kitchen table math, the sequel: A different view of first grade Readiness

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A different view of first grade Readiness

A recent post at Free Range Kids led me to this post,
which has a checklist for testing if your child is ready for first grade.

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?

What jumped out at me from it was the insanity in both directions: 1) academic skills that now indicate readiness for preschool, or at latest, kindergarten, were 30 years ago indications of being ready for first grade, and 2) life skills that now indicate readiness for middle school were indications 30 years ago that a child was ready for first grade.

We're pretty conscious that we've pushed the academics far far earlier on our kids, because by and large, we now value academics as the only path to successful adulthood (whether true or not, who is going to take the risk it's true and not prepare their children accordingly?), but by denying them independence, we're creating perpetual adolescents in the process who won't be successful at adulthood.

What child today would be expected to handle walking or biking 4-8 blocks at the age of 6 or 7? What parent would allow their child to do so? What would happen to that parent? How would a parent even begin to teach their child that autonomy these days?

The list makes clear the prior division of labor: the home was where socialization and citizenship was taught, and school was where the 3 Rs were taught. The expectation was that the family did their job, and the school would do theirs.

It may be causal that the schools now fail because the family failed. It may be a feedback system where the family fails because the schools fail. But we should ask ourselves if we really think the State can succeed where the family has failed, and if so, what it will do to what few functioning families remain. Because the State has no interest in your child having enough autonomy to ride his bike a mile from home at the age of 7--in fact, the State's interests are counter to that proposition.


Anonymous said...

"What child today would be expected to handle walking or biking 4-8 blocks at the age of 6 or 7? What parent would allow their child to do so?"


It is about four-ish blocks from our house to my son's best friend's house. My son has been walking there on his own since he was seven.

This *does* happen, even if it is a lot less common than 30 years ago.

Son is now 10. About one month ago he walked the mile to our local downtown, got (sit down) lunch at his favorite restaurant there, went to the library and then came home. He loved it.

It really isn't that big a deal *IF* you plan for it and build up to it. In this case the 'build up' was that he had done the trip to the library on his own before, but this trip was the first time he ate at a sit down restaurant by himself ... One new thing at a time.

And, yes, I know that my wife and I are outliers on this issue. But some children *are* raised this way. Mostly it just requires a decision to do so and then some planning and follow through.

[Mostly because of the police/child-welfare folks ... but we haven't had any troubles yet.]

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on where you live. In my suburb we seem to have one incident a year of some guy trying to lure a child into a car. My town has become just another neighborhood in Chicago. My kids needed to be big enough or just travel in groups. Six or seven was too young to go out of my immediate neighborhood.

You might want to check the local sex offender list, especially if you live in a big city. That was a shock for me.

In contrast, I was a typical Boomer who disappeared outside sometime after school, and then showed up for dinner a few hours later.


Anonymous said...

My suburb has those incidents too. More than one per year, usually. The kid always runs and tells an adudlt; the guy in the car is sometimes apprehended. Kids still play outside and walk to their friends houses by themselves. I would have DIED of claustrophobia if I had been confined to my house/yard as a kid.

Bonnie said...

I used to walk 5 blocks to KINDERGARTEN by myself, in Newton MA - and I had barely turned 5. It used to be normal to cruise the neighborhood on our own starting that early. This was in the 60's.

That being said, my second son did not learn how to ride a bike until this year - and he is aceing 4th grade. Clearly that isn't a criterion for 1st grade either.

Crimson Wife said...

There are actually only 1/3 the cases of child abductions by strangers today as there were in the early 1980's, even though we have a larger population now. For all the publicity on cable news networks given to these kinds of cases, they are fortunately very rare. That said, we don't allow our almost 9 y.o. free range of the neighborhood as DH and I were permitted. Not because we're worried about her getting kidnapped, but out of concern some busybody might report us to CPS over it.

Anonymous said...

"That said, we don't allow our almost 9 y.o. free range of the neighborhood as DH and I were permitted. Not because we're worried about her getting kidnapped, but out of concern some busybody might report us to CPS over it."

I have seen this concern raised on other forums. My wife and I figure that (a) this is unlikely, and (b) we'll get at least one warning before losing our child to CPS. We might be wrong, of course ...

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

When my son started Kindergarten, it was the first year that our schools went to all-day Kindergarten. The teachers loved the idea. It was a way to close gaps (not academic) so that most kids were ready to start learning in first grade. Those who weren't ready started Kindergarten a year later. They did academic things, but that was to get them used to the process. Less time was wasted in first grade.

Then again, they used MathLand and taught reading using things like onset and rime starting in first grade. How is universal PreK going to fix those things? We will still have the same problems, but with the cost of one more year of school. How about adding Nursery School? If a full year of Kindergarten can't prepare kids, then there is something else going on.

Amy P said...

"It was a way to close gaps (not academic) so that most kids were ready to start learning in first grade."

And that wasn't good enough. Is this one of those things where you can just keeping adding more, and it's never going to be good enough? As the Smithsonian article on Finland mentions, their compulsory school begins at 7 (although they do have all sorts of early childhood stuff).

Allison said...

Good enough at what? What questions are being hinted at, and what questions are being asked?

You cannot close the achievement gap by giving everyone the *same amount* of instructional time, because the right half of the graph is moving faster than the left half of the graph. Under equal amounts of time, the dispersion will always grow, because the rates of learning are multiplied by that time.

