Is your child ready for first grade — in 1979?

A generation ago, children weren’t escorted everywhere by a parent.

A 1979 guide for parents — Is Your Child Ready for First Grade — shows how much things have changed, writes ChicagoNow blogger Christine Whitley.

In addition to the child’s age and teeth, the list asks:

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?

These days, most children learn to write letters and numbers and count pennies in preschool. Long before first grade, they’re used to being away from Mom. But they’ve never walked to a friend’s house or talked to a crossing guard.

Whitley has no idea if her six-year-old could walk four to eight blocks, she writes. “I’ve never let her even try! I’d probably be reported to the police if I did try!”

Slate’s KJ Antonia considers herself a “free-range” parent for letting a seven-year-old walk to a friend’s house unaccompanied and leaving a nine-year-old in charge of younger siblings. But she can’t imagine letting a pre-first grader walk “four to eight blocks” alone, even though Antonia thinks she did it herself at that age.

When did it become bizarre for kids to walk in their own neighborhoods? My daughter walked or bicycled to elementary school, the library and to friend’s houses in the late ’80s. Once she got lost for awhile. Another time, she was chased by an older, larger girl, the Catholic school’s official bully. She dealt with it.

Being 12

Twelve-year-olds in New York City talk to WNYC about Being 12.

Kids don’t want to grow up

Most of Michael Godsey’s high school students don’t want to prepare for college or careers, he writes in The Atlantic. Adolescence is fun. Adult life holds little appeal.

After years of teaching AP English, Godsey now teaches average students. They enjoy reading books written for or about teens, but appear “utterly bored” when counselors talk to them about “college pathways.” They’re not interested in exploring careers either.  They want to stay kids as long as they can. 

Technology lessons don’t appeal. His school’s “Bring Your Own Device Day” was a flop. Only five of his 150 students brought a device they wouldn’t otherwise have taken to school.

 One of the teens explained to me, “We like using our phones and laptops for games and talking to each other, but we don’t really want use them for school.”  

. . . A recent nationwide survey by NuVoodoo shows that while most people, regardless of age, use Facebook, teens say Instagram—which is used by just 16 percent of middle-aged adults—is their “most important” social network. My students for their part prefer to communicate through Snapchat, a photo-messaging application in which the messages “disappear” within ten seconds of being viewed. According to researchers at the University of Washington, most Snapchat users—59 percent—primarily rely on the app to share funny content like “photos of stupid faces.” Not surprisingly, Snapchat is used by just 4 percent of middle-aged adults.

Unless we can find a way to “make adulthood more appealing or adolescence less luxurious,” college and career readiness programs won’t reach their full potential, Godsey writes. That sounds like  job for parents.

Average (non-AP-taking) high school students typically enroll in a community college or not-very-selective four-year institution. Weak on academic skills and motivation, a majority will quit before earning a degree. Some will complete a vocational certificate in a technical or medical field and get a decent job. Many will find adult life just as difficult and unfulfilling as they’d imagined as teenagers.

U.S. “millennials” (16- to 34-year-olds) do poorly in literacy, numeracy and problem solving compared to young adults in other developed countries, according to a new ETS analysis.

KidZania: Playing at adulthood

Fighting fires — real water, fake fire — is one of the most popular jobs in Kidzania parks around the world.

KidZania theme parks offer children a thrill better than any ride, writes Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker. Children between the ages of four and fourteen get a “chance to enact the roles of grownups in a lavishly realized, scaled-down world.”

The idea started in Mexico, spread to cities in a dozen other countries, including Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, and Istanbul, and is now coming to the U.S.

At the KidZania in Jakarta, Indonesian girls use a flight simulator to work as pilots.

At the KidZania in Jakarta, Indonesian girls use a flight simulator to work as pilots.

“KidZania is a proudly mundane municipality: children can work on a car assembly line, or move furniture, or put out a fake fire with real water,” Mead writes.

Children receive 50 “kidzos” at the gate and earn more by  participating in an activity.

“Children can spend their kidzos on renting a car—small electric vehicles moving around a go-kart track that is sponsored by companies like Mercedes-Benz or Renault—or at the mini city’s department store, which bears the name of a regional chain and is stocked with covetable trinkets,” writes Mead.

In Mexico, kids tend to spend their kidzos immediately after earning them; in Japan, it is difficult to persuade children to part with their kidzos at all. López jokes that when KidZania arrives in the U.S. kids will demand the introduction of a credit card. In Lisbon, kids mostly come with their parents, whereas in the Gulf states they are often accompanied by nannies or dropped off by drivers. . . .  In KidZania Jeddah, which is scheduled to open in Saudi Arabia later this month, girls will be permitted to drive cars, a privilege denied their mothers.

Japanese girls "work" as dentists.

Japanese girls “work” as dentists.

