Today, I saw a post on Facebook of a 1954 Kindergarten report card. The grades were for participation and socialization in class (for instance, listens nicely to stories, plays nicely with others, being polite and kind), and physical skills such as cutting with scissors, writing your first name, is able to skip and tying shoes. I went to Kindergarten in 1958. I remember walking to school with my mother and spending most of the day playing, or what I thought was play. In reality, all of the play we did were learning experiences. We painted, learning the proper way to hold the brush and learning colors at the same time. We learned how to throw and catch a ball, how to hop and skip and how to balance. We learned cooperation through the games we played. We built with blocks and used modeling clay, learning spatial relationships. Everything we did in Kindergarten was a learning experience but to us, it was playing. Because there was not as much focus on academics at that age, we learned how to behave well. We were taught manners and other social skills. We also learned our letters and numbers, learned to tell time and learned our days of the week and months of the year. We memorized our address and phone numbers.
Through no fault of their own, teachers today are so focused on teaching children to read and write and do math at such an early age, those social skills are often getting lost in the shuffle. In a perfect world, children would be learning those things at home. However, that isn’t always the case. I know of some families in which children don’t play outside every day. They don’t have their parents playing outside with them, teaching them important lessons. They don’t explore their neighborhoods as I did. There are not gangs of kids outside playing ball or tag or other social games. This is a great loss for our society. In any given day, how many children are sitting by themselves after school reading, playing video games or watching television? They are lucky if they have siblings so that they’re not totally isolated from their peers, but not every child has a sibling, and not every parent sets up regular playdates for them.
Let’s look at just one academic skill … reading. It used to be that kids learned their letters in Kindergarten. In first grade they moved on to simple reading and most of them progressed very quickly from there. However, some kids are not ready until much later. Those children who are not developmentally ready experience extreme stress that often carries on into later grades. Some children are ready to read at an earlier age. My daughter taught herself to read at age 4. She was always read to from the time she was an infant and had started to recognize letters and then words. I never actively taught her. She was just ready. One of her brothers also learned to read before starting school. Their other brother did not and resisted learning until he was around age 9 or 10. When I worked in alternative education, I had a student whose parents were both very well-read lawyers. She refused to learn to read until she was 11 and then read voraciously. She did not fall behind because she started late. Children who are behind the others in reading or other skills, feel like failures. They can’t keep up in class and often carry that sense of failure with them into higher grades. They also often stop trying.
But the real loss here is the lack of play-based, experiential learning that is so important at young ages. Through play, children learn to experiment and discover on their own which aids in their further learning. Finland’s education system is among the best in the world. They have figured out how important play is for learning. Our kids need to foster independence. They need to learn independent learning as well as learning how to navigate a complex world. They need to find out what questions they want answered. In our current educational system, everything is so regimented, they never have a chance to think for themselves. They have a ridiculously short amount of time for recess, which is one of the most important parts of a school experience. This is where they make lasting friends, learn to treat each other well, learn sharing and cooperation and so much more. Young children are not wired to sit still in a classroom for hours at a time. They need to move their bodies. Even the NEA is reexamining the current academic standards for Kindergarteners.
One of the other things that I think is very wrong with our current educational system is the amount of homework given, even in Kindergarten. Instead of encouraging our children to be kids for as long as they can, which is such a relatively short time, we are teaching them to be automatons that can reguritate facts and pass useless tests. Then, we complain that kids are growing up too fast. Is it any wonder? We are taking their childhoods away from them, in some cases as early as preschool.
Here is an example of an eighth grade test given in Omaha Nebraska in the 1800's where the school year was much shorter and resources for education were very slight. All of the students were in the same room with one teacher who was responsible for all of the grade levels. There was no homework given, and the school year was 134 days long.
Grammar (Time, 1 hour)
1. Give the nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define: Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give the Principal Parts of do, lie, lay, and run.
5. Define Case. Illustrate each case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation. 7-10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show there in that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.
ARITHMETIC (Time, 1 1/2 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 pounds, what is it worth at 50 cts. per bu., deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6,720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 per cent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per in.?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 per cent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.
U.S. HISTORY (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion
ORTHOGRAPHY (Time, 1 1/2 hours)
1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, Phonetic, Orthography, Etymology, Syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, Subvocals, Diphthong, Cognate, Linguals?
4. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
5. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: Bi, Dis, Mis, Pre, Semi, Post, Non, Inter, Mono, Super
6. Mark diacritically and divided into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
7. Use the following correctly in sentences: Cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vein, raze, raise, rays.
Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.
I find this very interesting. Given that we have a much longer school year, shorter recess, more homework and very high expectations, it seems to me that we should much further ahead if our new standards are working. I encourage you to talk to some teachers about how they feel about their jobs in today's schools. Unfortunately, they are not able to teach. Rather, they drill preset lessons into the heads of mostly reluctant children so they can pass tests. ANd, how much practical learning are they getting? In Omaha, a farming community, their math lessons are based on what they need to know. And obviously, those who wanted more could get it. There were no limits placed on them.
Here are a few articles for continued reading: