“Can Your 5-year-old Go to the Store?” Asks a Surprising Document

Readers, my Facebook friend Ali Bergstrom recently showed me a child development form filled out for her son. This is to assess 5-year-old with disabilities:

How many of these do we let our "normal" 5-year-olds do?

How many of these do we let our “normal” 5-year-olds do?

In case this is too hard to read, the benchmarks are:

Child may play safely at home without being watched constantly.

Goes about familiar environment outside of home with only periodic monitoring for safety.

Follows guidelines/expectations of school and community setting.

Explores and functions in familiar community settings without supervision.

Makes transaction in neighborhood store without assistance.

What’s fascinating is that this test is measuring whether a child with disabilities can do the things we no longer allow children WITHOUT disabilities to do.

Contrast the assessment’s expectations with this story from a while back: The 6-year-old detained by the cops for walking to the local post office. The cops thought she was just too young to be out on her own, and that her parents (who had practiced this trip with her) were dangerously negligent.

Negligent? Try empowering! As we can see from the form above, the professionals who work with special needs children understand that for those kids to MAKE IT in the world, they must go out and embrace it!

That goes for ALL kids. Heck, it even goes for adults! It goes for everyone! So, many thanks to Ali, for sharing this. And good luck with your obviously capable child! – L.

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35 Responses to “Can Your 5-year-old Go to the Store?” Asks a Surprising Document

  1. Susan Kissman January 31, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    I have had many a meeting setting IEP’s for my son with autism. Several times I questioned how often “normal” students were required to achieve his level of competence.
    Disabled children are pushed so hard to reach independence, which is wonderful, but the rest of the kids are told you can’t do that. We’ve all seen first graders unable to zip a coat, yet that was on my child’s IEP in kindergarten.

  2. pentamom January 31, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    Hmmm….I’m not sure that it’s assuming that the child will be at the store or in community settings alone, just that he will function alone to some extent while there. “Familiar environment outside of home” may well mean the back yard. While it would be nice if it were the case, I’m not at all convinced that we’re supposed to read this as assuming the child will actually go to the store alone.

    Though admittedly, for the helicopter of helicopters, even being out in the yard alone without more than “periodic monitoring for safety” or being allowed to talk to the Big Story Storeclerk without Mommy is more than some can tolerate. One thing that is undoubtedly implied by this is being able to walk halfway across the library alone.

  3. pentamom January 31, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    Big *Scary* Storeclerk

  4. melanie January 31, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    I took my daughter to the store because we needed crackers. She is 8. I asked her if she thought she could buy the crackers by herself while her siblings and I waited for her at the front of the store. She was incredibly nervous, but after coming back to me 2 or 3 times to verify how much money to give and where the crackers were, she completed the transaction and ran to me beaming. Her dad is out of town and she said “I wish dad was here so I could tell him. He would be so proud!” The boost to her confidence was amazing. What she doesnt know yet is I plan on letting her do at least half the grocery shopping this summer. Figure it will give us something to learn. It is exciting to see a childfigure out just how able they are.

  5. SKL January 31, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Yep, when I was 5 my parents gave me my 25c allowance in glass pop bottles, and I walked (with my similarly-aged siblings) to a store a few blocks away to “cash in” the bottles and figure out how to spend my riches. My parents did NOT accompany us, nor tell us what to do / buy. We learned from each other.

    My kids at 5 had to have contrived opportunities to experience transacting at a store. I had to take them there in a car, and I had to supervise them 100% of the time in the store. Since I can’t make time for this on a regular basis, it didn’t and still doesn’t happen much. I am not sure my kids know what sales tax is even now. :/ Counting change, telling time, navigating around the city grid – stuff you had to know in order to be a kid in my youth – these are optional now, except on the standardized tests. :/ My second-graders almost never use these skills, and only one of them really can with confidence. If the kids weren’t disabled to begin with, we’re disabling them by making it so hard for them to do things for themselves.

  6. SKL January 31, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    I remember an internet conversation a few years ago about how old a child must be before s/he can be one aisle away from the parent in a store. It is downright shocking how many parents claim to be afraid to do this even with their school-aged kids, because their kids would surely be snatched! And also, the kid would have no idea what to do if s/he could not immediately locate Mom. There were also tales of store employees snatching kids from the aisles and taking them to some place where the parent must come and pick them up. Because we all remember the terrible things that happened to us in the cereal aisle as kids! Right?

  7. Scott Lazarowitz January 31, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    It’s not just the kids who aren’t allowed by society’s nannies and bureaucratic misfits to go out and about alone, or do things independently.