At Cuicuilco in Mexico, a crashed car sit beside the highway, “its buckled engine periodically emitting steam, to illustrate the dangers of careless driving. I saw children with clipboards acting as insurance agents, taking an inventory of the accident.”

“This is not princesses and dwarfs, ” says Xavier López Ancona, the founder and CEO. “We immerse our visitors in a simulated reality.”

Mead’s son earned kidzos by delivering packages. He also worked as a detective, using the crime lab to identify a bank-robbery suspect, passed his driver’s test and “flew” a plane.

Walking alone leads to child neglect scrutiny

The day before I started kindergarten, my mother walked me and my six-year-old sister to school and back as a practice run. After that, I walked with my sister or with other baby boomer kids. Nobody was escorted to school by a parent.

After school, we might play at school or in the park or explore the ravines. We had to be home for dinner.

The Meitiv children walk in their suburban neighborhood.

The Meitiv children walk in their neighborhood.

Maryland parents are being investigated for neglect after letting their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter walk home from the park, reports the Washington Post. It’s about a mile to their home in a safe suburb, say Danielle and Alexander Meitiv.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

On Dec. 20, someone saw the children walking without an adult and called the police, who drove them home and demanded the father produce ID. Raised in the Soviet Union, he refused, but gave in when six patrol cars rolled up at their house. He agreed to go upstairs for his ID, Danielle told Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids.

The officer said—in front of the kids—that if he came down with anything else, “shots would be fired.” She proceeded to follow him upstairs, and when he said she had no right to do so without a warrant, she insisted that she did.

“Don’t you realize how dangerous the world is?” an officer told the father. “Don’t you watch TV?”

Montgomery County Child Protective Services threatened to take the children away if the Meitivs stick to their “free-range” parenting philosophy, writes Danielle.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

“Parenthood is an exercise in risk management,” she said. “Every day, we decide: Are we going to let our kids play football? Are we going to let them do a sleep­over? Are we going to let them climb a tree? We’re not saying parents should abandon all caution. We’re saying parents should pay attention to risks that are dangerous and likely to happen.”

Child abductions are extremely rare, she points out. The children have been taught how to cross streets safely.

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander said. “We feel we’re being bullied into a point of view about child-rearing that we strongly disagree with.”

CPS has demanded entry to the home without a warrant and interviewed the children at school while investigating the Meitivs for neglect. In November, CPS cited the parents for neglect for letting their kids play in the neighborhood park without supervision.

Both scientists, the Meitivs are educated, assertive, articulate and affluent. Call it Parenting While White. They’ve researched child neglect laws, which ban leaving young kids home alone but don’t say they can’t walk or play outside. They can afford a lawyer. And yet, they’re taking a risk by claiming their right to decide what’s best for their children.

Summer jobs save lives

New York City teens who got a summer job didn’t earn more three years later, concludes a study that compared participants to applicants who lost the lottery. Getting a summer job didn’t change the odds of college enrollment.

But summer job participants were more likely to be alive three years later, researchers found. The incarceration rate fell by more than 10 percent and mortality by almost 20 percent for former summer job participants.

Youths clean up blight in Memphis as part of an anti-crime program. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Jim Weber)

Youths clean up blight in Memphis as part of an anti-crime program. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Jim Weber)

In Chicago, summer workers from high-poverty neighborhoods were less likely to commit a violent crime, another study found. Arrest rates for violence fell by 43 percent over 13 months.

“It might be teaching youths that not everything that happens is an affront to them, not to get quite so angry and not to throw that punch,” said Sara Heller, a Penn criminology professor. “It’s teaching them to manage their own thoughts and emotions more constructively.”

Fewer teens — especially low-income, minority youths — have summer jobs, according to a new report. Over the past 12 years, youth employment has declined by 40 percent. In 2013, “white male youths from high-income families were five times more likely to be employed than black male youths from low-income families.”

A Jewish parent’s guide to Christmas specials



Dahlia Lithwick offers a Jewish parent’s guide to TV Christmas specials.

In her generation, Jewish kids were permitted to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Year Without a Santa Claus. Their children also can watch them.

Jewish parents avoid Jesus, Santa (and Rudolph), saints and resurrections (including Frosty), Lithwick writes.

“Perhaps my favorite e-mail laying out a Unified Theory of Jewish Christmas Viewing drew the line thus: ‘claymation and puppets, esp. from Europe = yes; cheap animation and pop music, esp. from US = no’.”

Yet “apparently all Jewish children are permitted to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas,” even though it ends with Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14: “Fear not: For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you.”

 . . . there’s something about that poor schlump of a Charlie Brown and his inability to get into the spirit of Christmas (much less receive a single Christmas card) that speaks to the Jewish people. Indeed, if there is a more profoundly Jewish line than Linus’ “How can you take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem?” I have yet to hear it.

Many Jewish kids watched the Grinch every year, because the Boris Karloff version was “a classic.”

