In August, Chicago Now blogger Christine Whitley referred to a 1979 book called Your Six-Year-Old. In it, she found a checklist to help parents figure out if their kid was ready for first grade. Answer YES to 10 of these 12 questions and your kid is ready:

1. Will your child be six years, six months or older when he begins first grade and starts receiving reading instruction?

2. Does your child have two to five permanent or second teeth?

3. Can you child tell, in such a way that his speech is understood by a school crossing guard or policeman, where he lives?

4. Can he draw and color and stay within the lines of the design being colored?

5. Can he stand on one foot with eyes closed for five to ten seconds?

6. Can he ride a small two-wheeled bicycle without helper wheels?

7. Can he tell left hand from right?

8. Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?

9. Can he be away from you all day without being upset?

10. Can he repeat an eight- to ten-word sentence, if you say it once, as “The boy ran all the way home from the store”?

11. Can he count eight to ten pennies correctly?

12. Does your child try to write or copy letters or numbers?

Most of these are pretty standard…except for #8. Read that one again: Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?

Wow. My kids are 8 and 11. When they were six, they had to turn around on the bikes when they got to the driveway two houses down from us (where we could no longer see them from our spot on the porch). Just within the last year we’ve become comfortable with them riding their bikes around our neighborhood — the whole block — without our supervision. We’ve even told them they can ride, by themselves, three blocks and a couple of turns to the local school park to play — but only if they both go, together. With a cell phone, no less. So far, they haven’t wanted to. They generally stop at the end of the block and head back up the street. Within the last year, we’ve begun leaving them home alone at various times during the day. (We’ve been doing it with our oldest for longer than that, if she was alone — but not if she had to also take care of her brother.)

They’re gaining freedom and we’re loosening the reins, little by little.

But send a six-year-old eight blocks to the store? Not in Chicago, and not in Amarillo either. I wouldn’t trust him…and I wouldn’t trust the drivers on the very busy streets near us to see him.

Times have changed. As KJ Dell Antonia points out at Slate, it’s not that the country is different — crime rates are lower now than they were in 1979 — but parents are different. All of us. We expect a lot more of our kids in some respects (computer/DVR/iPod literacy) and much less in other respects (neighborhood navigation).

Christine asks:

Are we pushing and expecting too much of our kids these days? Or did we underestimate our kids back in the 70’s?

That’s a good question. What do you think? How much freedom do you give your kids?


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