The 1950s Sucked In Many Ways, But The Way They Did Kindergarten Is #Goals

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Happy Hooligans / Facebook

There’s no way I’d actually want to go back in time and raise my family in the 1950s. Just thinking about the subservient role that wives and mothers were expected to play back then makes me sick to my stomach. I’m also pretty damn keen on civil rights for all, and I would not want to live in a time where a woman’s right to choose did not yet exist, or when LQBTQ+ rights were unheard of.

No thank you.

However, there are a few things that might have been a little better in the ’50s. It might have been nice to have the option to live comfortably on one income, and I wouldn’t mind a life where I could send my kids outside in the neighborhood to play without fearing that CPS would be called on me.

It turns out that the way early education worked in the ’50s may have had a few awesome perks as well. Check out this kindergarten expectation sheet from 1954, shared on the Happy Hooligan’s Facebook page:

From the looks of it, Margaret Bramer’s kindergarten class was a whole lot different than kindergarten is today. Academically, the things the children were expected to master were pretty basic, like color recognition, being able to read and write their first name, knowing their address, knowing the days of the week, and counting out loud. (Although it is the ultimate hallmark of 1950s patriarchy that the kids are expected to know their father’s first name, and not their mother’s. But we already knew that the ’50s majorly sucked in that regard.)

Compare all that to kindergarten of today. According to a study by the American Educational Research Association called “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?” most teachers today believe that children should know the alphabet and how to use a pencil before they enter kindergarten (note that in this 1950s kindergarten expectation sheet, the alphabet wasn’t necessarily even supposed to be taught during the kindergarten year!).

Not only that, but a whopping 80% of teachers today also believe that a child should leave kindergarten knowing how to read. You probably guessed that something like that was the case, but it’s still kind of shocking to see the actual stats on that, right? I think it’s safe to say that higher level academic skills like those weren’t even on the radar of most of the students and their teachers in the ’50s.

I would even venture to guess that most 1950s kindergarten teachers would have thought that the idea of teaching reading and math to just-turned-5-year-olds is pretty freaking absurd.

Kindergarten has changed pretty significantly, especially in the last 20 years. Since 1998, time spent on math and reading in kindergarten classrooms has increased dramatically, according to the study from the American Educational Research Association. And as you can imagine, this focus on academics has taken precious time away from so many other vital activities that used to be the norm.

If you take a look at the 1950s kindergarten expectation chart again, you’ll see that the vast majority of activities that the kids were expected to do centered on creativity and free play. Music, playing with clay, cooking, sewing, playing outside, and even skipping were requirements at this kindergarten. The kids were also expected to learn how to tie their shoes, share with their peers, be kind, and develop some manners.

Basically, the rules focus on kids being kids, and starting the journey of developing into decent, upstanding citizens. Honestly, what else could we possibly expect of a room full of 5-year-olds?

Don’t even get me started on the ways that modern-day early education is working to stifle the free spirits of young children. Just take a look at these depressing statistics out of the American Educational Research Association:

“Between 1998 and 2010, the number of teachers reporting daily music instruction decreased by 18 percentage points and daily art instruction decreased by 16 percentage points. In a similar vein, the number of teachers who spent at least one hour per day on child-selected activities and the likelihood that classrooms have discovery or play areas, such as a sand table, science area, or art area, fell by 14 percentage points and over 20 percentage points, respectively.”

And the saddest, most frustrating thing about all of this is that we know that giving our kids plenty of outside time, and a chance to unleash their creative energies, actually helps them academically and decreases the likelihood of behavioral problems in the classroom.

The American Education Research Association report indicates that much of the shift toward academics has to do with a new focus on standardized testing, even at the earliest ages, with kindergarten teachers being more likely than before to report that their students are given monthly standardized tests.

Monthly standardized tests for kindergartners. Really? That’s where we are?

It’s disheartening, to say the least. And as a mom who is sending her youngest kid to kindergarten in just a few weeks, my already-frayed nerves are about to implode just thinking about things like that.

But here’s the silver lining. And I promise, there is one. In my experience, although there is a lot of pressure these days on teachers to “teach to the test” and limit the more creative and free-for-all activities, most teachers do remember that kids are just kids and continue to find ways to give their students time and space to be themselves.

Most teachers actually don’t like these changes and are working hard to teach the way that they think benefits their students the most. Not only that, but parents across the board are also getting pissed as hell about the out-of-control testing and academic standards and are making their voices heard about this.

My hope is that the tides will start to turn, especially given the fact that research proves that pushing academics too early has negative effects on kids. In places like Finland, for example, where academics aren’t pressed at all in the early years, the kids are doing fabulously in the long run, both academically and socially.

Here’s hoping things will start to change soon, right? In the meantime, we should not let up on making our opinions known. Seriously, we parents have the power to make real changes in our education system. And most of all, we should remember to thank our kids’ teachers for doing their damnedest to make school the fun, nurturing place that it so often continues to be despite the roadblocks faced by nearly everyone working in education these days. Teachers today are the real heroes and deserve all the thanks and support they can get.

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