Guest Post: “Five Freedoms I Had that My Daughter Won’t”

Hi tadrbsnhns
Readers — Here’s a lovely piece by Kerala Taylor, senior manager of online content & outreach at KaBOOM, the organization dedicated to making sure every kid has a playground nearby. (And even plays in it!) KaBOOM has a “Back to School Pledge” folks can sign, to defend school day playtime. Naturally, I signed it! — L. 

Five Freedoms I Had at School that My Daughter Won’t, by Kerala Taylor

At six months pregnant, like most moms and moms-to-be, I’m finding plenty of things to worry about. When I’m not fretting over my daily calcium intake or environmentally friendly diaper options, I find myself plagued with anxiety about the longer-term realities of childrearing today.

I want to give my daughter the freedom I enjoyed as a child—freedom to move, imagine, and create. But in today’s paranoid, litigious, and test-happy culture, will I be able to? As kids across the country head back to school, and as I watch my belly swell, I’ve been thinking a lot about the freedoms I had in school that most kids these days don’t enjoy.

  1. I had two recess periods every day. More and more kids are finding they have to rush through lunch to enjoy a precious few minutes of recess. Some kids aren’t getting any recess at all, despite the overwhelming body of evidence that shows kids need recess to focus in the classroom. This child sums it up perfectly: “I get this feeling in my legs when they want to run and that feeling moves up to my belly and when that feeling moves up to my head I can’t remember what the rules are.”
  1. I got hurt sometimes—and no one freaked out. I suffered plenty of scrapes and bruises on the playground, and once limped around for a week after falling from the monkey bars. But no one ever told me to stop running, or even considered the possibility of taking away the monkey bars! These days, the fear of lawsuits from relatively minor injuries are prompting schools to not only remove see saws and swings from schoolyards, but to ban tag, touch football, and yes, even running.
  1. I played inside and outside the classroom. I made a paper maché globe in geography, dug up “dinosaur” bones from the sandbox in science, and took regular field trips (on, gasp, public city buses!). Now, the pressures of standardized testing are forcing teachers to forego such creative, hands-on pursuits. After all, how will paper maché teach students which bubble to mark with their No. 2 pencil?
  1. I took a school-sponsored week-long camping trip every year, starting in the first grade. Playing in nature comes intuitively to children; nature is rife with opportunities to splash, dig, climb, run, and explore. Unfortunately, nature is also rife with potential “dangers” that today’s bubble-wrapped children must be protected from at all costs. And as studies find that kids of helicopter parents have trouble functioning on their own in college, can we expect today’s first graders to be independent enough to spend a whole week away from home?
  1. I played after school. I didn’t participate in any organized sports until sixth grade and my homework in elementary school was minimal. That meant more time for free play. Yet since the 1970s, as schools pile on more homework and kids get roped into more structured activities, children have lost about 12 hours per week in free time, including a 25 percent decrease in play.

Why are we taking these freedoms away from our children? We say we’re protecting them from harm, or we’re helping them succeed academically, or we’re preserving their fragile egos. But more often than not, the reality is that we’re slowly eroding the very essence of what it means to be a child. We’re not only making childhood less fun, we’re actually stunting our kids’ physical, social, cognitive, and creative development.

As a Free-Range stepmom and mom-to-be, I’m used to feeling isolated, enraged, and just plain exasperated. But I know I’m not alone! I say, let’s join forces to save play in our nation’s schools—we can start by signing this Back-to-School Pledge.

We are not powerless to curb the rising tides of paranoia, testing-frenzy, and blatant disregard for the health and well-being of our children. It’s when like-minded parents connect—whether on this blog, in the neighborhood, or in PTA meetings—that we can channel our frustrations into action and restore some good old-fashioned common sense. – K.T.

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123 Responses to Guest Post: “Five Freedoms I Had that My Daughter Won’t”

  1. Cynthia September 12, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    Thank you for this. I agree with you totally.

  2. curiositycat September 12, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Perfect! I recently received some excellent advice about life in general, and it definitely applies here. She said that when faced with a decision, ask whether you are acting out of love and growth, or fear and protection. We are freedom-seeking creatures, she said, and freedom comes from love and growth.

    When we deny our children their birthright, freedom to explore and be kids, we are acting out of fear and protection. I choose love and growth, I choose freedom.

    Thank you for providing today’s inspiration to be firm, direct, and evangelical in my choice to give my children their childhood.

  3. Lafe September 12, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Good stuff! Can we have this printed and nail it to the front door of every school in America, please? (And before anyone jumps on me, let me clearly state that I don’t blame teachers for the sad state of today’s public education environment. The many teachers that I know personally are just as trapped and frustrated in this insane system as the kids are.)

  4. Jack's Dad September 12, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    This is a great post! I’ve watched my brother raise his kids exactly the way you say, and I’ve resigned myself to thinking ‘well, this is just the way the new world works’. But, I love your post, and I think we can take matters into our own hands a bit.

    Thanks for the inspiration!
    Twitter: @Jacks_Dad88

  5. Laura September 12, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    My son’s day care lets them run, jump, and play – there’s a gym room for when the weather won’t let them do it outside, and an outside play structure for when it will.

    I only hope I can find a school that will as well.

    Friday he jumped in the gym and smacked his head hard on a wooden structure. He’s fine – he just has one heck of a bruise. It freaked me out when I first saw it, sure, because I didn’t know where it came from. My husband (who picked him up and got the report on what happened from the day care) told me, and I calmed down.

    My son was already calm. It was old news to him, and he could care less.

    Total harm: he probably cried for a bit when it first happened, and my nerves went ‘sproing’ briefly.

    But how many days does he come home all grins and excitement because he had fun at day care, including getting to run around the gym?

    I want to protect him from major harm, certainly. But that includes the harm of overprotecting him from life. Accidents happen. Heck, I smacked my knee on my desk drawer yesterday and have a bruise. Should I remove the desk from my house? Yeah, I think not. (Especially since I might well injure myself trying to move this desk by myself, it’s massive. Heh.)

    So, no, my two-year-old is not allowed to be out of his car seat when the car is moving, and yes, he’s allowed to run, jump, play and smack into things. Heck, we enable him by providing opportunities to do so! 😛

  6. Mike H September 12, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    My wife and I have been mindful of making sure our kids have the kinds of creative hands-on experiences illustrated in this post. At first I felt we were just filling in gaps created by school systems’ obsession with standardized test results. I am starting to think these efforts will in the end provide my kids with a competitive advantage.

    And don’t get me started on the laser beam focus on standardized tests. I have a mildly autistic son who demonstrates a high degree of intelligence. He’s in kindergarten now, and I know when he gets confronted with these tests, it’s not going to reflect how smart he really is.

  7. pentamom September 12, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    They’re all labeled #1!

    I remember the two recess periods — at my school, I think it was up until 3rd grade, and then school got more “serious” and the “big kids” only had recess at lunch. But it was a long enough lunch break that I definitely remember having plenty of time. I think the morning one was only 15 minutes, but that was still a good chance to get out and move around.

  8. RobynHeud September 12, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    In fifth and sixth grade (same teacher – it was a split class) not only did we have our normal two recesses a day, but at least once a week our teacher would take us out for a classroom game of kickball. We also learned BASIC computer programming, did all of our math in class where the he could help us understand, and our homework was never more than a single worksheet which varied depending on the day of the week. Wednesdays were logic puzzles and Mondays were word searches 🙂 Oh, and did I mention our teacher was male? Best one I ever had. Thansk Mr. Lawrence!

  9. gap.runner September 12, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    Kerala Taylor needs to come to Germany to see that play in the schools isn’t dead. My son’s elementary school had a 25-minute recess period in the middle of the school day, which went from 8-12. The kids went outside in every type of weather except for pouring rain or hail. His secondary school has a 15-minute break every 2 periods (90 minutes) in the morning and a one-hour lunch break for kids who have afternoon classes. Kids can opt to take their breaks indoors or outdoors. Most of the boys in my son’s class go outdoors and play soccer or American football. In 5th grade the kids at my son’s school take a 5-day trip to a big farmhouse in the country with two teachers as chaperones. When my son is in 8th grade (next year), he will go to ski camp in Austria for one week with his school.

    While German kids do some structured activities, like soccer, they don’t take up a lot of time. Kids still have time to call each other after school to play. The boys here play street soccer or hockey and modified versions of baseball or American football (the types of modifications depend on the number of kids). The kids here still make up a lot of their own games, many of which involve Nerf guns or pine cones. Preteen boys in Germany still love making their own Lego creations.

    There are also “dangerous” things on playgrounds here like high monkey bars, metal slides, and merry-go-rounds. Parents here don’t obsess about their children getting injured. They accept injuries as part of childhood and don’t call for playground equipment to be banned because their child got hurt on it. Last spring my son sprained an ankle jumping on skis with his friends in a local terrain park. That injury evidently didn’t stop him because he can’t wait for ski season to start so he can jump in the terrain park again.

    I wish Ka-BOOM success with its initiative.

    PS I read the interview with you and Hara Marano and shared it on my Facebook page. So true!

  10. Uly September 12, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry that a lousy half-mile walk is something that we have to “try” to “top”.

  11. pentamom September 12, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    Oh, homework — homework where I was in the 70’s was something you “got” to do when you were a big kid in 2nd grade. And at that level, it was never more than one very short worksheet per day. I don’t remember having an amount of homework that actually tied me down from going out to play just as much as I wanted until 5th grade or so — and that just means that I had to sit there for maybe a WHOLE HALF HOUR to get it done — and I’m sure that wasn’t anything close to a daily thing. It might have been a bit more than I remember, but the fact that I associate after-school time up until about 7th grade almost entirely with free play rather than any memorable amount of homework makes me think it was never burdensome.

  12. Uly September 12, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    When I was a kid, pentamom, we had (and I can recite this from memory) spelling every day (Monday – copy spelling list in ABC order, Tuesday – one sentence per word, Wednesday – write a story or do a crossword, Thursday – STUDY for test on Friday), a math assignment, and usually something with social studies or reading.

    Not that I ever did any of it, but it was the same from first grade on through fifth. (Sixth grade is middle school here, so then it was homework from each teacher. Spelling was still spelling, but now we had to also look up and define the words on Mondays. Not that I did that either.)

  13. Kristi September 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    I got a letter from the school on Friday. The monkey bars and the chin up bar left over from the 80’s, are both off limits for all children grades K-6. They will both be removed during our fall break. What provoked this action: a concussion, broken bone, or bruised behind? No. Apparently my six year old convinced two other girls to give her a “boost” onto the chin up bar so that she could show off her newly acquired front & back giants to handstand.

    I feel badly that all children are going to miss out on monkey bars because my child is likely the only one in the entire school with the skill set to do this. A simple, “don’t do that again” from a teacher or myself would have taken care of the situation. But from the schools point of view, she has corrupted the entire school with her rebel attitude & fearless embrace of such a “dangerous” sport. She has also been told by the school that cart wheels,handstands, roundoffs, tucks & back handsprings aren’t allowed on the playground.

  14. Donna September 12, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    I definitely recall homework, even in elementary school. I remember spelling and math, writing stories, making dioramas and other projects usually involving shoe boxes, book reports, research reports. We had it every night Mon thru Thursday, with only weekend homework when we had a project due.

    My daughter does get recess in kindergarten. She gets 20-30 minutes every morning before lunch. This is separate from her lunch time so no rush to scarf down food. I’m not overly bothered by a lack of afternoon recess. She’s outside from 10:30 – 11 then eats lunch until 11:30 or so. School is done at 2:30 so there is not a monumental amount of time between lunch and home. She also gets one of art, music, PE and computer every afternoon so they are not constantly involved in academics in the afternoon. So far, they haven’t missed a day of recess either despite the fact that hell is actually comfortable compared to August in Georgia. I have several other complaints about how school is changed but recess has not been one of them.

  15. Pamala Watts September 12, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    @Kristi — All I can say is that’s crap! Our old monkey bars were removed quite a while ago, but there had been plenty of concussions before that happened.. and not being allowed to do any gymnastics on the playground? what do they want them to do? Sit and talk? They do that enough as they get older! Now is the time to play!

    When I was a kid we had 3 recesses until 4th & 5th grades when we only had 2 because by the time they were done with lunch recess it was only about 80 minutes of school left.. morning and afternoon recesses were each 15 minutes and the recess after lunch was 30 minutes.. now at the same school I went to, my daughter gets a 20 minute recess before lunch (all the other grades go after lunch but that’s another story) Where we had 45 minutes or an hour depending on age, they get a total of 20 minutes… The lower grade teachers often take the children out for an extra recess if the children behave that day (or “they earn it”) and the weather’s nice, but it’s up to the teacher. I think it’s sad…

  16. pentamom September 12, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    Donna, when we had recess twice, the first one was in the mid-morning, I’d guess around 10:00. (School started somewhere around 9:00, I think.) Then the second one was after lunch, but there was never a rush to scarf down food so we could play — we were allotted a reasonable time to eat and then expected to vacate the lunchroom to go outside. If I recall, we were dismissed by table, at least in some grades.

  17. pentamom September 12, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    Uly, that sounds generally like what I remember — but the point is, it wasn’t much. I don’t remember it being something that really affected how much time I got to play outside until middle school age. I just spent some time doing it, and got out. I never felt like there was this big wall of homework between me and free time — it was just a relatively small job to be done. I don’t know that it was that regular a routine — in some grades it might have been. But the amount is about right — one manageable task per day. I think you may be right about the uptick coming in 6th grade rather than 7th.

  18. opsomath September 12, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    @ Uly – I had to laugh at that NYT article, too. Props to the VTers for making it work and not just giving up, I was up in that area not long ago and I am not surprised that those folks found a way. But seriously, I am sure that I walked farther than that in first and second grade, along a couple of reasonably busy streets in a major US city – which are clearly more dangerous than a tame little path in the woods. Consider “that” topped.

    I do have to say that the presence of flood waters makes it a little more dramatic, but it sounds like the situation is stable and that is a perceived, rather than a real, risk. In the case of a real flood, the kids on the path might be safer than their parents – a lot of homes in VT seem to be built on creek bottomland in mountain valleys, which is about like being the chipmunk who built a nest in the rain gutter.

  19. bob September 12, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

    Yet one more reason why my kids don’t go to school. I’ve made a lot of mistakes as a parent (as have all parents), but keeping my kids out of school is one decision I have never regretted.

  20. Uly September 13, 2011 at 12:49 am #

    Whenever the uptick comes it probably has to do with the switch from your first school to your second (whether you call those elementary and junior high, or primary and middle school, or grammar school and intermediate school, I mean your first and your second!)

    But that varies so wildly from district to district (and even within districts sometimes!)

  21. kcb September 13, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    I wish that when kids got into scrapes these days we had equanamity about it. A preschool I know, which ordinarily is very supportive of free-range ideals, recently had a child fall and break their arm during a game of tag. Their response? To ban all chasing games….


  22. sarah September 13, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    Last spring, my third grade son’s independent school closed it’s doors and we were faced with the public school system in our city. I was shocked to find the kids were only guaranteed 10 minutes of recess each day but “they could EARN another 20 minutes if they were behaving well”. On the playground, the basketball hoop posts were wrapped in padding “to keep the kids safe” and there was “no need to worry about kids not playing the games [like four square and wall ball] correctly because a teacher plays with every group to keep things orderly”. We opted to go with another independent school in the area and have (so far) been pleased with the result.

  23. Lollipoplover September 13, 2011 at 1:39 am #

    Hooray for this post, and hooray for recess!
    Lets hope for the sake of our children that it is kept as a high priority. It is one of the best ways for them to learn social skills with their peers, face to face, and not behind technology and with adults constantly supervising them.

    If monkey bars are part of basic training for our country’s military, how is keeping them away from children K-6 going to teach our future generation?
    My 4 year old was a wiz at monkey bars (me, I feel it for days after attempts..) It is great for hand eye coordination and takes a lot of concentration, not to mention upper body strength.
    All good things, I thought.

  24. paxye September 13, 2011 at 1:49 am #

    I remember being in grade two and there was a rule that only two people could be on top of the monkey bars at a time, so of course, the minute someone would get down it was a race to be the first one up… There was that one time, I missed the last rung and my chin hit every rung on the way down.. My chin split open and one of the teachers brought me in to clean me up then on seeing my chin she decided that I would need stitches.
    My mom wasn’t home so we just headed to the hospital, got me stitched up and came back to school… and then at the end of the day I got on the public bus and headed back across town with a note… it wasn’t a big deal and it was just part of being a kid…

  25. Silver Fang September 13, 2011 at 1:50 am #

    The state of childhood today truly horrifies me. Kids don’t ride bikes or play outside anymore. All they do is study, do organized activities and then play video games.

  26. Ines September 13, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    I am worried about all these after school activities — organized, planned out, never for fun, but only for competition… I do not recall competitiveness being that important when I was in 1st grade. Why is it that everything needs to predetermine the future, and nothing can be just what it is: a fund activity.

    Constantly, I feel pressured to entertain my kids, making sure they are developed and challenged right, and that they are just not falling back too much behind other parents…

  27. Ines September 13, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    Parents’ kids that is

  28. Dawn September 13, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    We have not given up such freedoms in our school…of course, we educate at home. We have those very freedoms because our children thrive on them. And it is worth every penny of extra $ I have to pay out of my pocket–and every sacrifice we have to make–to give it to our five girls. The schools are strapped for money (at 10-15k per child) and yet I educatey girls for under 1k per child. 🙂
    Great article!

  29. Amy September 13, 2011 at 2:15 am #

    It makes me really sad that some kids are so stifled by their schools or their home situations. I’m so pleased to say I don’t feel like we’re missing those freedoms at our public school. The benefit of an accelerated school is that the kids catch on quickly enough to the lessons that it leaves time for all that fun hands-on stuff. Grades1-5 get recess every day. My kids (4th and 8th grade) will each go on at least 4 field trips, including two that are 90 miles away in Chicago. And most importantly to me, almost every evening, we have a gaggle of kids on the front porch, ringing the doorbell and asking for my boys to come out to play. They play tag throughout the neighborhood, explore the creek and woods in the neighbor’s backyard, or get into a big game of kickball. I holler for them to come home when the sun goes down, just like my folks did for me, and they come running up the street, sweaty, wet, dirty, and tired. And I’ve been letting them do that for years.

  30. Lissa September 13, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    It’s amazing what a difference less than 20 years makes. I was in elementary school from 1990-1996, and we were permitted three recess periods a day. My school had two enormous playgrounds (one for the younger grades and one for the older grades) with a vast array of merry-go-rounds, very tall slides, monkey bars, and see-saws. As I recall, there were only three or four teacher’s aides monitoring an area that had to be at least an acre. The only time I can recall anyone being seriously hurt was in the third grade. We had five or six things that we simply referred to as “the bars”. They were metal things that looked like half a rectangle sticking up from the ground. The girls would invent different flips and tricks to do on them. They were mounted in the ground with cement, and over the years, the dirt underneath had worn away to reveal the cement. My best friend was sitting on top, and let go for just a moment and lost her balance. She struck her arm on the exposed cement, and broke her elbow, requiring surgery and pins to repair it. Her parents didn’t sue, “the bars” were still soundly in place when I left fifth grade, and she got a neon green cast for everyone to sign and a small scar that she still sports to this day. End of story. I can imagine the near orgy of lawsuits and finger-pointing this would have created today.

    In second grade, my dad insisted that I needed to attend our local Catholic school because he was convinced I would receive a better education. Thank goodness, after a quarter of only one recess a day on a tiny concrete, privacy-fenced playground, and multiple hours of homework every night (in the second grade!), my mother insisted that they put me back in public school, for those very reasons.

  31. Karen September 13, 2011 at 2:28 am #

    Yesterday, I let my 8 year old son ride his bike from our house to the park by himself for the first time. He’s been asking me for a while and my knee-jerk answer was always, “I don’t think we’re ready for that, yet.” He was very disappointed with my response and asked,”why don’t you trust me?” My answer was usually, “it’s not that I don’t trust you, but the others out there..”

    Yesterday at lunch we talked about it at length. I asked my son to outline the risks that existed with freedom like that. To my astonishment, he came up with every reason I had including the risk of him falling down and not having anyone to help. As we talked things out we came up with a few ways to minimize my concerns and still provide him with the freedom he longed for. We decided I would walk him to the entrance to the park (just 2 houses away) and oversee him crossing at the busy intersection, and that he would carry a cell phone in his bike pouch, and he would avoid stopping and wandering and just ride. We both felt comfortable with it and so he went on about a 30 min bike ride himself. Everything was fine and he is feeling really good about his newfound freedom. I am, too. I guess I’m a free-range parent. 🙂

  32. North of 49 September 13, 2011 at 2:30 am #

    My kids don’t even want to think of going to school by foot on their own. Thankfully, there’s a school bus stop literally right outside our door.

    I, however, am having issues about where the stop is – on the wrong side of a blind corner instead of 10 metres to the other side of the street it crosses as part of that blind corner. None of the other parents seem to care about the fact that a car could come screaming in and crash right into the bus. I do, so I stand out there with my safety vest on.

    We were actually looking forward to having to walk our kids to school for the first week, then making our eldest responsible for getting his two younger siblings to school. But the bus route wasn’t cancelled. So now I’m dealing with other problems with it. It is a headache and I’m going to get it fixed back to the way it was before someone decided to play games.

  33. Donna September 13, 2011 at 2:46 am #

    Pentamom, I remember only one recess – after lunch – when I was in elementary school (this would have been 1st – 5th grades since I went to a half day kindy). There also wasn’t a great amount of play done after school. We didn’t get out until 4. I was a walker so we frequently hung out on the playground for a half hour or so and then walked home. By then, it was getting close to dinner time. Few kids went out to play after dinner during the school year.

    I prefer my daughters 7:40 to 2:30 schedule. Even with additional homework, there is still more time for play after school.

    Out of all the things that I have complaints about since starting public school last month, our recess is not one of them. Parents walking their 5th graders 2 blocks to school. Kids being walked to parents at release time (I still haven’t figured out if kids can actually leave on their own but I doubt it). Teachers needing to know every morning exactly how my child is getting home – even down to whether we are walking or car riding that day. Not being able to change that mode of transportation if something changes during the day. Not being allowed to hang out at the play ground before or after school like we used to. Those all bother me a whole lot more.

  34. JC September 13, 2011 at 3:06 am #

    (Sigh). These are all issues that my wife and I have talked about and agree on completely. She’s been involved in trying to get a law passed here in NJ to mandate recess in schools. Pretty pathetic.

    The whole issue of organized activities is a downward spiral that I don’t know if anyone can stop. The problem is, since all the kids are in organized activities, there are no kids at home for mine to play with, so they too are in organized activities.

  35. SgtMom September 13, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    In 1961 President Kenndey sent this record to every public school in America to promote physical education;

    “Go you chicken fat, go away….we won’t be chicken again….”

    In the 1950’s 56% of American kids failed Physical Fitness markers, while only 8% of European kids failed “some” markers.

    Alarm bells about the downward spiral of American’s physical fitness were first sounded in the Eisenhower administration, with the “Kennedy Kids” generation being the first generation introduced to mandated school PE programs.

    It was noted that school buses, cars and television resulted in the “softening” of American kids.

    ….if only “softening” were the problem now. Video games, driving one block to school, Happy Meals and vigilante parenting have resulted in childhood obesity, diabetes and cancer. Test scores rule the playground.

    JFK where are you now?

  36. SgtMom September 13, 2011 at 3:45 am #

    check out at this dandy little find –


    About 1980, the health and physical fitness of Americans began a downward spiral, as the rates of overweight and obesity began to climb. The nation now faces a growing public health epidemic, one that threat­ens the well-being of future generations. As the nation has become more urbanized, motorized, and screen-centered, an increasing number of peo­ple lead sedentary lives, and the rates of overweight and obesity continue to soar. The United States has the highest prevalence of obesity in the world.

    The children of the 1950s, whose performance on fitness tests shocked President Eisenhower and caused him to establish the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, as well as the kids who exercised to the “Chicken Fat” song in the 1960s, are now among the two-thirds of American adults who are overweight or obese. Their children and grand­children are among 9 million overweight American youth, some of whom are developing type 2 diabetes at as young an age as 8. These are the challenges faced by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports as it enters its next 50 years and charts its future.

    – – – good talking with y’all.

    I’m signing off to go for a walk. With my dog. Who is also fat.

  37. Heather K September 13, 2011 at 3:46 am #

    This summer I took my boys (3.5 and 2) to our nearby elementary school playground. I was shocked to see that it still had a geodesic dome to climb on. I would have thought that it would have been removed ages ago. My boys loved challenging themselves on it. They weren’t able to get to the top, and they dropped through a couple of times with no ill effect. But the last time we were there, some rising 2nd graders were climbing all over it and loving it. You know why? They told me that during school, you have to be in the fourth grade to play on it. I was seriously pissed off that anyone would tell my child that he was not allowed to play on a piece of equipment in his own playground, even if he was fully able! When you tell children they can’t do something, they will eventually start to believe you. I dare someone to tell my kids they “can’t” do something. They are the most capable, careful preschooler and toddler I know. And they got that way, because I wasn’t worried about them falling. Guess what – no injuries from when they’ve challenged themselves. The only times we’ve ever needed band-aids was for when they fell walking down the sidewalk. I guess I should never let them walk again.

  38. KD September 13, 2011 at 3:47 am #

    My kids have so much homework that it has taken years for us to get into a schedule that would even allow for normal kids time! How did we do it? We switched school districts (not kidding) in the same town to one that was known for its more creative approach to education and to a neighborhood with like-minded parents. Now the kids walk down the block to play with friends, ride their bikes on all the side streets and take the short walk to the skate park. My oldest can catch the city bus (16) to get where he needs to go and are other teenager can do the same as soon as she feels ready (she is almost 13 and I am okay with her doing it, she is not quite there). my kids do participate in one activity each (with four of them this is more than enough) of their choosing (son, football, girls, volleyball, drama, dance) and it has to be something althletic or creative or both (my rule) but if they choose to take a break for a month or a year or a season its perfectly okay, their choice. The rest of the time we play, watch movies, do crafts or I teach them to sew and crochet (yep even the boy).

  39. Landres September 13, 2011 at 3:50 am #

    Because I loved Beverly Cleary as a child (but hadn’t read her books in probably 30 years), I bought the book “Henry Huggins” to read to my 5-year-old. WHY has no one called Child Protective Services to report Ms. Cleary?? Here are some things 8-year-old Henry does on his own:

    play outside with friends unsupervised (they even throw a ball in the street!)
    walk downtown to buy himself an ice cream
    figure out what he can or can’t do with the money in his pocket (can he afford a comic book AND ice cream AND the bus ride home?! Why, no, he can’t! He’d better just look at the comic book….)
    earn money by doing odd jobs for neighbors (he figures this out by TALKING to them)
    go to the library to check out a book about fish (the librarian did NOT accost him for being unaccompanied… she helped him find what he needed)
    walk to the park and wander around by himself….

    I honestly was amazed at how resourceful and self-reliant Henry is. When he loses a ball that belongs to his friend, he figures out ON HIS OWN how to earn money to buy the friend a new one. His parents didn’t bail him out (although they did pitch in to help when he decided to catch 1200 nightcrawlers in one night to earn the money…).

    And I’m only on the fourth chapter. The book is making me sad. It not only makes me wish we lived in a more walking-accessible town but also makes me sad to think that if I did let my kid do any of these things, I’d likely get a visit from the police.

  40. Heather K September 13, 2011 at 3:54 am #

    Beverly Cleary lived in Portland, OR, which has to be one of the most awesome cities in America. I even think that kids there could still probably do most of this stuff without the police hunting down their parents. If all of my kids’ grandparents weren’t on the East Coast, we would move to Portland in an instant.

  41. jen September 13, 2011 at 4:25 am #

    My daughter is 2. All summer we went to a local park with a playground attached to a school. This playground had monkey bars and really high slides as well as things for little kids to do. All summer did we encounter any other children and their families. Once when we did see another mom she wasn’t interested in letting the kids play together. The parks around here are so dead.

    I may have actually seen a tumbleweed roll by once, it’s so bad.

    I think this is happening because parents believe playing at the park or with a group of kids is a waste of time. I’ve met a lot of moms at the local pool who have their kids in soccer, baseball, hockey, swimming etc. It seems that if the activity isn’t organized or a participation trophy isn’t available to boost self esteem, it’s not worth the kids or parents time.

    I mention it not being worth the parents time because parents have to truck kids around now. 8-10 year olds cannot go to the park by themselves like I used too. Parents have to accompany them; and if mommy and daddy are going to take time out of their busy work week to go do something there should be a tangible benefit attached: A certificiate. Time is money so activities need to be justified. This wasn’t the case when we could go play by ourselves. Kids had all the time in the world to have fun.

    Another interesting point is that I think a lot of kids don’t know how to entertain themselves. Going to the park can be really boring if you don’t know how to occupy yourself or constantly need mom or dad to help you with every single thing. Might as well stay home, or go to the mall and walk around.

    Also, it’s not just that parents are worried about pedophiles. They certainly are worried about them but they are also worried about “bad influences”. Parents don’t want to let their kids out because they feel that kids whose parents don’t watch them constantly are bad news. If I let my kid go to the park he will make friends with kids whose parents aren’t watching him and thus don’t care. My kid will end up a criminal or a druggie unless I watch him all the time.

    I remember countless times as a kid joining in a game of soccer or catch with kids I didn’t know. Those days are gone. A kid with a ball at the park is now seen as the gateway to a life of crime.

    It’s really sad. I worry that my daughter is going to be the only kid playing in the sandbox at recess when she does go to school. I worry even more that there will be no sandbox.

    Untill then I’ll keep walking around the neighbourhood with her, looking for a playground with kids her age so she can have some playmates.

  42. Dolly September 13, 2011 at 4:42 am #

    I am taking some of those things back for my kids! I have a policy at least for now of no more than two things planned per day for my kids. Meaning if they have preschool that day then we can do one other thing like dance class or speech therapy or a doctor’s appointment or a playdate, but not more than that. At least on a regular basis. Sometimes things pile up but we don’t make it a habit. We will not run from one place to the next constantly!

    My kids will play after school! I am part of the anti homework movement and I will be talking with my kids teachers and administrators if I ever feel that the homework is too much and keeping them from having playtime, family time, relaxing time or activity time. If I meet too much resistance on this, than I might homeschool or just have them NOT do the homework and let the school know that is what we will be doing. This is for elementary and preschool. Middle and high school I know that homework will happen, but even then it needs to be reasonable.

    My kids play outside almost everyday and that will continue. I take them to playgrounds and outdoor activities. We play in our yard. We go camping. We go visit my mother in the country where she has tons of land to explore that is out in nature. We visit the Nature Center in our town. We even have full raingear so we can go outside even in mild rain or when its wet and we go out in Winter too and just bundle up. This won’t change.

  43. Nanci September 13, 2011 at 4:54 am #

    I am happy to say that my kids do all these things 🙂 Their public school has monkey bars and swings and they can run around and chase each other. They get 2 recess’ a day, one is before lunch so there’s no racing to eat to get outside. The other is either in the morning or afternoon depending on grade. Kids ride their bikes and walk to school (mine don’t because we’re 12 miles away, but the ones who live closer do). The other day a girl in my daughters class fell off one of the swings and broke both of her arms, the swings are still in use, they understand accidents happen. The school does go for a week of camp every fall, but it is only the 5th grade, same as when I was in school. My kids play outside every afternoon. There are always lots of kids around on bikes and scooters playing and making up kid games out in the streets or yards. The last week my daughter and some friends have been busy “gardening”. They have found a vacant house and are digging up all the weeds in the yard and turning them into a “garden”. They are very proud of it! I’m sure changes will be coming but I’m glad my kids are getting the same childhood I had. Their school even still celebrates all the traditional holidays including dressing up for halloween right down to the principal, putting up a Christmas tree and having a Christmas program, and passing out valentines! For now things are still good in the midwest 🙂

  44. Leppi September 13, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    My 2 1/2 yo goes to nursery in Germany. Rain has been plentifull this year, and rubberboots, rainpants and jacket are a mandatory items at the nursery.

    On Thurday last week I came to pick him up and I first noticed that he was wearing his emergency T-Shirt (if somethings get wet/dirty etc. during “class”).

    His teachers told me that they had been outside playing that day, and that his and his pal Tim’s raincloths were 100% waterproof, only a bit of water had seeped in from the hands, so their sweatshirts arms were a bit wet.

    He spent most of the afternoon teilling me about all the nice water, puddels and fun he and Tim experienced, in the evening I first put him in the tub to wash off the leftover mud and rainwater that got stuck in his hair, behind his ears ect, and later on, his raincloths for the same reasons.

    The next day I packed up his rain-gear and off we went to the next wonderfull day at the nursery. He does not walk in, he runs full speed, because there is a world out there to be experienced and lots of wonderfull puddels to enjoy

  45. Tracy September 13, 2011 at 5:07 am #

    makes me wanna weep with nostalgia…
    My boys are now 14 and 17. I think if they were younger I’d be tempted to opt out, go live somewhere desolate and recreate little house on the prairie! My boys have never done the endless after school activities but we found that as everyone else was, there was no-one to play with. So sad. I like to see kids outside with magnifying glasses, scraped knees and dirt all over. All they do now is video games and high performance sport…

  46. socalledauthor September 13, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    I agree that kids need play time outside. And as far as the education thing goes, it’s rarely the teachers but rather the pressures from the admin and the legislators. All the standards that we as a community let our legislators tell us we need our children to know. (In Michigan, all graduates need to know Algebra 2. But not legislators, as few of them even took it in high school.) Though, personally, I think we need to stop protecting the children’s “fragile self-esteem” and go back to segregating by ability (WITH room for moving between groups if a child catches up or falls behind.)

    The “one-size fits all” model means that all children get extra repetition of the subject, even if all children don’t need it (and even if the children who do need it won’t do the work, or can’t do it without help.) In my first years of elementary school, (mid 80s) I remember that students were grouped into different reading levels and those of us who were better readers were allowed to work at our level while those who were slower readers got additional support. In an effort to “protect” children from realizing that some students are quicker or slower than others, we’re failing all but the most average students.

    And it fits the above notion of whether the decision is out of growth and love, or fear and protection. (If I was a tattoo person, I’d tattoo this on my wrist!)

    Now, if I could just get my son to LET GO OF MY HAND and go play (he’s 14 months old)… ugh. Clingy little critter these days. Good thing he’s cute.

  47. Angie September 13, 2011 at 6:05 am #

    These are among the reasons I decided to homeschool. We visited the local elementary school (considered one of the best in one of the best school districts in the country) and were horrified, thought it seemed like a prison.

    Our county just moved to full-day kindergarden, which I also think is an abomination. Kids are being pushed to do things they used to not do until 1st grade, and their stress levels are growing. The insane academic pressures, the lack of recess and free play… no wonder they’re channeling their energy into bullying.

  48. Heather K September 13, 2011 at 6:13 am #

    @Angie – I can tell from your post that I live in the same county as you. My oldest just started pre-school, but I am determined to keep them both in Montessori for as long as possible, and I will strongly consider homeschool/unschool once Montessori is no longer an option. I already know due to some issues, that my oldest son will never be able to manage being in a traditional classroom. I’m sure people will think I’m crazy for paying so much for school when we live somewhere with such “excellent schools.” Barf.

  49. Dolly September 13, 2011 at 6:24 am #

    We have had all day kindergarten in our city for a long time. I knew that with my boys being home with me all the time and never doing daycare that preschool was a must. There was no way they could go from being with mommy 24/7 to being at school 7 hours a day 5 days a week cold turkey. So we pay for private preschool. They go from 9 to 12 2 times a week at age 3 and now 3 days a week at age 4. So we are gradually getting them used to the system and to being independent and away from mommy.

    In our area it is the norm that you HAVE to do some kind of mother’s day out or preschool or daycare before your child starts all day kindergarten or they will be way behind the other kids and have a rough start. Not because they are not smart enough or don’t know enough but the only way kids learn to stand in line or be quiet in class or follow classroom rules etc is to actually be in that setting. And from what I hear kindergarten teachers expect them to just know it from day 1. So some kind of pre kindergarten classroom setting is almost mandatory.

  50. Marie September 13, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    Seeing all this is making me really glad that my kids’ new school is planning field trips, including an overnight one for the fourth grade. I did kind of roll my eyes, however, when the teacher said parents would be welcome to come, not just as chaperons, which is reasonable, but because she knows she would be reluctant to let her own daughter go on such a field trip without her. Reasonable adult supervision is necessary, of course, but once you get past that it’s ridiculous to have crowds of parents along.

  51. Heather K September 13, 2011 at 6:33 am #

    Maybe most parents really do think that their kids get shortchanged if their kids aren’t in full-day kindergarten, but my suspicion (at least in the county that Angie and I live in) is that the families with parents who both work (the majority) are looking for free daycare. I do not judge any two-income families at all. I just don’t believe they’re as noble as they are letting on. Most of them were just complaining that it wasn’t fair that they paid taxes for some kids in other parts of the county to have full-day when their kids’ school didn’t have it. (Especially in my part of the county, where people pay the most taxes, and are thus the most outraged.) Clearly I’m outraged because I pay taxes AND tuition just to avoid factory schools.

  52. justanotherjen September 13, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    Once again I am so glad I live in this very free-range friendly town. My kids school still has 2 recesses. Actually there are 3 on the schedule for K-5th (morning, lunch and afternoon) although they don’t always get all 3 every day (depends on the individual class schedule) but they always get 2 as long as it isn’t pouring down rain.

    My kids come home bumped and bruised from school. Nothing major yet but only 2 times have I gotten calls about injuries. The first was my oldest in kindergarten. She got hit in the face with a frisbee on the 3rd day of school. They just wanted to let us know so when she got home we didn’t freak out. She also came home with a note from the nurse and an ice pack. And a big goose egg over her one eye. We still laugh about it 7 years later. The other was when my older son slipped getting off the bus after his kindergarten field trip. He scraped his back all up. And that was on his 6th birthday. Poor kid.

    My kids still do all sorts of hands on artsy kinds of lessons in school. In 3rd grade they study the local Native Americans and go on 2 field trips related to the studies (and in one they get to ride in a canoe–that was the highlight for my son last year, lol) and they have to build this mock up of a longhouse. Of course they did the building at home but they did the planning and research at school. My 2nd grader last year did so many artsy things we filled the walls of our dining room with them (we call it the “art room” since there is no table in there, just coloring stuff and some desks). My 6th grader has a full period of art every day (last period… nice way to end the day). The school district here has a great philosophy of teaching to the individual student. They find what works for each kid and they learn at their own pace with the idea they will all be around the same level at the end of the year. There isn’t this extraordinary pressure to all be the same level at all times. Which was great for my 2 struggling readers last year. They really excelled with this method of teaching and never felt like failures because they were “behind” the other kids. They weren’t behind, just not to goal yet.

    They also aren’t in any sports or activities (and I’ve heard it implied on other sites that I’m not a very good parent for keeping them out or that they are missing out on something). They get home from school, do their homework and chores and are out the door until dark (hopefully coming home for dinner… if not they go without). I usually have to send one kid to round up the others. Last night there were 7 kids in my yard as it got dark, only 3 of them were mine. When I came out to tell them it was time to come in the other kids scampered on home.

    I don’t ever want to move from this town. It’s amazing. The middle school kids can be ween wandering around the stores, walking themselves there. The elementary kids can usually wander blocks from home. There are supposedly registered sex offenders in the neighborhood but no one freaks out and locks their kids up. They’re told who to avoid and stay in groups and left to enjoy their childhoods. I love seeing kids riding bikes all over, running around in packs, playing football in the park and just being kids.

  53. Angie September 13, 2011 at 7:03 am #

    Heather – Fairfax County? Yes, the full-day was instituted because a group of parents were outraged – outraged!!! – that their kids were in half-day kindergarden but they were paying the same in taxes as the kids in full-day. Are you kidding me? Is that the highest value here? Not your child’s well-being? Or long-term emotional health? And, yes, I have spoken to several parents (at my old pre-K) who thought half-day K was a drag because they’d have to pay for childcare in the afternoon or, in the case of the SAHM who wanted full-day, because having just 3 hours at home alone wasn’t enough. I think there is also pressure to “compete” with countries like China and in the U.S., the thinking is that to compete, you must work harder and enjoy life less.

    Great article in the lastest Smithsonian issue about the schools in Finland that produce the highest-performing students in the world, don’t start formal school until the kids are *7* years old, offer extensive support/tutoring to struggling students, and let them play outside often, even in Finland’s bitter winters. Here’s the link:

    I say: continue with the Montessori as long as you can afford it! We considered Montessori but the price was so much and the “homework” monster had wormed its way into the particular school we looked at. The first-grade teacher told me, “they don’t start giving homework until halfway through first grade” (!!! that was supposed to be “relaxed”??!!) and when I asked her why, she said so they’d be ready to do homework in upper grades. Guess we should probably teach them how to learn to drive a car, too, and file income taxes, since they’re going to need to do those at some point too. Sigh.

  54. Angie September 13, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    Dolly: see how “creep” sets in? Kindergarden used to be the gentle introduction to school. Now it’s academic, so people feel they *have* to put their kids in pre-K in order for them to “survive.” It’s craziness! When my son was in pre-K, I saw so many kids who weren’t ready for pre-K crying their eyes out and clinging to their moms. It was awful. But the parents thought they should be there.

    Many parents think full-day is better because it gives their kids a “head start” (over what???) Reading scores for kids who learned to read in kindergarden are better than for those who didn’t… for a couple of years. By about 5th grade, it evens out. So what’s the advantage? None. What’s the cost? Stress, hatred of school. But most parents don’t know that info.

    I do know a lot of parents who were happy with the idea of half-day kindergarden (before the county, under pressure from the vocal few) made it all full-day this year, and who privately say full-day is awful. My son’s pre-K teacher (a former elementary school teacher) said all the teachers she knows think it’s awful (also the academic creep into kindergarden). But people just shrug and put up with it. I considered fighting the system myself, but realized (a) I don’t have the energy and (b) it takes years to make changes, especially in a type-A personality county like this one, and by that time, it would be too late for my son and (c) homeschooling fit more with my interest in not forcing my son to learn things before he was ready.

  55. pentamom September 13, 2011 at 7:20 am #

    “Not because they are not smart enough or don’t know enough but the only way kids learn to stand in line or be quiet in class or follow classroom rules etc is to actually be in that setting. ”

    I don’t get this. If you teach a typical 5 year old that they’re supposed to do what the adult in charge says, they can learn to stand in line and be quiet in class and follow reasonable rules in about half a day, and to do it consistently without forgetting in about three days. You “need” three years of preschool for this?

    I agree with Angie about creep. When I was 5, preschool was practically unheard of for middle class people. When my oldest was 5, not doing a year of preschool was practically unheard of. Now people think their kids will miss something vital if they don’t send them when they’re TWO?

  56. pentamom September 13, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    BTW, I do agree that full day KG is too much of a leap. That’s why it should not be full day kindergarten! I think the real reason for its spread is that it’s easier for working parents. That’s a legitimate concern, but warehousing the 5 year olds all day with no measurable educational benefit is probably not the solution.

  57. socalledauthor September 13, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Well, as I understand it, most kids who start Kindergarten, even without formal schooling, all end up about the same level soon enough. Those who start early are at no advantage to those who don’t attend preschool or whatnot. But it wouldn’t matter anyway, since I’m not rich enough to give my son all the advantages he “needs.”

    I half wonder if only the poor kids who don’t have parents able to be at home to homeschool them will be the only ones left in school… I could not homeschool my son– I have no interest in it and think that the public school will be “good enough” for him. I do intend to be involved with his education outside of school, which I believe will make up for any deficiencies the school has. The rest of life will not conform to my son’s pace or demands or peculiarities and I’m fine with him learning that. I am and always will be a “good enough” parent… and nothing more. I am glad we have a public school system.

  58. Angie September 13, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    In response to SgtMom about everyone being overweight: I agree that kids need to get out and play, but I think our nation’s overweight problem is NOT because we’re all lazy… I think it’s a combination of unnatural things in the food and chemicals in the air and water that are messing up our endocrine systems (at least, that’s part of it). Things like seed oils, phytoestrogens, even the bromide that our flour is conditioned with… bromide eventually affects the ability of the thyroid to function properly, which affects metabolism, among other things. The fact that our pets are overweight I think is the strongest argument for this… they’re doing the same stuff they’ve been doing for millions of years, but now they’re fat?

    Off-topic, I realize, but the whole “fat people are lazy” argument (I realize you weren’t saying it that crudely, but that’s the underlying message behind people complaining that Americans don’t exercise enough) is one of those things that irks me.

  59. Tracy September 13, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    animals particularly dogs are becoming overweight here cos they aren’t getting walked. I hear dogs barking and howling in the neighborhood a lot. seems like most are kept like ornaments instead of walking them and exercising generally.
    You’re right Angie, we do eat and breathe a lot of junk but people eat a lot of junk too and don’t move enough. That’s the fat problem…

  60. Angie September 13, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    Oyy, don’t want to be too off-topic, but want to reply to Tracy… well, I know people who do walk their dogs and they are still overweight. We have 7 cats, indoor/outdoor (there’s another “free-range” way of thinking that is going by the wayside… too dangerous out there for those cats!), and one is very skinny, one is obese, several are in the middle. But they all eat the same food.

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and say: how did we use to move more? Exercise didn’t become fashionable until the 70s and 80s, and before that, men worked in offices and moms were at home baking and ironing. Yet they were slim. The heavy-duty work that most people think of when they talk about how we used to “burn off” calories was a good 100 years ago. And people in those days ate heavy food, biscuits and food cooked in lard, etc. Then, of course there’s the paradox (which some docs are now willing to admit) that exercise increases your appetite, so it’s a pretty lousy way to lose weight (probably a good way to not gain it, if you are otherwise healthy, but if you’re not healthy, it can make your cravings worse). So why are things different now? Some people do eat junk, and some are lazy, but most fat people have tried multiple times to lose weight, have exercised, and are desperate. For myself, I used to be super thin, but gained over time. I eat very healthy, but struggle. I used to work out a lot but that stressed my adrenals, which made me gain more weight. What I’ve learned from my own struggles and listening to other overweight people is that most have a system-wide malfunctioning going on, chronic candida overgrowth (overuse of antibiotics is part of that), metabolism problems, nutritional deficiencies, etc., even if they eat well. Something’s going on and I do think part of it has to do with things that have become ubiquitous in the food supply and environment. It’s a complex issue, but it definitely is not just eating junk and not exercising enough.

  61. Kimberly Herbert September 13, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    Kristi we have had to ban cartwheels and other gymnastics from our play ground due to gaping cracks caused by the drought. Some of them go a foot or more down. Still hoping from a tropical storm to come this way.

    About the homework thing I love what my team is doing this year. On monday the kids get a list of spelling words, 2 reading worksheets, and 2 math worksheets. They are due on Friday. Most of my kids tell me they finish the lot on Mondays at afterschool care. The idea is that our families can decide the best time table for completing the work in their own schedule. Honestly the time management is probably a better lesson than the actual work.

  62. Tracy September 13, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    you’re preaching to this particular choir Angie. been there done that with getting older, weight gain, Candida, chronic fatigue syndrome. Adrenal overload i do know can cause people to suffer weight gain. All outside of the issue of overeating. Sympathy in truck loads. But let’s not kid ourselves either. The levels of obesity and overweight can NOT be attributed to external factors alone otherwise, other countries in this western sphere would be sporting similar rotundness to us and frankly they’re not. many people gain weight and it’s a lot to do with portion size and the constant preoccupation we have here with food. Commercials, eating super size meals out etc.
    In the 70’s and 80’s people were slimmer, but much of this (remember I’m not saying all), is because we are eating MORE than we did then.
    I really sympathize with the health conditions that cause us to get bigger. I have a good friend with an adrenal problem and she’s ballooned by about 50lb.

  63. L September 13, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    I am so lucky that our children’s school has every point in this article. It’s a wonderful, small private school and worth every penny!

  64. Tracy September 13, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    so if you’re eating less, you can get away with moving less. Simple going in versus going out yes, kids are fatter today than before. Same issue. can’t blame everything on metabolism and outside factors.

  65. Donna September 13, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    I’m beginning to wonder if some of you are nostalgic for things that never were. Or at least were never universal throughout the US. Outside of the freedom kids had to come and go from school by themselves (at lunch even since some of my classmates went home for lunch), there is little going on in my child’s school that wasn’t going on in mine in the 70’s.

    I had plenty of homework. Nothing unmanageable but we had something every night except Friday starting in at least first grade. I don’t remember homework in Kindergarten but I remember little of kindergarten.

    Recess occurred but only one time a day. The walkers played on the playground before and after school but most of the day was spent in the classroom. Some days we’d go out twice because it was a particularly nice day but not always.

    Full day kindergarten and half day kindergarten have both existed for my entire life. Which one you went to just depended on your school district. I went to a half day kindy in Maine, then moved to NJ for 1st grade. Kindy at the school in NJ was always full day. Likewise, GA has always had a full day kindy, but CA still has half day. A friend’s school does both. There are full day kindy classes and half day kindy classes in the same school. Parents get to pick.

    And kindergarten wasn’t joyous play time. My kid isn’t learning anything in kindergarten that some kids in 1975 weren’t learning. In NJ, we were expected to know how to read, write and do basic math before 1st grade. In Maine, not so much. It varied.

    Teachers did not teach at different rates for different kids and nobody was moving at their own pace. Classrooms were very tracked – organized according to ability. If you couldn’t keep up with your class, you were moved to a different, slower class. I admit that I much prefer tracking to the current mix-everyone-up-together groupings.

    To me Montessori schools, homeschooling and unschooling are what are different from when I was a child. Public schools are pretty much the same. Parents expectations of what school should entail seem to have changed.

  66. Tina Maclary September 13, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    Live in or near New Castle County Delaware? Check out NCCL School. Children in grades K-8 get recess 2 times a day. Many class activities take place outdoors. Lots of hands on learning and no standardized testing. Instead there is a true love of learning and exploration.

  67. Angie September 13, 2011 at 8:56 am #

    Tracy, I don’t disagree with you about portion size and our preoccupation with food (and with that the agribusiness lobby’s success at getting subsidies for things like corn that can be used to make junky food (corn chips), while good food like veggies is costly). But re: Europeans and their being less fat: the European Union has banned a lot of things that we still allow in our food. For example, they flat-out refuse bovine growth hormone and GMO food. I’m pretty sure they don’t sneak soy, which is a phytoestrogen, into everything. And their environmental rules about chemicals in personal products, etc. have been stricter than ours for years.

    I said it was a complex issue, and it is, and definitely more complex than “simple in versus going out.”

    I don’t think we need to use obesity as a reason for arguing that our kids need to be out playing more… they need to play more because it builds a healthy heart and lungs and because it’s what children were designed to do… play. Good mentally, good physically.

  68. Angie September 13, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    Donna: wow, I’m sorry you went to a school like that. I guess the freedom of the 70s wasn’t universal. In my school in the early 70s, kindergarden was half-day only (full-day was unheard of) and was mostly play. We never had homework in elementary school that I can remember until about 5th or 6th grade, and then it was, say, one day a week. I remember we had time in class to get our work done.

    We had two periods of recess plus a “team sport” kind of thing outside every day.

    And we graduated many students who went on to top-tier schools, so it’s possible.

  69. Maureen September 13, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    socalledauthor – as a teacher, can I say that you are awesome. There are some lessons that aren’t necessarily academic that kids need to learn, but some parents want to shelter them from those as well. And you are absolutely correct, the “one-size fits all” model is crap. But no one wants to hear that their kid isn’t a genius, so we got rid of the tried and true model of teaching and now we have a model that is doing nothing but setting up many, many more students for failure.

    As far as the rest of it – kudos to Ms. Taylor for the original post. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when my 2.5 year old reaches school-age, because the schools around here (in which I teach) are becoming prisons. I voted against the full-day kindergarten a couple years back, but of course it went through. I do have him in a nursery school program, but it’s great. It’s just play and he loves it. If he cried everyday (like some kids do) I’d pull him. Plus, he’s with his grandparents all day, and frankly, both could use a break. He wears them out, and he needs to be around non-oldies sometimes. 😉

  70. Tracy September 13, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    we certainly don’t. Obese or not, kids should be out making those hearts healthy. I have lived in Europe and their food is much more natural. But a lot of people here still make terrible food choices. And eat enormous amounts far more than bodies need. I know enough people who are in denial about their food intake and that is why so many will never shift their weight… Those chemicals can cause cravings, but we still get to choose what we put in our mouths and that is all I’m saying

  71. Maureen September 13, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Tracey, that’s where I live. Do you know if that school is in need of a creative middle school teacher looking to actually be able to use creativity in her classroom?

  72. Donna September 13, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Angie – Don’t be sorry for me. I LOVED elementary school. I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about my elementary school experience. Actually, in kindergarten they tried to make me drink milk and I hate milk. That about covers my negativity towards elementary school. If I could travel back in time and put my child in my elementary school, I’d do it in a second. As I said, I think it’s parents expectations about what school should entail that have changed more than schools.

  73. Angie September 13, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    I believe obese people make certain food choices because their bodies are unhealthy, not the other way around. If you are really unhealthy, then sugar and starches and other fattening things become something your body craves, and you will not feel good until you eat those things. Weaning from that is a long and painful process and involves more nutritional healing than willpower. Something to chew on, so to speak, LOL.

    Back to the original topic now…

  74. Angie September 13, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    Donna, no, schools have changed quite a bit from my experience and the experience of many others, read through the posts. Even objectively they have changed (# of recesses or presence of homework is not subjective). If the local schools were more like the ones I went to as a kid, I would have been much more likely to send my son.

  75. socalledauthor September 13, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    I, too, remember homework in elementary school. Math problems and reading and spelling worksheets. I also remember I always did them right before bed, which caused some problems. We only had 1/2 kindy at the time, but more local schools are offering the option for full day, and I believe it’s still open to parental choice, though you’re responsible for transportation. If I understand it all correctly. My son has a good many years before that and I truly hope it’s just 1/2 because I think that’s key for starting out.

    I wish that every “good thing” like recess didn’t have to be touted for being good in the fight against obesity or whatever. Just like I wish every stupid toy I bought my son didn’t have seven hundred educational reasons to buy it plastered on the box. I just want to buy a toy that’s only reason for being is that it’s FUN– not that it’s develops motor skills or whatever. What happened to FUN?!?!

  76. Carolyn September 13, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    I’m with Tina – my daughter goes to NCCL School in Newark, Delaware and we couldn’t be happier. Two recesses a day, lots of hands-on learning, and no standardized testing. Kids go on 2-3 day camping trips in the spring beginning in 5th grade and the 7th and 8th grade kids go on an additional week-long camping trip each fall. Kids develop a love of learning in a non-competitive environment that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

  77. Donna September 13, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    “Well, as I understand it, most kids who start Kindergarten, even without formal schooling, all end up about the same level soon enough.”

    This is only true in educated families. Most educated parents naturally give their kids the building blocks needed to succeed in school without formal education through talking to them, reading to them, counting with them, having intelligent conversations in their presence and just basic every day life. Preschool teaches them formal knowledge earlier but eventually natural intelligence takes over. Kids with high intelligence (and motivation) are going to excel without formal preschool. Kids with average intelligence (or low motivation) are going to eventually level out even with the best preschooling imaginable.

    Children of poor, uneducated parents are a different story. Before preschool, many have never seen a book or had to sit still to listen to a story. Many start kindergarten not knowing very basic stuff like colors, recognizing their own names, the ABCs and counting to 10. This is why Pre-ks were started – to try to teach these kids the same things middle class preschoolers were getting at home. The middle class then decided that they needed pre-k too and now many kids go to Pre-k at 4 regardless of background.

  78. Jenny Islander September 13, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    If the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports had ever produced anything besides the annual ritual in which the unathletic or undeveloped kids are humiliated in front of their entire class and then told to “do better” (Fine. Great. POINTERS PLEASE YOU HAVE BEEN TELLING ME THE SAME DAMN THING FOR YEARS AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO BE A TEACHER SO HOW ABOUT TEACHING ME SOMETHING–excuse me, hot-button issue here)–if they had ever actually helped kids choose physical activity over their other options, then I would respect it more.

  79. pentamom September 13, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    Donna, I assure you that I’m not imagining the fact that in suburban eastern Pennsylvania, when I attended elementary school from roughly 1969 to 1976:

    Kindergarten was for learning numbers, learning letters, counting, and *beginning* to read. We had playtime for about half an hour every day of our 2 1/2 hour class, along with snacktime. (We probably didn’t have recess in KG, but I imagine we must have had some form of “gym” on some days of the week.)

    We had recess twice a day. (Really! Honestly!) No school in my county had full day kindergarten. And where I live now, the schools transitioned to full day in the 90’s and early 2000s, but it was not universal in the county until less than 10 years ago.

    We didn’t have any homework until second grade.

    Classes were tracked as a whole, yes, but we also had “reading groups,” in the early elementary grades which the teacher met with separately while the rest of the class worked on independent work, and while they might not have been called that, EVERYBODY understood which were the “lower,” “middle,” and “upper” reading groups.

    Let’s split the difference: the way I remember things in the 70’s may not have been the way they were everywhere, but they certainly WERE that way, and I don’t think my experience is all *that* exceptional. So maybe it was more of a mixed bag than either of us realize?

    On the preschool thing, I agree that kids with a less educated/less educationally nurturing (which are not necessarily the same thing) family background probably need it. But the upward pressure continues — some kids need it, all kids get it, which raises the expectations for entering kindergarten, which means more kids are now “perceived” to need it, etc.

  80. Tracy September 13, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    Angie, “I believe obese people make certain food choices because their bodies are unhealthy”.
    really? So we’re obese but it’s not our fault. It’s the governments fault for making our food so that we can’t resist? If that were the case, we’d all be huge and clearly that’s not so. Many hugely overweights, go on the exercise, diet path and fail. I’m afraid it’s because they fall off the wagon and become demoralized. it’s not because all the food causes us to crave and eat endlessly. the point between crave and putting in mouth is OUR choice.

  81. pentamom September 13, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    “The rest of life will not conform to my son’s pace or demands or peculiarities and I’m fine with him learning that.”

    Just for the record and not disputing your choices here or your reasons, but not all homeschoolers conform everything they do to their kids’ preferences. Of course homeschooling *does* have the advantage of being able to deal with “bumps” without the child being left behind, but generally speaking, I (and many other homeschoolers) pursue a curriculum that we expect our child to stay on pace with, barring temporary difficulties or things that just plain aren’t working. Other homeschoolers DO tailor things to their kids’ preferences more — there are different philosophies.

    I just wanted to make clear that homeschooling doesn’t *necessarily* mean you aren’t teaching your kids that life doesn’t always bend to their needs. If there’s anything I’ve learned from 16 years of homeschooling, it’s that whatever you think you know about homeschooling from knowing how one family, or even many families do it, isn’t necessarily going to be true of any other homeschooling family you meet, except for the part about “not having our kids attend school in a separate building six hours a day five days a week.”

  82. Dolly September 13, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    Angie: Oh yes, I see the “Creep” as well. I am not really in support of it but at least right now we are not planning to homeschool so we got to go with the flow on it. Meaning I need to send them to kindergarten prepared or they will immediately be behind from the get go. Plus preschool has helped them in other ways currently like teaching them more independence and how to be better behaved in structured activities.

  83. Dolly September 13, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    See I don’t think that learning to behave in classroom settings does happen super fast. Their teacher last year said that it took almost all year to get the 3 year olds to learn to pick up their centers. That took almost a whole year to learn! I would take my boys before they started preschool to library storytime or music classes and they were the worst kids in the class. They could not sit still and they were just all over the place. I tried working with them but it just didn’t work. But now they totally are good for that kind of stuff because preschool taught them to sit for circle time and to follow directions, etc.

    I didn’t want to set up our home to stress those things. I want them to see home as a place where they can free play and relax. So I was happy to let preschool teach that and they did a better job at it anyway.

  84. Donna September 13, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    Angie – Many posts also say the opposite as far as homework. There are many of us who recall homework in elementary school. Half-day and full-day kindergartens existed then and now. Very little of what is being upheld with such nostalgia was universal in the 70’s and very little of what is criticized is universal now.

    To each their own, though. I have no desire for Montessori schools, home schooling or unschooling. I have no issue whatsoever with small amounts of homework every night. I don’t necessarily think my kid needs 2 recess with the way her day is structured (but I’m definitely glad that she gets one good length recess and that they always go outside and run, play tag and climb on monkey bars). I’m glad she is learning stuff in kindergarten beyond basics. I couldn’t care less about a full or half day kindergarten. I’m thrilled that they’ve done away with kindergarten naps.

    There are certainly things I would change about my daughter’s school. The things mentioned here are not them (okay, I’d do field trips but understand why that can’t happen due to the poverty level in our school district). And my daughter loves, loves, loves school so far. She’s a little annoyed that she has to miss 2 days of school to go to the beach next week. She loves homework and wants to do it every day (homework is optional so I don’t make her do it unless she wants to). She is thrilled to be learning to read. She loves doing classwork. She has yet to express any interest in more recess or a shorter day (more recess she’d enjoy; a shorter day not so much considering she wants to go to school on weekends). She’s flourishing so I’m happy.

  85. Dolly September 13, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    For the record, I had full day kindergarten when I was young too. I attended about 1985. The first two weeks they did it half day and with half the kids attending to kinda assimilate us but then it went to full day. I also did preschool like part time at age three and four as well as did many of my friends. It was nice that I had good friendships going into kindergarten with my classmates already.

    I wanted that for my boys as well and maybe it will happen. So far they have made good friendships with their classmates but most of them will be going to different schools than mine will be going to. But they got a lot of new kids so maybe some of them will go to their elementary.

  86. Dolly September 13, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    We had one recess in elementary. I would get pissed when they would make us play organized games during recess. Mostly because I was not good at sports. I was very active, I was a dancer. But I just didn’t like sports or PE type stuff. I wanted to go free play. I felt cheated if we were not allowed to do whatever the heck we wanted during recess.

    We had naps in full day kindergarten. I am not sure if they do naps now in full day. I kinda hope not just because if mine nap then they won’t go to sleep till way late and we like putting ours to bed at like 7:30.

  87. socalledauthor September 13, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    But Dolly, isn’t there a different learning curve for most 5 year olds than most 3 year old? I should think getting 3 year olds to learn anything is going to be a lot more challenging, as a group, than 5 year old because their level of attention and maturity are so much lower. I thought that was why school started later, because older kids are more ready to learn and socialize. They have the ability to focus, while younger kids have the attention span of a hyperactive hummingbird.

    We already had a discussion about teaching a child at X age taking longer because they weren’t “ready” versus teaching them at X+2 age when they were developmentally ready to learn it. This seems a different example that age does impact the ability to learn, and the time spent on teaching/ reinforcing that lesson. IMNHO.

  88. Aimee September 13, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I’m happy and proud to say that we live in a community where my kids have 2 recess periods a day for about 20 minutes each. They get very little homework (about 15 min per night). Have outdoor education trips and other field trips at least 2 times per year. Guess I’m one of the lucky ones.

  89. Cheryl W September 13, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    You know, despite all the bad things that happen at the school in the TV show “The Simpsons” if my kids could have started in a school with art, music and PE teachers, along with librarians, and lunch ladies who actually cook lunch, they may still have been at regular school. Yes, the teachers are a bit burnt out, but basically the kids are learning. Which was basically how my elementary school was. Librarians, music teachers, art teachers and PE weekly. The teachers got a planning period each day because we were with another teacher each day.

    When I was in elementary school I didn’t have homework until 4th grade, and mostly I could get that done on the bus ride home (about 45 minutes.) I didn’t have to learn multiplication until 4th grade and I was able to learn it in a couple of weeks – not years of drilling. The “Tried and True” methods that someone mentioned did not work for me – the school wanted to do “Whole Word” approach to reading – I didn’t learn until they gave me phonics in pre-second.grade. (So it wasn’t all rosey for me back then.) In kinder I distinctly remember in math we were expected to count to 10 and add to 6 at the end of the year.

    The school my daughter started at had 30 minutes of worksheets and a half hour of reading (I was supposed to read to her.) All the kids were expected to be reading by the end of the year. (She was reading before she came in because she had a late birthday days after the cut off, and she asked me to teach her to read. ) She was expected to be able to count to 100 by the end of the year, and add to 12. (See the creeping expectations?) But, there was no music teacher, art teacher or PE. The classroom teacher was expected to provide it all. School got out early one day a week for planning, except that was when all the teacher parent meetings happened. The school did have ample recess for the early grades, except kinder, where they were half day and the teachers were expected to cram in a full day worth of school. Had we been offered full day, I would not have wanted to do it.

    Now I am schooling three kids at home, one with special needs. We do short lessons (no more than 30 minutes per subject.) No homework. If they dawdle, then they can finish later in the day. I want my kids to have time to be kids. I want them out digging, exploring, climbing trees, biking and hiking. Our now local school district is better than the one we left, but, well, this is working for us so I am not going to try to fix it now. I enjoy being with my kids, and they enjoy getting to do things they are interested in, reading the books they want to read, and not be tested on it.

    My theory on the creep to higher standards earlier is that parents have demanded it. They want their kids to have homework. They want them to do Accelerated Reader so they are tested on each and every book they read. Not being teachers themselves (most of them) they do not understand that the brain is not ready for a lot of this – yes, kids can learn multiplication in 2nd grade. But most kids need more brain maturity. We make learning disabilities out of nothing – if we waited longer the brain would be ready for the information and learning would be easy. But that is not what parents want. Like many others, I don’t want my kid labeled. But I also don’t want him to think that he is stupid, lazy or any of the other things that end up happening when kids learn on a different schedule.

  90. Donna September 13, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Pentamom, Your kindergarten very much describes my kindergarten in Portland, ME. Then we moved not too far from you – a short distance outside Philly, but in Jersey (although I’m younger having gone to elementary school from 1975 – 1981). Full day kindergarten was the norm, we only had one recess, had regular homework and I was placed in remedial classes in 1st grade when they found out I couldn’t read. And, yes, we also had reading groups inside the classes. It wasn’t so much that the teacher taught anything though. It was just different levels of reading books.

    My baby brother on the other hand went to Catholic school (in the early 90s). He had TONS of homework and little play. Homework was an 2 hour ordeal in 3rd grade. It was planned so that it would take 2 hours and it moved up half and hour to an hour every year. That’s WAY too much. My bro hated school and dropped out at 16. Who knows if that is why.

    I’m just not on board with this everything was wonderful and happy in education in the 70s and sucks now. Or that less and later is always better. My daughter would find our kindergarten boring – she’s been able to do all that since 3 and is dying to learn to read. I wasn’t a big recess fan so one recess was fine for me. I generally support moderation in just about everything and that goes for school too. Homework is fine, but not too much. Play is great, but learning more advanced stuff is fine too.

  91. justanotherjen September 13, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    regarding the nostalgia of our childhoods. I didn’t comment about school when I was a kid because it was nothing like what my kids are getting now (or what other people have described of their schools as kids).

    I went to Catholic school in Chicago in the 80s/90s. When I was my kids ages I went to St. Augustine School in the Back of the Yards neighborhood (the school is there but it’s public now, the church is long gone). There was just 1 classroom per grade for most grades so we had 30+ kids in a room usually. Recess and gym were at the teacher’s discretion. Same for art and music usually although we did have one of the nuns come in and teach us hymns we’d be singing in Mass a few times a month. There was a computer class (this was the mid-80s) but it was an after school thing (I remember programming in BASIC in 2nd grade, lol). We had no sports, no after school activities.

    There was no Title I or tutoring or extra help if you were behind. I remember 4th grade. It was the most horrid year ever. My teacher was the meanest person I’ve ever met. We NEVER had recess. Not once the entire year. We had gym once or twice a year. Since there was no gym teacher our teacher was in charge of it. The one time we did gym outside a kid stepped on a chunk of broken beer bottle and had to be taken to the ER for stitches and a tetanus shot (there was blood everywhere). After that we only had it inside in a large meeting room in the basement (there was a gym but it was in another building and we weren’t allowed to use it–they built it when my dad was a student there in the 50s and they weren’t allowed to use it either). All we ever did was play dodgeball. We didn’t have science or social studies books. If we had those classes they were just a printout you could barely read.

    I was an above average reader so I went to the 5th grade classroom for reading. There was a bunch of us that went but all the other kids were going for remedial reading (at a 3rd grade level). 1/2 the 5th graders went to the 4th grade room for 4th grade reading. I was the only one switching to be above my level. I was with like 6 5th graders that were reading above level and we were doing 6th grade work while the rest of the kids in the room were doing 3rd or 5th grade. Then there was the constant punishment we endured. Any time anyone in class talked our teacher made us write our spelling words that night besides all our other homework. Every night I wrote my spelling words (20 of them) 10-100 times each. EVERY NIGHT. One weekend we had to do them 500 times each. I would spend hours every night just writing spelling words for something I didn’t even do. I rarely went outside to play. There wasn’t time with all the punishments I had to do.

    When my mom complained she was told the teacher could run her class the way she wanted and there was nothing she could do. There was no other 4th grade teacher so I was screwed.

    And that was considered better than the public schools in Chicago at the time. That school closed, though, after 4th grade. The school I went to after that was the first time I had official gym, science and social studies classes.

    My kids are getting a much better, well rounded education at the public school here than I did in Catholic school back then.

  92. Maureen September 13, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Cheryl W – Whole Language is not the old fashioned tried and true – phonics is. So you must not be that old. 😉

  93. Cheryl W September 13, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    Dolly, I want to relate to you what one parent friend of mine said. Someone asked her if she was going to send her kids to preschool. She said no, the reason being, when they got to school, she wanted them to have new stuff to learn. She wanted them excited about all that new stuff. She didn’t want them bored silly because they already knew how to read or count to 100 or such.

    She didn’t not socialize them though. They went to church. (And learned to sit still.) They did a few swimming classes. (And learned to wait in line.) They learned their colors and counting by looking at the flowers their mom grew as a business. They learned counting and measurement by helping their dad with his business. But all of this learning, was on their time table.

    I am telling you this because you are selling yourself and your kids short. If a child can reasonably follow directions when they enter kinder, then they should do just fine. If they do not listen to adults at home, do not have rules and consequences at home, then they will not follow directions. Granted, some kids (my youngest one being one of them) will certainly perform better when asked to do things when the person asking is not mom!

  94. Maureen September 13, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    Donna – I don’t think anyone is saying that all schools back in the day were the absolute most wonderful places of learning. It was always a mix. However, most people’s memories of school are heavily influenced by how well they did. I loved school and not even the few duds of teachers I had changed that. However, someone who struggled – well one of those duds and how horrible they felt in that class might be all they can remember. Perhaps we just have more people here that really liked school and therefore have better memories of it.

    Not everything about the good old days was that great. In most cases, special needs kids and kids with learning difficulties have it much better today.

    But the problem that a lot of people can see, is that there have been major changes in the last 20-30 years in which there is no data to support them, and as a matter of fact, most of the data points to the fact that kids benefit far more from some of the “old ways.”

  95. Kathryn September 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    Thank you for this; the part about you not playing organized sports until 6th grade, especially. My 6 year old has never been signed up for any sports, and I always felt a little bad because of it. Not because I like them so much, but I felt I “had to”. I had my little “aha” moment after reading that. Thanks again!

  96. Dolly September 13, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    Cheryl: Selling my kids short for what exactly? One of my sons went into 3 year old preschool last year already knowing all his letters and colors and numbers and even knowing some Spanish. He is just that bright and picked it up from me reading to him and interacting with him. I didn’t send him to preschool to learn academic stuff. He already knew that. My special needs son is a little bit behind my other son on that stuff but he knows a lot of that stuff too. Since he has a speech delay it is hard to find out what that child knows and does not know. He surprised me the other day by getting every opposite right that his speech therapist asked him about and I had no idea he knew those!

    It is not about academic stuff at all. Nor was it about socialization. My boys have had regular playdates since they were ten months old. But as far as behaving in a group setting, that is what they needed to work on and yes, only way to get them to do that was sending them to preschool. I was tired of being the only parent whose kids were running around the room while all the other kids sat nicely in the circle at storytime or at music class. It frustrated the heck out of me that no matter how hard I worked with them they just freaked out in group settings where any structure was needed. So that was our main reason for doing preschool. It solved that problem too. They are only in preschool three hours a couple days a week.

  97. Anicka September 13, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    It is nice article, Got some idea from this, though i don’t have yet baby. 🙂 It’s good to be prepared. 🙂


  98. JimmytheSquirrel (@Jimmy_Squirrel) September 13, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    I agree. We grew up in a different time, and there are important lessons our children won’t learn if we don’t reinforce these “old-fashioned” activities. I especially think we should teach our children about the environment so they care about preserving it. This is easy to do by going outside and just playing with them and explaining the things they find. For example, if your child picks up an acorn, you can talk about squirrels, how they need trees for homes, and in turn what trees are used for and why we should conserve paper products.

  99. pentamom September 14, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    “I’m just not on board with this everything was wonderful and happy in education in the 70s and sucks now. Or that less and later is always better. ”

    Sure. I was describing my experience, not necessarily touting every aspect of it as superior. When I said school started around 9, I didn’t mean that was wonderful, I gave it as a reference point for recess being a couple of hours into the morning. And I could list a BUNCH of things that I thought were lousy in the 70’s, starting and ending with whole word reading.

    I DO think that “less is better” for the first year of publicly-provided education. It doesn’t make sense to me to set up a system where you either send a kid from full-time at home (if you’ve got a SAH parent) to full time at school, or else pay lots of money to ease the transition. But I don’t think that less is better overall for institutional schooling, up to a reasonable point. (I have a bit of a bias toward less is better because I’m a homeschooler and in home school, there’s just less “overhead” time so it would be silly to try to match the hours of an institutional school. But I also realize the two aren’t really comparable.)

    As for “later is better,” I also agree that’s not an automatic. *I* prefer it because I’ve never been a morning person, but that doesn’t mean it’s a better system overall to meet the needs of the broadest range of people. Certainly getting done earlier in the day has clear advantages. And FWIW, my kindergarten had a morning class and afternoon class, and I was in the afternoon class.

  100. pentamom September 14, 2011 at 12:28 am #

    Dolly, by “selling your kids and yourself short,” I don’t think Cheryl means you’re depriving them. I think she means you’re not giving them enough credit for the ability to learn to basic skills and socialization without a school setting, and your own ability to teach them. (BTW, “socialization” doesn’t mean the same thing as “socializing” — it means learning how to appropriately interact with other people, individually and in groups. Just like you said.) Typically, kids actually can learn to sit still and listen the same way they “learn” to do anything else they’re told to do. It’s not a specialized skill — it’s a matter of teaching them to respect and obey the people in charge, and respect the needs of the other people around them, which you should be perfectly capable of doing at home. If you can’t, you have bigger issues than them sitting in a circle at school. Those might be related to special needs, and then again they might not.

  101. Donna September 14, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    @ pentamom –

    By later, I meant later in life – learning to read at 6 as opposed to 5 – not time of day.

    But I think many are trying to fit 1970 schooling into a 2011 world. In the 70s almost all mothers were SAH, and if they weren’t, kids were taken care of by grandparents or another SAHM. Mom, grandma or caregiver was busy with life and not focused on their young children all day.

    Today, working mothers are in the majority. Whether it’s a nanny, in-home daycare or daycare center, kids of working parents are cared for by dedicated caregivers with no responsibilities other than taking care of the child(ren). Those caregivers are expected to be engaged with those children 8 hours a day because that is all they are paid to do. Teaching kids their ABCs, counting and colors is something to do during that 8 hours. Kids are eager to learn if it’s fun. And these kids are used to being away from their parents, and often in a school-like setting, for 8 hours a day. They don’t need half-day school. They don’t need a year of build up to real school. They’ve been doing all of that since birth.

    Why should we cater to the minority of kids with SAHMs? It doesn’t make sense to me to treat kindergarten like it was in the 70’s. What would my 5 year old – who already spends the entire day away from me, knows all the letters, knows the sounds associated with the letters, can county to 200, can add and subtract single digit numbers, can tell you that George Washington was the 1st president, knows what nocturnal means and can list animals who are nocturnal and a myriad of other things – get out of a half day kindergarten that focuses on learning letters, counting, colors, shapes, snacks and naps? And my child is not unusually bright or well educated for her age. She’s just a slightly above average kid who’s been in daycare since she was 14 months old.

    Do we hold the kids who’ve been in daycare since birth back? Do we push the kids who stayed home forward? Do we have 2 levels of schooling?

  102. Donna September 14, 2011 at 2:52 am #

    “But the problem that a lot of people can see, is that there have been major changes in the last 20-30 years in which there is no data to support them”

    But what is causing the changes? The changes came about at the same rate as mothers going to work and kids going to daycare. Are schools pushing kids earlier or are many kids simply moving at a quicker pace due to the heavy exposure to daycare?

    I do agree that some schools have some serious issues these days. No recess, no running or playing tag, too much homework, too much focus on standardized tests are all bad things. My child goes to public school because I think there is too much pressure to succeed (defined as getting into a good college and high-income job and not happiness) in private school. I just don’t think that 1970 elementary school fits with 2011 reality. The fun needs to be put back in school (at all levels) but I don’t think that translates back to needing half-day kindergarten with nothing but ABCs and no homework.

  103. Dolly September 14, 2011 at 3:27 am #

    Well let me phrase it this way. I think my kids and I benefit from them slowly intergrating into all day schooling by doing preschool for half days 2 and 3 days a week. That way we all weren’t culture shocked from 24/7 at home to 5 days a week 7 hours a day gone. I am learning too. I have to keep up with classroom schedules and activities and their backpacks, etc. Not a hard task but still something to get used to doing. They are getting used to everything too.

    It was our preference to do it that way. Others may do it differently and that is fine. Everything from the extreme of being in all day care from six weeks old till 5 to not being in any childcare setting till 5. We are in the middle somewhere. That was what our family the most settled and happy. Maybe they would have done fine going straight to all day kindergarten, but I did not feel confidant about that. I also like to play with them at home. I did not want to be the one responsible for trying to teach them classroom stuff.

  104. Conor Mccartney September 14, 2011 at 3:43 am #

    This is great. You hit the nail on the head.
    As a republican, i think the key is getting more power back to the local authorities so that at PTA meetings government officials can respond to the needs and wants of the parents.
    Now, all too often school officials hands are tied by state and federal regulations… and union contracts!

  105. Dolly September 14, 2011 at 4:17 am #

    Also in defense of my kids: They are always good at stores or in movie theaters, etc. But storytime and music class presented a problem for us. Other kids their age just sat down and were attentive from moment one. Mine and others were just all over the place running around and not paying attention. Again, you can’t expect much from that age group anyway, but I wanted them to be able to do it. My methods were not working so I thought a professional might have more luck with them. I think mine have been able to be wild and free play everytime they are around other kids so much from 10 months old that the idea of sitting still when there are other kids around was not cool with them. It also is a personality thing as well. Some kids (especially girls) can sit still at a young age and some kids (especially boys) can’t.

    Since it was a fun thing to do there was no reason in disciplining them for it. I was doing it for them to enjoy. We just stopped going till they were older and had had some preschool and now they do perfectly with that kind of stuff.

  106. Tim Das September 14, 2011 at 5:11 am #

    100% bang on. Check out this climber the City of Toronto just built in a downtown park – it’s almost 2 stories tall! That’s my 6 year old daughter up there…

    Thank-God not everyone had been afflicted by this new world of litigation, health’n’safety regs and lack of personal responsibility…

  107. Michelle the Uber Haus Frau September 14, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    We send my son to daycare, and even though at the moment I am unemployed we still send him since I am actively job hunting during the day and he loves it. We are doing ok, but to alot of people full time kindergarten is a freakin’ godsend, especially if there aren’t many daycares or they’re expensive.

  108. C. S. P. Schofield September 14, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    “I played inside and outside the classroom. I made a paper maché globe in geography, dug up “dinosaur” bones from the sandbox in science, and took regular field trips (on, gasp, public city buses!). Now, the pressures of standardized testing are forcing teachers to forego such creative, hands-on pursuits. After all, how will paper maché teach students which bubble to mark with their No. 2 pencil?”

    This happens because it became painfully clear that unless there was some kind of measurable standard a significant percentage of the products of Colleges of Education wouldn’t make sure the little rug rats knew how to read, write, and figure….and that without such a measure, firing the sad sacks would be made impossible by their unions.

    Get control of the schools back into the hands of local voters, break up the control of the unions, and then things will lighten up. Maybe.

  109. Angie September 15, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    I wanted to respond to several of Donna’s posts, including her last one about the changes tracking with the advent of working moms and other societal changes. David Elkind covers this exact issue in his book “Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk.” This book, written in the 80’s, talk about the long-term consequences of pushing kids to do academics before they are ready… 20-30 years later, we can see that he is right. There have been several articles about college students who are unable to sever their tie to their parents, or who are unable to do jobs without someone telling them what to do all the time. David Elkind predicted this. I can only imagine what today’s children, who are both coddled and pushed before they are ready, are going to be like as adults.

    What he says essentially is that, until age 6, children learn pretty much exclusively through play, and pushing academics on them is going to do little other than stress them out (there are exceptions, of course, children who teach themselves to read at age 3 and so forth, but he’s talking about the norm). He says you can perhaps teach a child to do something at age 4 that it is more natural to learn at age 6, but it will impair his/her learning of that same subject at a later time. It also impairs problem-solving skills.

    The article I posted earlier about schools in Finland talks about how they don’t start formal school until age 7 (they have state-funded preschools, which are play-based and focused on learning how to relate to others, up until then). The reason is that, scientifically, that’s the most “natural” age for most children to learn to read. The teachers laughed when talking about how we try to get them reading at age 6 (and now age 5) in America; they said, what’s the point of trying to make them do something before they are ready? It only stresses them out and in the end, the result (learning) is the same.

    To that, I say “amen.” Children are not “learning” any faster these days because they are in preschool. They will actually learn in a meaningful way when they are ready, which is a developmental stage generally associated with a physical age, not amount of prior academic exposure.

    He also discusses how this tracks with women entering the workforce in large numbers. As a feminist, I am not about to demonize working women. BUT, it has created societal pressure for kids to be less work and to be “self-sufficient” (obviously not outside the home, but in terms of learning) at an earlier age. What bothers me about this is that, if you look at it in these terms, the downward “creep” of academic expectations toward younger ages is really to meet the needs of the parents, not the child. In several million years of evolution, children’s needs and developmental stages have not changed, it is we who have changed, and it is not healthy for our children, in my opinion.

    Studies have found no long-term advantage to early childhood education (except for disadvantaged children) or early reading, but have found detriments, including an increase in mental health issues from all the pressure.

  110. Amy September 15, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    This reminds me how incredibly fortunate we are here. My daughter attends the public school I teach at and we are both very happy. Two recesses, plenty of play time in and out of the classroom, teachers that are all willing to drop everything and go out to take the kids snowshoeing on the school’s nature trail when the conditions are just right, TONS of community involvement, etc.

    I say screw standardized testing. If the frameworks are age appropriate (which they often aren’t, but one can dream!), then just about anything I teach or any tangent the kids dream up is going to be covering something testable. I must be doing something right, because my kids that I got to teach science to for 6 years did AWESOME on the state science test last year–and I NEVER teach to the test.

  111. Donna September 16, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    “pushing academics on them is going to do little other than stress them out (there are exceptions, of course, children who teach themselves to read at age 3 and so forth, but he’s talking about the norm)”

    Okay, where is the evidence of that? I see many children of parents who are very aggressive about education stressed. Not a single kid in my child’s very normal preschool class was stressed in the least last year. None of the kids in my child’s kindergarten seem stressed (I don’t know them nearly as well as the kids she went to daycare with for 4 years). They are all happy, well-adjusted kids. I know for a fact that my daughter is not stressed and, in fact, loves school and learning. By all means, putting major pressure on ANYONE to achieve at ANY age is stressful. Exposing children to learning opportunities is not. Many parents who choose to send their children to preschool engage in the former. That does not mean that all schooling before 6 or 7 or whatever arbitrary age selected is stressful.

    I do agree that preschool makes no ultimate difference. Within a year or two, there will be no way to tell who went to preschool and who did not.

  112. pentamom September 16, 2011 at 11:13 pm #

    Donna, it seems like you’re arguing that because of the life situation of working parents, the public schools should be set up to provide full day kindergarten, and that it’s not unreasonable that a situation is created where non-working parents feel obligated to pay higher expenses out of their own pockets so that their kids “keep up.” I’m not going to argue this on the level of social policy (i.e. whether working parents “ought to have” this benefit provided), but it seems unreasonable to me the schools are structured to provide a social benefit that shows little evidence of educational benefit, and imposes a social cost on a different segment of society. It seems like somebody’s bound to lose out here one way or the other, but why are the schools providing a service that creates little to no long-term educational benefit, costs everybody, and only shifts the burden of inconvenience/expense to a different sector?

  113. pentamom September 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    IOW, why is an institution whose portfolio is education inserting itself into this non-educational aspect of social policy, possibly to the detriment of the education of some (e.g. those who are “too poor for preschool, too rich for Headstart?”)

  114. Jenn September 18, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    I totally agree with everything you said, and so I’ve taken a pseudo chicken way out: I homeschool. I want schools to be different, but I won’t wait through my kids suffering, hoping that the schools will change. My kids (5 and 7) do make paper mache globes, and native American headdresses in school. They put together poster board projects with tape, glue and minimal help from me. They have snack and recess in the morning, then walk to the park together after lunch. We go on walks through nature every week for school, and they spend weeks during the summer with their Grandparents, and without me. The only way I’ve seen to give back my children’s childhoods has been to take them away from the schools. I fight my husband over this, who still thinks that standardized testing is good, but we are getting there.

  115. Mandy September 19, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    Uly’s childhood homework sounds just like my kids’ (3rd and 1st grades) homework now. Spelling + 1 page math + reading.
    Also they play lots in their schools! There is a huge emphasis on “project based” learning now. I think they could count the number of times they’ve filled out bubbles on a paper on one hand between the two of them.
    We spent the weekend at soccer, swim practice, a birthday party, went to a state park for hiking and camping and then they rode their bikes around the neighborhood this afternoon. I don’t think they’re missing out on much.

  116. TRS September 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    I think my girls get about everything except the free play after school. They are in organized sports but so was I. The difference – I grew up in a small town and could bike everywhere – they are growing up in a county with over a million people and there is a busy 6 lane rode we have to exit our neighborhood on. I have to drive them everywhere but I drop them off and pick them up when it is over.

    I never got two recesses and starting 7th grade I got 0.

    One thing that has changed for them is the amount of homework they get at a young age. I also think they are getting a better education than I did and have more opportunities. I don’t glamorize the 70’s – in reality it was more stifling for girls. Now my daughters are seen as equals in the classroom with their male peers. They are really encouraging girls to excel in math and science.

  117. TRS September 22, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    My girls went on a week overnight summer camp after their 2nd grade year. It was outdoors with no plumbing. The first overnight camp I went on was after my 5th grade year. So far the twins have been to 4 – last year they did a high adventure camp that included caving, rock climbing, canoeing, archery…..

    Seriously – I choose to let my kids do this stuff and there are a lot of parents that do also because the camps fill up with waiting lists.

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