But dig a little deeper and what surfaces is a universal (and discomfiting) sense that the Grinch is a fundamentally Jewish show because the Grinch himself is a fundamentally Jewish character. I got one e-mail that concluded, “Who is more of a Grinch than a grumpy old Jew?” And a Jew with a heart problem no less?

The Year Without a Santa Claus clearly violates the “No Santa” rule, and yet is considered Jewishly acceptable, she writes. Perhaps Jews like to see Christmas under threat — even if it’s saved in the end, Lithwick speculates.

I didn’t watch Christmas specials as a kid or a parent, except for Charlie Brown. Well, I did love Menotti’s opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, if that counts.

When a classmate disses Santa

“Santa isn’t real,” a third-grader told his classmates — including Jessica Lahey’s son. What’s a mother to do?
“Well, that’s just crazy talk,” she said.

That night, he appeared in the living room in his pajamas. “Part of my brain tells me I believe in Santa, and part of my brain tells me it’s the parents,” he said.

“Santa is real because he lives in our hearts, and the magic of Christmas is still alive because Ben gets to help it live on in his little brother, Finn,” she said.

“I wish I didn’t know,” Ben said, as he went to bed. But he returned from school the next day with plans to help his little brother write a letter to Santa.

We all moved on. Well, Ben moved on. I wanted to tie his truth-telling classmate to a medieval torture device. Instead, I spoke to Peter’s mother and gave her some casual, friendly feedback that although I completely understood her family’s ideological stance on Santa Claus, for the sake of her younger children’s classmates, they might want to keep their family’s reality within their family, particularly around the holidays.

A week later, Ben walked into the kitchen with a very odd look on his face — knowledge mixed with some smugness — and declared, “Hold on. If you guys are Santa, then that means you are also the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.”

Now the little brother is 11 and putting “this ‘Tooth Fairy’ thing” in air quotes. The era of credulity is over.

My Jewish family celebrated a secular/pagan Christmas. I still use the felt-on-cardboard Santa tree-topper they got 60 years ago. (My father said a star was too religious, but Santa was OK.)

When my much younger brother was in second or third grade, our father asked: “So, David, what do you think of this Santa thing?”

“Well,” said David. “I like to go along with the gag.”

He’ll be visiting with his family — including a six-year-old daughter and almost four -year-old son — so we will be a Santa-believing household.

‘Inside Out’ the tween mind

Five emotions star in Pixar’s new movie, Inside Out, reports Dee Lockett on Slate. The first trailer is out.

The princess-free movie takes place in the mind of 11-year-old Riley but stars Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), “one of five emotions who steer Riley through life via a control center in her mind that’s akin to the bridge from the Starship Enterprise,” writes Kyle Buchanan.

Joy and her cohorts—including Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith)—all work together to keep Riley emotionally balanced. . .

As adolescence sets in, Sadness and Joy compete for control, while “Fear, Disgust and Anger collude to transform Riley into a moody preteen.”

Teach gratitude by giving kids less

A Pick a Brick Wall at a Legos store.

Teach your kids to be grateful by giving them less, writes Jenn Choi in The Atlantic.

Tired of her kids’ picky, wasteful eating habits, she consulted Susan Roberts, author of My Kid Eats Everything. Children are less likely to help prepare food, set the table, clear and do dishes, says Roberts. They just sit there and expect to be fed. If the family eats out often, children get used to ordering what they want instead of eating what’s been cooked for the whole family.

Choi decided her eldest son, a 9-year-old, would make the July 4th cheeseburgers. He helped buy the ground beef,   then made the patties, grilled them on the barbecue and washed the dishes.

To teach her kids to value their toys, she took them to a Lego store. At the Pick A Brick Wall, they saw children “dumping handfuls of bricks into containers that customers could buy for a fixed price ($7.99 for the small and $14.99 for the large).”

I gave the kids two options: get the small container and not be questioned about its contents or the bigger container but only if they followed my lesson on being resourceful. I would pay for only one option. They chose the latter. So to gain the most value for our money, I asked them to snap a row of same-color bricks together and then carefully place them into the container. . . .

It was a laborious process, but her kids saw they could get a lot more bricks.

After all that hard work of stacking as many as 270 (1×4) bricks into that one container, they poured in their favorite pieces into the many gaps between the stacks. These were tiny translucent studs that they use as “treasures” when they play. Since then, my kids have become more enthusiastic about building and take better care of the bricks they own.

Now, they always go to their favorite bricks first, the ones they worked so hard to get.

And if they’re not grateful for their toys,Choi will pack them up and donate them to someone who will be.

We spent Thanksgiving in the Chicago suburbs with the granddaughters, who are used to getting what they want and own many toys. We gave the five-year-old her birthday present, a family trip to see a child’s version of The Wizard of Oz. They’ll visit us in California after Christmas. Maybe we’ll give them a day at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose.