Our Changing Educational System

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A few weeks ago my mom sent over something that proved to be an interesting conversation piece at our house – an ABC book that I made in first grade. I loved seeing what my work looked like when I was about Megan’s age. And, the smell of “ditto” paper still lingered around the paper.

If you have no idea what ditto (a.k.a. “memeograph”) paper is, you’re younger than me and that’s all I’m going to say about that. Those of you who are knocking on forty’s door (or have already opened it and gone through) know exactly what I’m talking about.


All of my kids agreed that I had it easy. My first grade work was way easier than their first grade work was. They’re right. When I started school, Kindergarten wasn’t mandatory. . I went, but not everybody did, so first grade was spent teaching ABC’s, numbers, rhyming words, writing, and such. Stuff that’s done in pre-K these days.

I distinctly remember several aspects of my Kindergarten years and they were definitely equivalent to today’s preschools – lots of cutting, pasting (with that thick paste that you had to use a stick to spread) and play. {Gasp}

Yes, play! Lots of free play, dramatic play…you know, fun.


I also distinctly remember a couple of impromptu science lessons. Both involved hypotheses that I’d seen played out on cartoons many times.

The first experiment was to answer the question, “Does the stream of milk that’s being poured into a glass from a pitcher during a lunch refill (no pint-sized milk cartons for us) really stop, mid-stream, if you pull the glass out from under it?”

It doesn’t.

The second question was, “Will all the plastic cowboys and Indians in this red pail stay in the pail as it sails through the air when I put the cowboy-and-Indian-filled pail on one side of a see-saw (made from those cardboard bricks and some kind of wooden plank…that particular detail escapes me) and, then, jump on the other end?”

Again, that’s a negative.

The plastic cowboys and Indians rain down upon the room in a very colorful display while the scientist quickly leaves the area, leaving an innocent by-stander to take the blame. If I could remember that kid’s name, I’d look him up on Facebook and apologize. He probably still remembers that event, too…as the day he got in trouble for something he didn’t do.

But, I digress. The point of this whole post was how much the education of our young people has changed. Kids these days are doing, in Kindergarten, what I was doing in second or third grade. They’re taking home one or two hours of homework every night in Kindergarten and first grade – something I didn’t do until fifth or sixth grade.

They’re going to after-school tutoring for “problem” areas – areas that wouldn’t have been problems thirty years ago because they weren’t being taught to kids who weren’t developmentally ready to learn them.

Is the result of these increased expectations kids who are graduating from our public high schools smarter, more productive, or more prepared for adult life than their parents were when they graduated? I don’t think so. If anything, they are graduating less productive and less prepared…and not any smarter about anything that hasn’t happened to make it onto a standardized test.

So why do people – and the government – seem to think that the solution is to push kids earlier and earlier? Seriously, does anyone see that working? Are our test scores are graduation rates increasing? No, what we see increasing are the number and instances of learning disabilities, teen suicide rates, violence in schools, and kids with stress related disorders.

But, you know what? Those of us who homeschool can do something about it. We can quit trying to replicate a failing educational system. We can radically change our preschool and Kindergarten curriculum.

We can provide free afternoons for learning and exploring about the things that interest our children. We can emphasize our kids’ strengths, while shoring up their weaknesses, rather than putting all the emphasis on what they’re not good at and throwing all our energy into trying to fix that since it will very likely fix itself, if given time. We can teach things in a developmentally appropriate fashion.

We can take the time to lay the foundation upon which future skills can be built rather than simply moving the time table of expectations further and further back because, well, that really doesn’t seem to be working.


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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. Girl, I used to love going to the office to pick up the “ditto” papers when they were fresh of the machine! That smell ranks up there with coffe brewing and grass being mowed.

  2. This is one of the reasons that I homeschool. To many kids are being pushed where they aren’t ready and/or being held back because they’re to far ahead of their peers. I was so frustrated by the idea that because one of my children was so far ahead of the others in math that they decided he should start concentrating on something else while the class did math. Seriously! They refused to meet him where he was at, they just decided that he was slightly weak in reading so he should read through two class sessions instead of one. Now I have a child who begrudges reading for pleasure, because for him the pleasure was taken out of it. Sad.

  3. I second that amen! I have to keep reminding myself to slow down with my kindergartener. The education standards do NOT take developmental appropriateness into consideration at all! What is the rush after all?

  4. My mom was an elementary teacher, so I got to help make those memeogrpahs…ooooh, that was fun!

    There is a dichotomy here, though. In the way past, kids were expected to do more academically and physically and be able to handle more responsibility. They also were pushed hard in those areas, but had lots more time for free exploration, dreaming, thinking. Now we fill those up with video games, TV, soccer, ballet, etc, etc etc. None of those things are necessarily bad, but when a child is left with no time to process what they’ve learned – and no time to let their brains wander over that new learning…they stall.

    Sometimes I think we push them too hard in some areas and not enough in others.

  5. Ah, I miss ditto paper smell.
    Seriously, when I push my daughter on something, I’ll often read serendipitously that a child her age isn’t ready for XYZ and then I go,”Oooh” so I back off. You are so right – I look at my 17 yo cousin in a very high priced private school and he can’t spell worth a hoot. I think most of us homeschoolers are so ahead of the game.

  6. I think that’s an excellent point, Kerry. That goes back to Charlotte Mason’s ideas about free afternoons. The point is, they should be free for a child to explore things that interest him, building things, taking them apart, processing what’s he’s learned…not filled up with more sensory input.

    It can be hard in today’s society, but I think it’s important not to let our children’s free time get filled up with more external activities such as sports, TV and video games. I think you’re exactly right that kids need time to let the things they’ve been hearing “percolate.”

  7. This is something my fiance and I have discussed multiple times. One of my usual comments to him after a day subbing in a kindergarten classroom is that, “Kindergarten is the new first grade”.

    Oh and as a twenty-something I too remember mimeographed papers–at least in in elementary school.

  8. great post! and all i remember about kindergarten were the naps and music times. i always wanted the triangle.

  9. LOL about the triangle. One of my other distinct memories from Kindergarten is falling asleep in music class. I don’t know who was supposed to be taking care of me, but they left me there! I woke up and there was a whole different class in the room! It’s funny now, but I remember it being somewhat traumatic at the time.

  10. You are preaching to the choir!!!! Thanks to Charlotte Mason, I have seen with my own eyes that students learn more when teachers teach less. Why? When you are mindful of where a child is developmentally and only assign tasks within their reach, they learn more fully and more quickly because they are READY.

  11. thank you for the post. I’m about to start Kindy w/ my almost 6 year old and lean towards a year full of play. (She is already reading but that’s really her own doing). We do push them too early.

  12. I agree 100%. My “kindergartener” spent over an hour this morning taking apart a remote-controlled car. He was learning his R from his L and working on fine motor skills, but I guarantee it was way more interesting to him than any worksheet would ever be!


  13. Yeah, I know I’m preaching to the choir. I thought those exact words this morning. I prefer it that way, though. It’s that whole “fear of confrontation” thing. lol

  14. Oh, I am so with you on this! Thank you for putting this into words and for validating what I’m doing with Daniel! I know that I am doing what is best for him, but sometimes I still feel the need to be TOLD that I’m doing the right thing!

    And for the record, I’m 28 and I remember dittos. lol!!

  15. Couldn’t agree more! Fortunately, I read some Raymond Moore books before we had kids and they have had a major influence on how we teach the children!

    Love the ditto machine smell too! Wonder what it did to our brains though!!

  16. I think this trend is only becoming worse as full day kindergarten is offered more and more often (sometimes as the only option).

    I have been so surprised looking at some of the little kiddos that I know that will be starting kindergarten (in public or private school) next year. It just strikes me that they are so little to be spending all day at school.

  17. I absolutely couldn't agree more!!! I also think that there is a very real temptation for homeschoolers to fall into the same trap, so to speak.

    Taking the "starting too early" theme to the next level… I was recently talking with a new mom who works fulltime outside the home. As we talked, I was holding her infant (oooh it felt good to snuggle a little one again).

    Anyhow, during a lull in our conversation, she began talking to her baby saying "Did you have a good day at school today?" "Did you learn a lot of new things? I bet you did!" She turned to her husband & informed him that the baby was "on the exersizer" when she left. I was speechless.

    How sad that the "earlier you start, the better" indoctrination is even being used by daycare centers. Guess it may make the mom's feel better. Sigh…

    Thanks for the great post & yes I remember ditto machines. I also remember the thrill of being chosen to be the one who got to take the blackboard erasers down to the giant vaccuum and clean them. Now THAT was living 😉

  18. Good analysis. I’ve wondered what the big push for early education is all about.

    When I asked a respected teacher what to do to get Bug ready for school, she said, “Do what you are doing now. Play with him and read to him.” We never practiced the alphabet, and he still got it.

    I’m thinking there was a reason I was often bored in school…Some kids need the repetition, but if they understand and know the stuff why go over it again and again and again?

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