    Adults are also treated like babies and like prisoners, with laws against having a vegetable garden or private well on your own property, laws against certain-sized soft drinks, buying or drinking raw milk, buying Sudafed at the drug store, and so on.

    And don’t forget the mandatory seat belt laws, mandatory helmets, Fallujah-style border checkpoints, TSA airport search-molestings, NSA surveillance of innocents’ phone and emails, and the list goes on. It never ends as America’s schools and communities become a police state.

    Oh, well.

  8. K January 31, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    When my son started second grade, his teacher asked all the parents to let the kids pick out an item at the grocery store, figure out how much it cost and how much change they would get back, and then go through the line alone and buy it! Even if it was just a can of beans. She said so many people pay for things by swiping a credit or debit card, that kids do not have a good grasp of money math.

    Both kids got five dollar gift cards to 7-11 and dunkin donuts from a family member for Christmas. Letting them walk the five blocks to the store to buy something has been enormously empowering. Plus they brought me a treat 🙂

    For the past couple of years, I have been having them help me grocery shop. As in, “go to the dairy section and get me a gallon of 1% milk, then meet me in aisle 6.” Someone asked me if I was afraid someone would take them, and I said, “no, I can hear them three aisles away. I’m worried they. Ought run through the store and knock down an old person and break their hip.” In addition to making food shopping faster, it’s helped with their math skills. I taught them how to look at the unit price to figure out which item is cheaper.

  9. Havva January 31, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    Oh, heavens… not the store employees snatching kids out of store isles! Such horrifying childhood memories!

    Not that getting lost is great, my mom regularly walked off without me when I was a kid. But, from experience, I dare say no child lacks the means to get help if they get lost in a store. One of my earliest memories involved mom accidentally leaving me in the accessories section of K-mart. The store wasn’t crowded, but freaking out and sobbing was quite effective.

    Thankfully the old couple who found me also informed me that customer service was even more effective. And customer service informed me that it would help to know my mother’s first name, and how to identify employees. Next time was no sweat.

  10. Andrew January 31, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    I wonder, is that a standardised test for all children, not just 5 year olds?

    I think my 5 year old could do much of that – play without being watched constantly, go about familiar environment (church, school, grandparent’s house), follow guidelines (mostly). I’ll have to try getting him to buy something in a shop and work out the cost and the change 🙂

    But “crosses busy street safely without an adult” at the end of the previous section could be positively dangerous for 5 year olds, until they develop a good sense of time and distance.

  11. anonymous this time January 31, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    I am absolutely CERTAIN that I was crossing our residential streets alone as a five-year-old. My mom backs me up. I walked to and from kindergarten, a mile each way, as a five-year-old, and by the time I was six, I often did it alone. Crossing many, many streets.

    We were taught “stop, look, and listen” as preschoolers. Willy Whistle told us to “look left, right, then left again before crossing the street.”

    Neurotypical kids can handle this stuff as kindergarteners. Neurotic parents cannot allow them to encounter their own capability.

  12. Rhonda January 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    While I agree with the sentiment here, I don’t think the test has been fully understood. Other sections of this test have behaviors that go all the way up to adulthood, ie: “Holds a job in the community”. This assessment is used for all ages and the scores are adjusted based on age-appropriateness.

  13. Emily, Mom of Independents January 31, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    The only reason that my 6 old doesn’t cross our street alone is that we are unsure of his ability to discern distance and peripheral vision due to a disability (that we’re in the process of having diagnosed). He can tell me how to cross the street. “I walk out a few steps to where I can see around parked cars but not past them. I look left,I look right, I look left again. I make sure that I don’t hear any cars. When I don’t see or hear any cars, I cross.”

    He has an odd set of things he can’t do but we work on them regularly. We don’t tell him that he can’t do them,but that he can’t do them yet. Sometimes, to outsiders, I seem overprotective. To another set of outsiders, I seem terribly negligent. I figure they can give mey take over parenting. their opinion when the

  14. Lin January 31, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    @Melanie, I started doing “the Amazing Supermarket Race” with my daughter when she was about that age. We write a shopping list, divide it somewhat equally into 2 lists, then we each get a trolley at the supermarket, count down and whoever reaches the register with everything on their list in their trolley wins the race.

    (of course I don’t put the hardest stuff on her list, but she did once ask a staff member to help her locate something and was sent to the deli counter where she was overlooked for ages because no one expects kids to do shopping these days!)

