When I was a kid, my family would drive frequently to Yonkers, NY to visit my grandparents. Along Long Island’s Northern State Parkway, there was always an enormous amount of trash on the side of the road. People thought nothing of rolling down the window and tossing trash from moving cars.
If that strikes you a bizarre, selfish or just plain disgusting, thank the “Crying Indian.” One of the most effective television commercials ever, the Crying Indian was the centerpiece of a long-running public service campaign from Keep America Beautiful. The anti-pollution campaign changed behavior. It drove awareness of the problem of litter, and fed a growing environmental consciousness in the U.S.
People did a lot of things when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s that are now considered socially unacceptable: women smoked while pregnant. Parents smoked in front of their kids. Drinking and driving. Not wearing seatbelts. From buying war bonds to fighting child abuse, public service messages have a long history of changing behaviors and our definition of what is or is not acceptable. Perhaps we need to revisit this tradition.
Although “kindergarten ready” may not have the same cachet as “college- and career-ready,” early learning is the cornerstone of long-term success for America’s children. After all, learning starts at birth, and learning standards should start with even our youngest children….Without early-learning standards and quality pre-K education programs to support them, the developmental gaps start and expand even before children enter kindergarten.”
Rather than get standards-happy, I’d rather see an aggressive public awareness campaign that carries the message that a child’s success in school is largely driven by what happens before that child sets foot in school on Day One, and gives parents a few things they can do to get their child ready from the start. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head.
1. Read to your child for 30 minutes a day.
2. Have conversations with your child every day. Use questions, not commands.
3. Teach your child the alphabet before kindergarten.
4. Teach your child to count to 20.
5. Limit TV time to 30 minutes a day.
Rather than try to parent-proof children with “early childhood learning standards,” perhaps we’d be better off sharing the habits of good parenting broadly, aggressively and publicly. Behaviors change when people see the benefit of changing. Isn’t that what education is all about? It works. If you need proof, just look on the side of the road.
Update: Joanne Jacobs has more on this. ”Kindergarten preparedness training is a regimen with an ancient history,” comments reader Obi-Wandreas. “In some more primitive areas it is still referred to by its archaic designation of ‘parenting.’”