 1979 “first-grade readiness checklist” uncovered by Christine Whitley from Chicago Now, the expectations for what a six-year-old could and could not do are a lot different than what most of us expect from small kids today.

The guidelines for first-grade readiness for six-year-olds in 1979 asks if the six-year-old can count eight to 10 pennies correctly, and if they can color in the lines. ┬áIt also asks if the child attempts to write or copy letters or numbers, and if they can repeat an eight-word sentence back to you. Academically, that sounds extremely basic. As Slate’s KJ Antonia points out, kindergarteners do that stuff.

But then it asks questions that would leave a lot of modern first-grader parents scratching their heads: “Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?”

Most parents probably have no idea if their six year old can walk eight blocks to the store and then make it back again, because they haven’t tested it. What do you do if the answer is no, send Lassie to fish little Timmy out of the well?


Or, perhaps more likely, what do you do if someone calls the police because they saw your child cross the street unattended? Because people might complain about how parents today hover too much and don’t let kids explore–or walk eight blocks to the store–but strangers, acquaintances, and neighbors seem to be constantly reporting parents to the police for things like that.

One woman was arrested after a neighbor complained that she was letting her 6- and 9-year-old children play outside unattended.

Another woman called the police on her neighbor because his children were playing outside, in their fenced yard, during a light summer rain.

And yet another woman got a visit from police after a neighbor reported her for letting her six-year-old–with his eight-year-old sister–play at a park down the street from his house, which subsequently traumatized the six-year-old who started having nightmares that the police were going to come take him away.

Honestly, what are we supposed to do? Strangers on one side are arguing that by not letting six-year-olds walk to the store, we’re raising a generation of weak, feeble, sheltered, entitled people. Strangers on the other side report their neighbors to CPS and try to have their kids taken away for letting six-year-olds play in their own backyards. And it’s not that the world has necessarily gotten more dangerous–as Antonia points out, crime rates overall have actually dropped since 1979. Kids today aren’t less competent than kids in 1979. If we told our six-year-olds to walk eight blocks and come back, they might well be able to do it. That’s a calming thought, at least.

Would you let a six-year-old go that far out on their own? Let us know in the comments.

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