04 April 2009


In the United States - at least when I was a child; I don't know what current practices are - 'first grade' is the first year of obligatory schooling, and begins, as I understand it, at the beginning of the school year in September after you turn six years old.

Actually, I don't know if that is strictly true. What would happen if you turned six at the beginning of October? Would you not start school for eleven months? In my case, anyway, my sixth birthday was 22 September, 1948, and I began first grade then.

The ages of schooling can be a little confusing for New Zealanders - and vice versa. In New Zealand you start school on or about your fifth birthday. If your fifth birthday falls in the middle of the school year (which starts in February), you will start school in the middle of the year. How things progress then depends, I suppose, on your progress. Susan knows much more about this than I do, as she taught our children at home and had to know the rules.

The result is that New Zealand children appear to begin school a year earlier than do American children. It all evens out at the end, however, as there is a 'thirteenth grade' in New Zealand, rather than a 'twelfth grade' - what used to be called 'seventh form' and was for those intending to progress to University.

Nevertheless, I started official public schooling at age five.

No, not because I was precocious. In New Zealand there are things called 'kindergartens,' but they are places that, I think, are not part of the State system, but rather local sort of pre-schools. They tend to be only for a few hours a day, and I think mothers normally are there with their children.

I - and at least very many other children, who were my classmates - attended kindergarten at age five, and it was a full school day's worth - I think.

And at age four I went for part of a day - with my mother in attendance for part of the time - to something called 'nursery school.' And this was voluntary, not part of the State system.


It appears to me, on reflexion, that at least for me, I started schooling of a mother-assisted variety at age four - just as many New Zealand children attend mother-assisted 'kindergarten' at the same age. And I started full-day State-run school at age five. But it was called 'kindergarten' rather than 'year one' (as current New Zealand terminology has it). And there I first began elements of reading and writing - just as New Zealand children do.

So apparently I had the same number of years of pre-University schooling as a New Zealander has.


I don't know, but I do know that my first 'real school' - kindergarten - was Roosevelt Elementary. It is still there, still located at 2324 Verde Street - though this 'Rough Riders' stuff is new to me. We never had such pretensions :-) I started there at age five, in kindergarten - September, 1947. Nursery School I remember, but not the name nor much about it, except that I was terrified the first day - I was only four, remember!

Miss Harding was our principal. I can even remember some of my teachers' names. I don't recall my kindergarten teachers - and there were two of them. I think we were a big class, maybe as many as 50, I seem to recall my mother saying. My second grade teacher was Miss Reynolds, and she told us a story that horrified me - and to this day I don't know whether to believe it or not. She told us of a class of children in New York City somewhere - a place as exotic to me as Timbuktu - who had never known anything but the concrete jungle of the city. When asked to draw an apple tree, they drew a pole with a flat board on top with a nice pyramid of apples on top, as they had seen in the grocery store.

Sounds a little unlikely to me now, but I remember the story vividly because it rather upset me.

And Miss Cappell was my fourth grade teacher and she showed us the first aeroplane I had ever seen. I remember this with great clarity. One day, as we were in the classroom, we heard a buzzing sound outside. She quickly hurried us outside, so we could look up and see this marvellous site. This was 1951, and I am surprised now that they were so rare, but I suppose they were rare around Bakersfield. We were not on the way to anywhere. Presumably there was an airport. But the population of the town - now an astonishing 330,000 - was then only about 30,000 and its location made it a sight she wanted us to see.

And it was in third or fourth grade that I first fell in love. Karen Stone was her name.

1 comment:

slutigram said...

Hi John,

The age requirements of entry into school in the USA can vary greatly by school district (of which my staqte of Nebraska has 600 or so). Generally, the practice is that if your 6th birthday occurs before January 1, you enter school that year. Otherwise you can wait a year. Parents often have the option to hold a student out a year, should they feel their child is not ready for school. Kindergarten (is USA) was a relative rarity 60 years ago. However, today most districts offer at least a half-day kindergarten (more equivalent to new entry in NZ rather than kindy). The Obama administration has suggested making school available to children as young as 3 or 4 - with a view to make this mandatory in the future). Parents get to breed and the state will brainwash them.