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School in the Olden Days


My kids only have a few days of school left before summer vacation starts. Ty, who is 11, is so ready for his 5th grade year to come to a close. He has had enough of End-of-Grade testing, Homework assignments, Science Projects and the like. Maia, who is 7, is so sad to leave her favorite 1st grade teacher behind and has been moaning about missing her friends for a week now. I remember just a few short years ago how Ty was sad to see the school year come to a close. My how times have changed.

As we were talking about it last night, I was remembering back to the olden days when I walked uphill in the snow for 3 miles with no shoes just to get to school. You know, the real olden days. At least according to my kids, who think I don’t “get” how school works these days. I’m closer to 40 than 30 but I’m not 80 yet. Geesh. I still get it.

Things sure were different when I was in school though, I will agree with my kids on that point. The End-of-Grade testing was not such a big deal. There were no set reading goals where you had to read certain books and then take computerized tests on them to gauge your comprehension level. My 7th grade Science project involved testing the absorbency of different brands of paper towels with some water I turned blue with my mom’s food coloring. I certainly never hand crafted a 3 foot tall working volcano for a Science Fair.

I miss the way school used to be. I wish my kids could experience school the way I did, without all the pressure that is heaped upon their narrow shoulders nowadays. When I was in Kindergarten we had nap time. We pulled out our brightly colored little mats and laid down every day after lunch. We were 5 and that’s what 5 year olds did. We learned the alphabet?and how to tie our shoes. If we had mastered both those skills along with knowing our shapes and colors by the end of the year then we were right on track, educationally speaking.

Not so these days. By the end of Kindergarten my daughter was expected to know how to read a basic book completely on her own. She was expected to do simple math equations with no assistance. She had homework and spelling tests. She even had a Science project due at the end of the year. And they certainly didn’t take naps in her Kindergarten. Don’t even get me started on what was expected of Ty during his 5th grade year.

Why are we in such a rush to have our children grow up so fast? Why do they need to have so much?crammed down their throats beginning at the tender age of 5? I miss the old days, when Kindergarten was designed to ease kids into education. I’m sad that my kids will never get to know the way school used to be, before it became a competitive sport for scholarships and Ivy League acceptance letters.

Shared with Mama Kat’s Writers Workshop.

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  • I saw a documentary about a boarding school in China. The youngest class was the 2-3 yr olds. They were in school all day mon-fri and got to go home on the weekends. To me THAT is too much!

  • As a teacher and the mother of a 25 year old son, I found your post and all these comments quite interesting. I certainly can’t refute them all and I wouldn’t. However, my son having been in kindergarten 20 years ago, I can say not much has changed in kindergarten. His was half day, they didn’t nap or snack, and he was expected to read by year’s end.

    The expectations we have for our kids ARE high, but as a nation, we were falling behind many other nations. So every grade level was looked at, and now districts nationwide are working to align to the National Common Core Standards. How each district chooses to work to meet those standards is somewhat up to them.

    I am careful in the homework I assign, and I don’t send home projects unless a child can’t get them done in class (plus when I send them home, I don’t know which is the kid’s work and which is the parents’…oh wait, sometimes it’s all pretty clear…).

    But I do wonder whom you all perceive the “them” to be.

    • In our case, the school my kids attend is one of the top ranked schools in our entire state and in our district. This school seems to go above and beyond what other schools in our district require and while I realize that it’s the “above and beyond” that gets our school ranked so highly, I worry about when it’s just too much.

      In our school, Kindergarten has changed in the few short years since my 11 year old attended. Last year they extended our school day by an additional 45 minutes so they could cram in one more class. My son never had homework in Kindergarten, he never had Science projects and he didn’t have spelling tests. My daughter had all those things last year and she was stressed out by the end of the year. Their school day runs from 9:05am to 4:20pm. That’s INSANE to me.

      This year my son was expected to learn Geometry and the basics of Chemistry. In the 5th grade. I didn’t learn those things until 10th grade. He had to turn in a 10 page, single space typed, end of year report for his English class. My papers in college weren’t 10 pages long. He had homework every single night that took him at least 2 hours, sometimes longer, to complete. He had Math, Science, English, Social Studies and Spanish homework every single night. He had to stop playing basketball and soccer because there weren’t enough hours in the day once they extended our school day hours.

      I guess I’m just frustrated because I see their childhood slipping away in a haze of homework assignments and test scores. It makes me sad.

  • 100% agree! I started to panic yesterday that I needed to start teaching my son all of his letters and numbers well so he would BE READY FOR PRESCHOOL!!

  • As a first-time mom and an “older” mom, it stresses me out to no end that I need to make sure my son will be able to keep up with his peers. We didn’t have naptime in Kindergarten, but that is because it was only a half-day (3 hours). We didn’t start reading until first grade and we were doing very basic math in first grade. It amazes me that kids need to learn to read in Kindy. My son turned 3 in December and started a private preschool. I made sure he already knew his letters, shapes, colors, and was counting to 30 before he started. We are now working on spelling/site words. He chose to skip over 3 and 4 letter words and started with words like “balloon”. I’m rolling with it for now. I know he is a bright little boy, but “what if”.

    I panicked when my husband and I went for his 1st parent-teacher conference. I was saying things like “What if he can’t cut with scissors? They take those things seriously.” My husband laughed at me and told me they aren’t going to say that. Darned if they didn’t!! He can cut with scissors but his cuts aren’t neat when cutting a straight line. Ugh!!

  • Boy are right. What’s the rush? Where’s the fun? Where’s the play time? There’s supposed to be water-play in kindergarden. And jello cubes to snack on and little cars made of celery sticks with carrot disc wheels.And Books read out-loud for story time. And creative art like finger painting. I went through training for kindergarden instruction in Maryland and those were the things kindergarden was supposed to consist of in 1983. I’m appalled by current standards. Glad I never went. The only kindergarden I got in the 60’s was Captain Kangeroo.

  • I completely agree with you on the reading. I was so surprised to learn what is considered an “average” first grade reading book. They are so worn out when they get home from school — then they have to read, read, read. Or in my child’s case — stall, whine, stall, whine.

  • So sad to hear this. My kindergarten was very much the way you described yours. We had little cots to nap on 🙂 I had the best teacher on earth and she never put any of us kids on the spot. I loved her so much and did everything I could to make her happy. What’s wrong with the world that they won’t let kids just be kids???

  • Yes! Why does my first grader have SOOOOO much homework?! And why is it so hard? And why am I worrying about whether my four year old can already identify site words. I will say I recall being a little ticked off that learning to read was not a part of my kindergarten curriculum, but that’s because I was precocious and slightly annoying as a 5 year old. It wasn’t necessary for me to learn to read at 5, 6 worked out well for me in that regard. I’m a former teacher and even I am exasperrated by all of the curriculum things. I just feel like just because kids can read developmentally, doesn’t mean they actually need to. What’s wrong with spending a year getting your play on and figuring out how school and making friends and being away from your mom works? You will have plenty of time for seriousness at age 6 or 7!

  • Back when I was in the 1st grade and dinosaurs still roamed the earth, we still took naps. Oh and they didn’t start offering kindergarten until I was a 6th grader. BTW – a 6th grader was still considered elementary student then too.

  • I’m with you – I was shocked when my first grader was given ALGEBRA homework, something I didn’t tackle until middle school. It’s a lot of pressure for them; her teacher even wrote, as part of the 7 PAGE DESCRIPTION of the end-of-the-year presentation project, something about hoping the nightly preparation didn’t cause too many tears. Of course it did – they’re kids, and they were given a high school assignment! I know they’re trying to give kids a head start, but at some point it becomes counter-productive if they get discouraged and feel like they can’t keep up.

  • I was really surprised this year when my younger son’s teachers told me they didn’t do naptime in kindergarten anymore. My older son had them and he’s only two years older (although he went to kindy in a different district). Who knows what it’ll be like by the time my baby gets into school? My older son is doing things in second grade that I didn’t do until fourth. I dread to think what middle and high school will be like.

  • Kindergarten for me was the same as you. We had nap time the first half of the year, but after Christmas they stopped naps. I think we had Sesame Street time instead. I remember learning basic shapes and colors, learning my address, phone number, and reading. I could read, but it wasn’t expected of me to read an entire book. My daughter is only 2, but I am already worried about what school will be like for her.