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.

How schools can close marriage gap

Schools can promote marriage and upward mobility by preparing disadvantaged students for college or careers, writes Mike Petrilli. High-quality career and technical education (CTE) is a “solid pathway to postsecondary education and remunerative and satisfying work.”

“Middle-skill jobs” that require a vocational certificate or two-year degree pay well in fields such as health care and information technology, Petrilli writes. While European countries prepare 40 to 70 percent of young people for technical jobs, “we remain obsessed with the four-year college degree” in the U.S. Fewer high school students are concentrating in career and technical education here than 20 years ago.

A student at Oklahoma’s Ardmore High School, works on an assignment for his Biotechnical program, which is designed to lead to careers in fields like chemistry and microbiology. (Photo by Tom Fields/Oklahoma

A student at Oklahoma’s Ardmore High School, works on an assignment for his Biotechnical program. (Photo by Tom Fields/Oklahoma

“Career academies” — typically small vocational programs within large high schools — combine academic and technical training. A randomized MDRC study found career-academy graduates earned more, worked more and were more strongly attached to the labor market, compared to a control group, writes Petrilli.  The effect was strongest for black and Latino males.

Even more striking is that, years after high school, career-academy graduates were more likely to be married and living with their spouse than their peers in a control group.

It’s not clear whether they “developed skills that helped them form more stable relationships or became more ‘marriageable’ because of their stronger career prospects,” writes Petrilli.

How to raise kids who love to read

Raising Kids Who ReadIn his new book, Raising Kids Who Read, Daniel Willingham explains the “difference between teaching kids to read and teaching them to love reading,” writes Cory Turner on NPR.

A University of Virginia psychology professor, Willingham wants his children to share his love of reading. “If the goal is to become a good citizen or the goal is to make a lot of money, I can think of more direct ways to reach those goals than to read during your leisure time.”

He advises parents to play games that help toddlers hear speech sounds. “Rhyming games, reading aloud books that have a lot of rhyme in them and other types of wordplay, like alliteration. That’s helpful.”

Then it’s time for Dr. Seuss and banana-fana-fo-fana.

 If you had a child named Billy. You could say, “Daddy’s name is Cory. What if we took the first sound in Billy’s name, and my name is now Bory?” That kind of stuff is comic gold for kids.

If parents read, their children see themselves as being part of a “family of readers,” says Willingham.

Cubby, on the 1950s' Mickey Mouse Club, was my first crush.

Cubby, on the 1950s’ Mickey Mouse Club, was my first crush.

But “it’s not enough that the child like reading,” he says. Parents need to limit access to digital devices that provide instant, varied and effortless entertainment. It’s not that attention spans are shrinking, he says. “What’s changed is our attitudes and beliefs. And our attitudes and beliefs are, ‘Bored is not a normal state of affairs. I really should never be bored’.”

I’m so old that I remember when my family got our first TV.  My sister and I — probably both still in nursery school — were allowed to watch for 30 minutes a day. We chose The Mickey Mouse Club over Howdy Doody. By the time we were too old for Micky, we were enthusiastic readers.

In his advice for schools, Willingham stresses that teaching decoding skills is only the first step to reading. To understand what they read, students need to build vocabulary and background knowledge.

Many schools go heavy on reading skills but ignore knowledge, notes Karin Chenoweth. Students don’t enjoy reading things they can’t understand.

For a New York Times parenting blog, Willingham talked to Jessica Lahey about what not to worry about in teaching young children to read.

Parents get beyond the blame game

Parents in poor communities do care about their children’s schooling, writes Alan Richard for the Hechinger Report.

Parents work on materials. Photo by Alan Richard

Mississippi parents list their concerns. Photo by Alan Richard

In desperately poor Greenwood, Mississippi, “parents are gathering regularly to chart a course for better schools, a better community and better lives for their families,” he writes.

The national nonprofit group Parents for Public Schools, has revamped its Parent Engagement Program. PEP chapters have formed in several Mississippi towns and in Cincinnati, Seattle, Kalamazoo, Michigan and Pitt County, North Carolina.

Greenwood PEP co-leader Tijuanda Beckworth, a mother of two, said, “It’s not that you don’t want to be involved in school. It’s more like, what steps do I take?”

“The parents always blame the teachers, the teachers always blame the parents. … You want to get out of the blame game. (It) helped us to strategize, what questions to ask, how to ask those questions” and led everyone to discover “the difference between involvement and engagement,” said Beckworth, whose own participation in PEP led her to start a book club for male students.

At a PEP event held on a Saturday morning, parents discussed their issues with the local public schools, which were taken over by the state due to low performance. The schools lack bilingual staff to serve an influx of Hispanic students, middle schoolers have been crammed into classrooms meant for early childhood classes and schools haven’t explained how instruction is changing to meet Common Core standards.

Milestones: Is your child on track in school?

Great Schools has created Milestones videos to help parents understand grade-level expectations in reading, writing and math for first through fifth grade. Here’s
first-grade math word problems.

Who’s responsible for poor kids?

Matilde Ascencio holds her 18-month-old daughter Vitzal as she waits in line to receive food aid in a Chicago suburb. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The U.S. is not the land of opportunity for the children of poorly educated parents, writes social scientist Robert Putnam in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

When Putnam finished high school in 1959 in a small Ohio town, factory jobs provided steady paychecks for classmates who didn’t go to college. Now there are few steady jobs for workers with only a high school diploma.

“There’s such instability in the families of poor kids that 60 to 70 percent of them — of all races — are living in single-parent families,” Putnam told NPR’s Scott Simon. In the wealthiest fifth of families, only 6 percent of children are raised by a single parent.

If you have two educated parents, “you’ll have a larger vocabulary, you’ll know more about the world,” Putnam said, and such children will have “a lot of adults in their life that are reaching out to help them. They tell them about what it means to go to college.”

Not-very-educated single parents, short on time and money, are less likely to take their kids to soccer practice, dance class or church, Putnam found.

Sympathy for poor children isn’t enough, writes New York Times columnist David Brooks. We need to reintroduce social norms, such as what it means to be a good father.

These norms “were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism, which refused to assert that one way of behaving was better than another,” he writes. We don’t want to hold people responsible for their choices.

People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions: Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good? Are you living for yourself or for your children? Do you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires?

Privileged people could do better too, Brooks concludes, though he’s not clear on how.

Liberals made a “historic mistake” 50 years ago when they rejected the Moynihan report’s warning “that the rise of single-parent households would make poverty more intractable,” writes Nicholas Kristof, also in the New York Times.

“From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history,” wrote Moynihan. “A community that allows large numbers of young men to grow up in broken families … never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos.”

Opting out of opting out

Brooklyn parents protest new Common Core-aligned tests. Photo: Girlray/Flickr

Mike Thomas, who writes for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, is opting in to testing for his children.

Amanda Ripley, who wrote The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, tweeted: “What would you like to opt your kid out of?”

Thomas lists his favorite responses:

We really have had people opt out of lice checks. Apparently we have right to lice.

We should not be labeling kids w/lice as failures. “I AM MORE THAN MY LICE CHECK RESULTS!!!!

I’d opt my kid out of going to school w/kids whose parents opted them out of vaccinations.

Lockdown drills. Acne. Writing bibliographies.

Braces. They make kids cry. Also: cavities.

Birthday parties for kids you kind of know.

Lice, acne, braces, bibliographies — and school tests — are the challenges of life, Thomas concludes.

Ann Whalen rounds up opt-out and opt-in news on Education Post.

Rebecca Mead’s son attends a Brooklyn school where 70 percent of parents have opted out of testing.

Parents held responsible for ‘unsubstantiated’ neglect

“Free-range” parents have been found “responsible” for “unsubstantiated” child neglect because they let their kids — ages 10 and 6 — walk home from a park near their Maryland home, reports the Washington Post.

Montgomery County Child Protective Services investigated Danielle and Alexander Meitiv’s parenting for two months before reaching that Orwellian verdict.

An “unsubstantiated” finding is made when Montgomery County Child Protective Services has “some information supporting a conclusion of child neglect, or when seemingly credible reports are at odds with each other, or when there is insufficient information for a more definitive conclusion,” an official told the Post. 

CPS will “keep a file open” on the family for at least five years. If the parents are caught again giving their kids a bit of independence . . . Who knows?

How to parent like a German


Photo by Metro Centric

Parenting like a German means giving kids more freedom, Sara Zaske writes in Time.

The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

Despite the stereotypes, Germans are mellow parents, she writes. “Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone.” It’s not called “free-range parenting.” It’s normal.

Kindergarten is considered a time for play and social learning. Children are learn to read in first grade, but “academics aren’t pushed very hard.”  A half day of instruction includes two outdoor recesses.

German children play outside every day. If it’s cold, they bundle up.

Starting first grade is marked by a big party called Einschulung.

 In Berlin, Einschulung is a huge celebration at the school—on a Saturday!—that includes getting a Zuckertute—a giant child-sized cone filled with everything from pencils to watches to candy. Then there’s another party afterwards with your family and friends. Einschulung is something children look forward to for years. It signals a major life change, and hopefully, an enthusiasm for learning.

There’s another big party when a child turns 14.

A teacher’s job