Is Your Child Ready for First Grade: 1979 Edition

Is Your Child Ready for First Grade: 1979 Edition
In 1979 the blog author was 10 years old

A commenter reminded me, a few posts back, about the Louise Bates Ames series based on the work of the Gesell Institute of Human Development. Each book is titled Your _____ Year-Old (fill in the age). I have read all of them up until Your Five-Year-Old. Maybe by then I thought I had it figured out because I didn’t order Your Six-Year-Old.

Last week a neighbor mentioned that she was reading Your Six-Year-Old (we both have girls going into the first grade) and that she found it really helpful. So I went ahead and ordered the book. A-HA!

Now I get it! The title says it all — Your Six-Year-Old: Loving and Defiant.

So anyway, I ran across this very interesting checklist of items to assess whether or not your child is prepared for all-day first grade. This book was first published in 1979, so I have to say it comes across as quite dated at times. So let’s take a look, shall we? The idea here is that about 10 yesses out of this list of 12 would indicate readiness for 1st 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?

Based on this criteria, my six-year-old is ready for first grade, but just barely. Who knows if she can travel around four to eight blocks by herself? I’ve never let her even try! I’d probably be reported to the police if I did try!

She would probably be more appropriate (the authors suggest) for half-day first grade. I’ve never even heard of half-day first grade. Does that even exist anywhere outside of maybe a Waldorf School?

What do you think about this? Are we pushing and expecting too much of our kids these days? Or did we underestimate our kids back in the 70’s?


Filed under: Uncategorized


Leave a comment
  • I'm laughing at the thought of sending a six-year-old on a 4-8 block mission to see if they make it there and home ok. :)

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to fantabandfrugal:

    Why? Every child when I was growing up (I am 38) could do just that, as could every child generations before. AND crime and kidnappings were more prevalent then than now. Children haven't suddenly become less able to handle a bit of freedom. Parents are the one who have become less able.

  • In reply to fantabandfrugal:

    I'm pretty sure my six-year-old could do it. Especially if the errand meant sending her to the ice cream shop five blocks away. But I can only imagine the trouble I would find myself in if anyone found her walking alone that far from home. I got lectured at the grocery store the other day for sending her a few aisles over to get pasta by herself!

  • I love that series of books! My just-turned-7 year old started walking our dog by himself this summer and he loves nothing more - sweet freedom! That was actually one of the big reasons I wanted a dog; he gives the boys a companion and a teeny bit of protection so that they can go out on their own (my 10-year old will take him on 45-minute walks along the beach path near our house).

    I think we underestimate what our kids can handle in terms of freedom now, and at times we overestimate (or push) them academically. Or, maybe what it comes down to is that we just don't live in a culture - especially in most schools - that looks at them as the individuals they are.

  • In reply to jsadler:

    Another thing about 1979 vs. today? Back then there were other kids outside a lot of the time.

  • fb_avatar

    It's sad and alarming to think that in our safer neighborhoods of today, most won't allow children the freedoms we took for granted in our own childhoods. Imagine what wary, helpless adults this generation will grow up to become.

  • In reply to Jay Robinson:

    You might be right, Jay. But then again....doesn't every generation say this about those that come after them?

  • fb_avatar

    That's what I did as a six-year-old in Moscow. I was sent to fetch bread from a bakery twice a week(Although to be fair I did not have to cross busy roads). By second grade I was riding a public city bus to school all by myself. As far as I know, Russian kids still enjoy this kind of freedom. Russians are fiercely protective of kids, but it does not mean they restrict parents from providing independence for their kids. It's just everyone feels the duty to keep an eye on kids.

  • In reply to Elena:

    Thanks for the international perspective, Elena! I think that was how things used to be here in the states, too. Everyone assumed the best of others. Now I think we all assume our neighbors are child molesters. It's sad because statistically, kidnappings and sexual abuse are less common now!

  • In reply to Elena:

    I have heard from my German friends that it is exactly the same re: movement of young children on public transportation. Fear is crippling us. So very sad that a wise parent can be lectured for sending their child alone on a grocery aisle errand!
    When raising children in the city, it is so hard to find ways for them to experience true and valuable work, requiring ingenuity and the taking of responsibility.

    Amazingly, the checklist presented looks remarkably like the list Waldorf Schools still use when looking at first grade readiness! These schools are excellent at providing learning situations where resilience and self direction are fostered from the beginning early childhood years and throughout the education.

  • In reply to Nomi:

    We have two wonderful Waldorf schools in our area. Sadly, they are both WAY out of our budget.

  • Before this age of instant gratification, more of us grew up in conditions where some level of hardship was the norm. Thrift, that rather old-fashioned habit, was an essential part of even middle class life; things you longed for did not appear instantly but often had to be earned. As a result they were much more valued and appreciated. There was a sense of pride in mastery and achievement, in having worked one’s way to a goal, in having had the experience of some responsibility and power in achieving it, even in very early childhood.

