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:
Okay, I know it's the holiday season, but my mind goes to birthdays because my granddaughter's birthday is Christmas Day. While I was raising her, we celebrated her birthday first thing in the morning with a fruited coffee cake or a shortcake for breakfast, complete with candles and singing. We weren't celebrating Christmas at that time and had already done our Solstice celbration, so it was just her birthday ... until we went to visit other relatives who did have Christmas. Most of her friends couldn't or wouldn't come to a party during the holiday break, so I started giving her a half-birthday party in the summer. For children with winter birthday near the holidays, this is a great option. They are usually a little overwhelmed with gifts or sometimes feel cheated. Even my son, whose birthday is in early February, often felt a little cheated around his birthday. Everyone is burnt out from the holidays, and the stores are often sold out of the "cooler" gifts, having cleared their shelves for inventory. He loved his summer party!
In the summer, you can do your party outdoors, even at a beach or park. That's often a better option than cramming a dozen or more kids, especiually high-strung active boys, into your house. It's also easier to keep them occupied - they will actually occupy themselves easily. When you're indoors, you have to come up with a plan. I remember deciding to do a piñata for one of my son's birthday parties, not taking into consideration that I would have a crowd of stir-crazy kids. I thought they were going to wreck my house swinging that pole around. Luckily it had a happy ending with my stereo intact, but you get the idea.
For a few years, I worked as a party planner for kids parties. It was a lot of fun. I met with them and asked for a theme then created activities around that theme. The cake was up to the parents, but everything else was mine to determine. One girl wanted a beading party, so each of her guest made an item of jewelry to take home. Another girl wanted a circus theme. The decorations were easy, and we did face painting, I set up a balance beam for a tightwire walk and had other fun circus related activities. I've done dinosaurs, fairies, outer space and more. I'd had a lot of experience with my own kids who always challenged my creativity, so I was ready for that job.
If you don't have a party planner, the job can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. Try to keep it simple. Choose a few simple games, keeping in mind the ages and temperments of the kids attending. An indoor piñata might not be the best choice for a group of rowdy kids (lol). Choose at least one quiet sit-down game too, to reengage the focus after an energetic activity. Some simple ideas are having them color their own solid color paper placemat before sitting down to eat, or having a bowl of jokes for them to pick and read aloud. Depending on the age and number of party-goers, a new and fun board game could be an option. Madlibs are always a hit, and they have a variety of themes. With the very young, music and art are good options. They may not stay entertained for long, but they will be drawn in for a little while. Toddlers can do playdough or fingerpaint with pudding on a large plastic mat on the floor or at a table. A shower curtain works great for this and can be picked up at a Dollar Store. I used to just hose it off and save it for the next time.
So what do you do about your space? I always suggest putting away any toys that your child feels protective of, no matter what age they are. You can't always reason with them, and a birthday party is not the time to teach that lesson. You can make it easier on everyone by thinking ahead and removing potential threats. Also, remember that not every child attending knows your house and your rules. Once again, think ahead and childproof your house for a party. Do you have pets? Some children may be frightened or may be too rough. Think ahead and have a safe place for your pet. Also, if you have an entertainer come to your house, set them up in a room cleared of distractions. As a performer who works birthday parties, I know there's nothing harder than trying engage a group of kids where there are toys available. Do your performer a favor and leave the toys for before and after the show.
Now, what do you do if your child has been invited to someone's party? Always ask if you are expected or encouraged to attend with your child. This may not be applicable to older kids, but the host might actually appreciate your help, especially if they are already your friend. If they're not, what better way to get to know them than offering to help out. Don't be offended if they refuse. They may already have the help they need, and you might be in the way. If you are asked to stay, be helpful but not invasive. Your child is someone lese's home with their set of rules. You are there to help, not to interfere.
Be sure to talk to your child ahead of time about your expectations for their behavior, though most kids are better behaved when we're not around them. Do they have food allergies or other food restrictions? If so, be sure to let the host know well ahead of time. They are already doing an enormous amount of planning. It's not fair to spring that on them and not fair to put your child in a position of having to refuse something. It makes them stand out - not necessarily what they want. My daughter was not allowed sugar when she was young. We just didn't have it in the house, and neither did our friends at the time. When she started kindergarten, she was invited to a friend's house for a playdate. She came home in tears because she was offered kool-aid and cookies and thought she had to refuse because of the sugar restriction. It never occured to me that she would not accept it when offered by someone else. I quickly assured her that the rules were for our household, and when she was at a friend's house, she could choose for herself. If she'd had an allergy, that would be different, but it was just a decision I had made as a parent. I decided that it was okay for her to eat differently once in a while.
I think that two of the most important qualities of good parenting are flexibility and creativity. We want our children to learn to make rational decisions, but we also want them to grow to be productive kind and thoughtful adults. We need to know when to stand our ground and when to back off and let them blunder. We need to think quick on our feet and be willing to compromise. Birthday parties are no exception to this, whether we are throwing the party or attending. They are supposed to be fun for everyone, including the parents, so enjoy yourself!
I am always looking for blog post ideas. It can be a little overwhelming to come up with weekly topics, and I always appreciate your suggestions. Please keep them coming. Teaching gratitude was one that came up, but I wasn't sure how to approach this one and have thought about it for months. I realized that it is an important thing to be thinking about at this time of year when many of us are receiving and giving gifts. I give gifts with no expectations but I also know that's not true for everyone. And, who doesn't want to be appreciated for what they've done whether it's giving a gift or showing kindness in some way?
Of course, we want our children to show gratitude for things that they're given or things people have done for them. In past generations, thank-you notes were a staple. Now, I can't think of very many people who send them, though there are a few. In my classes, parents often remind their children to thank me when I had out instruments or props, while others just thank me themselves. Some don't even do that, which is fine, maybe they're distracted or just not thinking about it. I have never looked at it as a requirement. Occasionally, I get thank-you cards from my families, which is always very sweet. I'd like to believe that children who are encouraged at a very young age, will get it, but I know that might be a little naive.
The best way to teach anything is by modeling the behavior we want to encourage. Some children pick up on manners easily just by observing, while others don't. My grandson was not one of those who picked it up easily, though he certainly was taught well. I remember one Christmas Day at my parents' house when he was given a gift that we all knew he had asked for. My mother had checked beforehand to be sure that she got something he would love because he often made disparaging remarks about gifts given to him, or just rudely tossed them aside. We had no idea that someone else had already gifted him this lego set that he now opened. When he saw it, he rolled his eyes and said in a very snotty tone, "Oh great, I already have this!" Then he tossed it aside. His mother and I got up simultaneously, she reached him first and hauled him outside. You can guess the rest of the story except that, he was a very stubborn child and never made amends. He had consequences, limits and more consequences throughout his childhood and was just his own person. Nothing anyone did seemed to make any difference. Now, he is a wonderful adult, thoughtful and kind, and he expresses gratitude. But as a child ...
So the short answer is, I don't really know how to teach gratitude. I think the best we can do is encourage it along with other behaviors and start nice and early so that it's second nature. I know that it doesn't work to punish or push too hard. I think sometimes we just have to hope for the best. I also know that eventually children grow up and find their own way. Hopefully, like with my grandson, the lessons stick.