  15. Vicky January 31, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    This is ridiculous, in Norway, kids walk to school every morning, rain, snow, wind or shine, in the dark from the age of 6. Oh, and they are alone or with friends, it’s normal for everyone, and yes, it’s empowering too 🙂

  16. Warren January 31, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    The other day I got one of those do you remember pictures on facebook. This one I did remember. It was of a Woolworth’s Dept. Store. My grandma worked the lunch counter at one in Toronto.

    At the age of 7, according to all family members. At the age of 7, I would take the TTC, the bus, about 5 blocks, to the store. Have lunch with grandma, and take the bus home. On my own. So Lenore, you’re 9 yr old on the subway can’t be all that bad.

  17. SOA January 31, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    What Susan said is true for us too. I see things on those questionaries I have to fill out for my special needs son and some of the stuff his typical twin brother cannot do either. Some of that stuff is stuff I personally have not taught them yet or doing that does not really work for our family. Things like setting the table or putting away their own dishes. I am OCD and would rather do those type of things myself. Our kitchen is small and I get stressed out if people are in there moving about getting in my way while I cook and do things so I keep them out of the kitchen till the food is on the table.

    Which is fine. We should all be able to live how we want. So just because maybe he could set the table does not mean I want him too.

    Speaking of going to the store alone we have a corner gas station store very close to us. There are no sidewalks or good places to walk unless you go a long way and cut through a neighborhood and through their schoolyard and through a parking lot. I plan on walking that way with them and training them how to do it and eventually letting them be able to go alone. They are not there yet, but they will be one day. I always enjoyed walking to our little gas station by myself and getting candy. It was actually much much further too. So there is no reason they can’t learn to do it.

  18. VG January 31, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    For some reason I remember age 9 as being when I started doing a lot more things on my own. I had been playing outside unsupervised for a while, but 9 was when I was taught to use our gas stove to heat up soup and make popcorn, and was also when I was allowed to go to the nearest convenience store by myself. I have a very clear memory of walking there for the first time on a winter afternoon, just as dusk was starting to fall, and buying a candy bar and a comic book. (This was in 1980, btw.) Meanwhile, the other day my 15-year-old mentioned in the morning that we were out of Diet Coke, and when I said “Well, you walk right past the gas station on your way home from school; why not stop and buy yourself one?” she looked at me like I’d asked her to backpack across the Sahara!

  19. anonymous this time January 31, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    “Some of that stuff is stuff I personally have not taught them yet or doing that does not really work for our family. Things like setting the table or putting away their own dishes. I am OCD and would rather do those type of things myself.”

    I’m the same way, and yet I can see ahead to when my kids are expecting me to always clear the dishes, cook the food, put things away, are more than capable to help out, and the resentment begins to build. Over and over I hear from parents who did everything because it was “easier,” and then when the kids are teenagers, are horrified at the sense of entitlement they have.

    One of the greatest challenges of parenting is, for me, handing over some of the jobs in this house to be done inefficiently and inexpertly by children. It drives me inSANE, and yet I do it, I don’t correct them overly much, I try to coach them through it and accept that it is FAR MORE WORK to have young kids participate in running the house than it is to let them sit idle while I do it all my way and to my own standards.

    We’ll see how it all works out. Right now we’re building a new home comprised of four micro-apartments. The idea is to turf the kids out to their own “units” (girls in one, boys in the other) to experience “home ec immersion” when they reach high school age. Nothing like running your own show to teach you how important it is to keep up with housework and grocery shopping.

  20. Jenny Islander January 31, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    @Scott Lazarowitz: At least two of these things are not like the others. Seat belt laws are meant, at the very basic money-is-everything level, to keep people from being killed or rendered permanently totally disabled by being launched through a windshield like a cannonball made of meat, thus rendering them incapable of contributing to the economy. Laws about where you can put your well are meant to keep you from becoming a vector of the kind of disease that makes people crap themselves to death. Here in well country, you have to determine where your well and septic/graywater systems are going to be in relation to the local ground and surface waters before you even site the foundation for your house, because you don’t want them impinging on one another. Otherwise, if you get the runny squirts, everybody downstream also gets sick, or you may have to very expensively disinfect your well. Or both.

  21. Kimberly Herbert January 31, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    The kids in stores stories reminded me of two stories. Sis and I were probably about 5 and 9. We were in a grocery store in the Memorial Villages, and wearing matching shirts with our names on them. Mom sent us to get something. This man called us by names and told us to go with him. We said NO. He orders us to go with him our Mom said to how else did he know our names. Sis said YOu read them off our backs GO AWAY. At this point we go to the nearest employee and complain. The employee gets the manager and our Mom. Manager tells the guy he is calling the cops to get out. Turns out the jerk was a cop – who started to lecture mom about the danger of having our names on our shirts. Mom told him off but good. My parents filed a complaint with the Village police department.

    That summer (I have pics of us in those shirts) we went to Mom’s home town. Sis and I went across the street to buy some candy and comics. All of a sudden these two people grab us up – calling us by name. Sis and I both broke way* and ran full force back to our Nanna’s with this tale of being grabbed up. A few moments later the two strangers show up at Nanna’s to apologize. They were cousins. They had recognized us because 2 kids with Texas dawls one the spitting image of Mom stood out in small town Prince Edward Island. What they hadn’t thought about was the last time we saw them sis had been 1 and I had been 5. So to us they were strangers. They apologized for scaring us and had paid for the candy and comics we had dropped. Later they took us horseback riding. (If they had introduced themselves there would have been no story. It was the bear hugs without warning that set us off. I also have an issue with being touched because I have a painful skin condition.)

    *In school at the beginning of the year we had a how to walk/bike to school and other places safely unit in PE. It then was repeated right before summer break. It included some pretty good self defence moves. Not so much for stranger danger in the usual sense, but because there had been a couple of for ransom kidnappings/attempted kidnappings in the past few years in the neighborhood.

  22. Kathy MacLean January 31, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

    I saw a mom walk her 4th or 5th grade son across the street using the school cross-walk (on a simple two lane suburban road) and then as soon as he was across turn around and go back the way she came. All the while cars are having to wait for her to make this round trip journey. My thoughts ranged from – “geeze, I let my daughter cross that street while I stood on one side or the other and just watched when she was 4”, “I hope he’s aloud to cross the street by himself before he starts driving”, “I bet he’s one of those kids who has to use the women’s restrooms with his mom”, and “doesn’t this mother have anything better to do with her time?”

    As far as I can tell he was not a special needs child – I don’t think our school offers very many special needs programs. But if his mom doesn’t let him start doing simple things soon he may become one

  23. Taradlion January 31, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    The series of books by Louise Bates Ames ” Your — Year Old” (original publication) has guidelines about what kids should be able to do and are often reviewed by parents as “outdated”…I would bet crossing the street would be on the “Your 5 Year Old” list (if not the “Your 4 Year Old”).

  24. Taradlion January 31, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

    And the “not appropriate for children” warnings on vintage Sesame Street DVD’s because kids might start wandering around the neighborhood on their own….”loaf of bread, container or milk, and a stick of butter” now rated PG-13

  25. J.T. Wenting February 1, 2014 at 3:47 am #

    “There were also tales of store employees snatching kids from the aisles and taking them to some place where the parent must come and pick them up. Because we all remember the terrible things that happened to us in the cereal aisle as kids! Right?”

    Given the high number of parents using their kids as mules for shoplifting, I can fully understand that.
    I regularly see parents stuffing things in the pockets of their kids’ clothes, even telling them to go to another aisle and eat something “but make sure nobody sees you”.

  26. Jen February 1, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    My 7 year old daughter is pretty certain she can do anything — but typical to the day and age, she doesn’t get much chance to practice. We live in a rural community so she can’t really walk to a friends house or to the store on her own. This Christmas, we were shopping and we went to Marshall’s a few towns away. I gave her $20 and told her she could buy presents for me and dad. Off she went, finding me periodically to ask what size shoes I wear (thankfully she didn’t buy shoes). She spent close to an hour mulling over different options, figuring out if the money she had would cover her seletions. The store got pretty busy and I was a complete nervous wreck (as we have become conditioned to be) — she on the other hand was absolutely fine! At one point, I saw her at the jewelry counter with the salesclerk taking out various items for her to inspect. I got a real “statement” piece of jewelry, her dad got some fancy chocolate and we both got a “real crystal” candlestick that she cculdn’t believe was on clearance. LOL. She paid and met me at the front . I was able to start breathing again and she couldn’t have been more proud. I have to remind myself to make time for these things even though they may be inconvenient – it was so worth it!

  27. SKL February 1, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    My store of choice to let my kids spend their pocket money is Pat Catan’s. Problem is, it’s out of our way and we’re always on a precision schedule….

  28. JP Merzetti February 1, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    I utilized all those benchmarks at age 5.
    So did my son.
    We both went to the store alone and unsupervised – a generation apart. Thus was the consistency of evolution.
    Remarkable, that we have ‘devolved’ so fast.

    The kid with a nickel for candy didn’t just live in a Spanky and Our Gang movie. This was normal stuff. Of course, the corner store was a block or two away. Of course the terrain traversed was kid-friendly and car ugly. Sometimes, I think we trade our kids for the glory of the car. Sometimes I’m even amazed that so many don’t even see that forest – though the trees are certainly all around us, all the time.

    As to a kid at that age gaining the confidence to navigate and negotiate the public domain? Amazing what a kids learns quick…..for candy. (or the movies, comic books, five and dimes…..now called dollar stores.)

    By the time I was 8, I was let loose alone in the midway at the Canadian National Exhibition (county fair on steroids)……and although there was always the desultory “meet us at the giant fountain” upon the contigency of getting lost – I never needed that backup. Negotiating crowds of thousands milling up and down the midway. It never occurred to me (or parents) that this was anything other than normal. They had what they wanted – all the entertainments that bored me to tears – and I had what I wanted….fun and freedom. Winners all around.
    Different world? To exactly what end? (some call it progress….)

  29. Papilio February 1, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    @Taradlion: Well… One thing that most likely has changed since that author wrote those lists, is the amount of car traffic on the streets, at the cost of other travel modes. So while I believe that it once was perfectly doable for a 5-year-old to cross certain neighborhood streets on her way to Kindergarten, I wonder if those same streets are now busy (or busier) with cars (with parents driving their 5-year-old to Kindergarten…). That would make the exact same journey on the exact same age harder, regardless of all the other factors.

  30. SKL February 1, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    I also think people just aren’t used to seeing little kids on the roads or “alone” any more. If it were a normal everyday thing, nobody would think anything. In suburbia where I live, houses are farther apart, people have fewer kids, and kids are almost always in some supervised / adult-led activity – at least, when they are outside of their homes. So if I send my kids a-walking down the street, people will notice and think, “what is that!? Are those kids old enough to be out alone?!”

  31. Taradlion February 1, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

    True. I think SKL is definitely correct about people doing a double take when they see “little” kids.
    I live in NYC. Even with all the traffic it is arguably safer for pedestrians than some of suburbia, but I don’t think much has changed in the town where I grew up in MA. Kids are not out like they were.

    Recently here in NYC a 9 year old was killed by a taxi while crossing the street. WITH HIS FATHER who was also injured. Horrible. But the adult couldn’t save him from the vehicle. Should nobody cross the street ever?

    I taught my kids to cross the busy intersection on the corner where we live. That is the road they have to cross. Not Old Cornfield Road in 1965. I did this even though an SUV took the front wheels off my stroller (which was empty when my then 4 year old was next to me and my 19 month old was holding my hand) on that very corner. I taught them to wait for the walk sign and to look…I made sure they did at first, then I let them go. Another few inches and that SUV would have seriously injured or killed us all even though I was right there being super mom….

  32. Jenny Islander February 2, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    My then-six-year-old almost got creamed by a car that turned into the second half of the crosswalk when she was just crossing the centerline. She could have grabbed the mirror, it was that close. Did I thereafter refuse to allow her to walk ahead of me in the crosswalk? No, I got the license plate number and called the police! Doofuses and self-involved jerks (like the teenagers in the car who were more interested in chitchatting to each other than in anything outside the car, even after I understandably screamed) are not to be tolerated like weather; they are to be stopped.

  33. Klaus Sadowski February 3, 2014 at 4:21 am #

    OK lets see,
    I was born 1981 in Germany. At 4 i would meet up with my Kindergarten friends and we would go to Kindergarten together (a group of 3 or 4) and of course no adults. I always walked to school. When i went to the Gymnasium (the equivalent of High school) i had to take the bus. As soon as i had a grasp of numbers my mother would let me help her shopping. I started playing Handball at age six. I had to take the bike or the bus to go to training. At age 10 i went for my first holiday without my parents (Youth camp in Italy managed by our church). All of this was and is still totally normal here in Germany. I also have a cousin in th US who is 10 years older and he never gotr to do any of this.

  34. Kay February 3, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

    My husband frequently walked to the corner store for his mother when he was five years old. He also has this story when one trip he got an impromptu invite with other people to ride on this open air campaign bus and rode about town without anyone batting an eyelash that he came along.

    Here’s an idea, can we collect any and all documented evidence we can find about what kids used to be able to do and we can all print them off and use it for defense against a myriad of arguments and threats to children’s independence and parental freedom? I’m thinking about that “Is your child ready for first grade” paper, too.

  35. bmommyx2 February 4, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    While I agree with you the form doesn’t ask if you child can go to the store on their own just if they can make a transaction without assistance. I have often when in a store with my son given him money & let him go to the cashier.