You cannot close a "maturity gap" by having the State substitute for an intact family raising a child, because the State isn't a family.

The most important point to me was not that we are or aren't allowing our kids outside alone. It was the level of autonomy and maturity that was a precondition for those events.

The list indicates that children were expected to know how to interact with adults, (and which ones to interact with.) They were expected to understand basic social and civil rules (such as how traffic laws worked, how to deal with the minor issues in their play with other kids without interference from adults.) They were expected to already be somewhat capable of functioning in the world.

Today, "unready" for kindergarten is some mixture of social, emotional, and academic skillsets that aren't articulated very well--typically, only the academic ones are. Maybe what's really meant is simply "willingness to submit to my will".

Anne Dwyer said...

I know this is a little off topic but I just had to vent.

My daughter is a freshman in high school and last night I went to curriculum night. The curriculum night itself was ok (go to all classes and here what is being taught). What troubled me is that all the teachers urged us to continually check Zangle (for grades) and Moodle (for assignments). Frankly, I don't want to go back to high school. This is all my daughter's responsibility. I should only get involved if there is a problem that she can't handle.

Don't they realize that if you train parents to be helicopter parents, you will get helicopter parents?

Amy P said...

Checking high school grades "constantly" sounds excessive, but it is actually an improvement over the model where the school sees the kid failing and nobody tells the parents until it's much too late.

My younger brother was one of those bright, disorganized kids who does his homework and then wads it up somewhere and forgets to turn it in. His school career was quite a disaster (he's done much better since). If our parents could have been persuaded to check in electronically, it might have helped a lot. (This is highly theoretical, of course, because to this day, our parents don't do email or go online.)


Bonnie said...

This article has more detail on early childhood education in Finland. It states that 60% of Finnish kids attend kindergarten BEFORE age 7. It also notes that by Finnish law, children under 7 have a right to preschool education.

SteveH said...

In our all-day Kindergarten, the teachers wanted a whole day to get kids ready for first grade. The main problem was that more levels of kids were being included into our differentiated classrooms. An all-day program allowed teachers to spend more time getting some kids ready to deal with the (barely) regimented behavior expectations of regular school. Obviously, not all kids needed this.

I don't think much of the list. I remember some parents worrying way too much about whether their kids were ready for Kindergarten or not. Some districts even talked about changing the birthday cutoff to eliminate younger kids. Our state gives this sort of test to all in-coming Kindergarteners, but I don't know if they use it to recommend that some kids wait a year. However (ironically), once the kids are in the school system, they are tracked by age or else they might be damaged emotionally.

Either full inclusion works or it doesn't. What are the limits for each grade? Add to this all of those vague things parents are supposed to do at home, like modeling a love of education and practicing math facts.

It started out with Hirsch talking about how there is a content issue (related to SAT) and that it is not based on demographics. But now, the discussion has evolved to vague demographic variables. Either you can define and isolate key variables or you can't. However, I don't see many testing the variables of basic competence.

Kids do poorly on the trivial 4th grade NAEP math test. A school uses Everyday Math that "trusts the spiral" by definition. They don't ensure mastery. They create a demographic issue because some parents are doing their job. It's easier to talk about vague variables.

Most problems in education are defined using hard, cold results from specific tests. Rather than study the details of each question, many resort to top-down guess and check for any sort of correlation that pops into their heads. So, perhaps they scientifically find that there is a correlation between improved (relative) 4th grade math scores and readiness factors in Kindergarten.

Relative, but still stinking lousy.

Amy P said...

"60% of Finnish kids attend kindergarten BEFORE age 7..."

Which means that 40% don't. If we had those kind of numbers in the US, we'd all be wringing our hands about it. And yet, somehow, the Finns do OK. Weird.

Bonnie said...

The article said that 30% had not attended - 10% evidently attended some other kind of program. The article also noted that Finnish kids go to other sorts of preschool programs as well. And finally, they note that the curriculum in the first official year seems to assume some level of pre-literacy skills before that year

Bonnie said...

This article notes Finland's fullday preschool program (which is paid for on a sliding scale basis) and notes that
"While preschool is optional, most parents choose to send their children because they work outside the home. (Municipalities also pay mothers a small stipend to stay home and care for their children until they are three years old.)"

Lisa said...

Just noting that encouraging independence and self-sufficiency as suggested in the list will make you a known ' kook' and probably a negligent parent.

Nature Creek Farm said...

I just want to say, Allison, that you covered the basics quite well. The only thing I can add is that I went to a 2-room school until 6th grade. The teachers had no principal or superintendent on premises, and often had to help prepare the lunch in the basement. They left the older kids supervising the younger ones (3rd and 6th). Variations in maturity could be compensated for because everyone heard and sometimes participated in the other classes' lessons. You had 3 years to review 1st grade while you sat quietly being done with your own homework. The modern mechanization of children by age is one of the worst things we have done in the factory. I rarely associated with my own grade kids until forced to do so. Teachers have dug some holes themselves, but in general, everyone has contributed to this system of systems where decisions are made by numbers on a spreadsheet instead of actual sensible awareness and reason. Somehow, we have to establish education that does not teach by budget to a paradigm of industrialization. It's time to treat children as the human beings they will become, not as the babies they were.