    In this kind of scenario, children experience more challenge, can learn to ‘make-do’, to improvise, and to wait, or to work for sometimes even lengthy periods, to get a prized object, activity, or entertainment. Such self-regulatory experiences are embedded in the child psyche as a result of early learning, as are those feelings of satisfaction and pride that come with personal responsibility for making things happen. One learned, that it wasn’t life-threatening to go without, and that alternative sources of gratification could be found. You also understood that it was not the job of parents or anyone else for that matter, to satisfy one’s every need. The learning that results from these kinds of experiences contributes to the growth of resilience. The resilient child has the capacity to withstand setbacks, to rise to a challenge, to find new ways of solving problems, to feel a sense of self-confidence in managing the social and material world, and to know that hardship can be overcome.

  • In reply to akarmin:

    The great psychologist Alfred Adler said that a pampered child was worse off than a neglected child. I think he was right!

  • I read with interest and recognized my own dilemma when raising my two girls. For us there was a particularly stark contrast because our oldest daughter made the transition to first grade in Germany, where her readiness list reads much like that of the 1979 six year old.

    In Germany, the readiness for school is primarily social and practical with almost no academic, in fact an anti-academic biased, training in Kindergarten.

    Our daughter could read a fair amount when she entered school and knew the alphabet in both English and German but that was a big exception. She could also go to the bakery or market by herself and run small errands. She walked to school by herself after the first day. OK, we weren't in central Berlin but kids there do much the same to this day.

    When we moved back to Los Angeles, we found a world in which children are shuttled to every conceivable destination and are scheduled to exhaustion. We tried to walk a fine line, compromising with the prevailing parental ethos but giving our children a bit more freedom and responsibility for themselves.

    Still, the lack of public transit and the greater distances from our house to local businesses etc. made it difficult to give our younger daughter as much freedom as our older had.

    Our communities are actually safer now, in general, then they were when I was a child in the sixties and yet we coddle and swaddle our children creating young people with difficulty navigating even the most basic daily tasks.

    At the high school where I teach I am constantly amazed at the stream of cars with moms delivering one or the other forgotten item to their students. . . particularly lunch. These are 16 and 17 year olds to a great extent. One might expect adolescents to be able to manage such mundane tasks or suffer the consequences. They won't starve or fail their classes but they might learn something.

    Of course, this seems to be limited to middle class and upper middle class families able to subsidize such obsessive focus on their children's minor day to day needs and wants. Most working class families have more pressing issues to deal with and can't leave jobs to bring their 17 year olds a forgotten lunch.

  • In reply to emgersh:

    I love it when people comment with the European perspective. Sometimes I think that America is such a young country that we, as a culture, have no patience or perspective. We can't wait four our kids to learn to read when they're SEVEN! We need them to read at FOUR!

    I wonder if it's fueled by a tacit anxiety that the East is eclipsing us and we know it.

  • Oh, and. . . the German kids who don't know the alphabet and can't read or write at all when they enter first grade. . . they've caught up or even passed US averages by the end of first or second grade.

  • Quite the opposite -- we expect too little of our children nowadays. I LOVE that knowing how to tell a crossing guard or policeman where you live and navigate your neighborhood were considered essential for a 6-year-old but reading not. We just started sending our SECOND-grader to school and home on her own and I think she is the only one in the grade. The paranoia among parents is ridiculous and I refuse to go along with the crowd on this one.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to CarrieKirby:

    Hi! I am part of the movement Free-Range kids and looking for other parents....we also give our 7 year old freedoms I don't see other parents giving. We live in Wrigleyville, where do you live?

  • In reply to Denise Diaz:

    Hi Denise, we live in Edgewater. Do you think it's a different world fr us urban dwellers? I hear people saying they would consider it if they lived in the suburbs but here in the big city, no way. What do you think?

  • In reply to CarrieKirby:

    Hear, hear, Carrie!

  • I thought the first item incredibly telling. My daughter is 5 in the first grade, as per NYC law, which has all children born in a calendar year in the same grade. She will have been in first grade for 2.5 months before she turns 6. And she lost her first tooth yesterday! No sign of the permanent one yet. So if I answer "no" to one more item (like the 4-8 block thing because we ain't testing out that one any time soon because her father would have a heart attack), she's out.

  • In reply to karikes:

    My daughter is 6 years, 2 months and hasn't lost a single tooth! Not even a loose tooth! She is small, too. I sometimes wish I could have held her back until she caught up socially with the other 1st graders but here in Chicago you don't get that option.

  • Learn To Spell
    The beginning reading program, ClickN READ Phonics, is regarded as cutting edge and the first of its kind by the academic community.

Leave a comment