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Many school systems across America send parents of upcoming kindergarten students a laundry list of things those children are supposed to have learned already. Having seen some of these lists, I have to wonder whether today's kindergarten teachers -- or perhaps school administrators and school boards -- know anything about the preschool years, the most important learning period in a human life.

A typical "Your child, upon entering kindergarten, should be able to . . . " list includes such things as:

Correctly identify all 26 letters of the alphabet.

Write his/her name.

Count to 10 and correctly number groups of objects to 10.

Correctly identify the primary and secondary colors.

Recognize his/her name in print.

Hogwash! I came to school not knowing these things. I knew how to sing the "alphabet song" but could not have identified all 26 letters. And this is when I entered first grade. There were no kindergartens in South Carolina in 1952.

I entered first grade, however, having learned the single most important thing a preschool child can learn: how to occupy my own time! When my teacher gave an assignment, I did not feel overwhelmed, much less helpless. It simply occupied my time. Therefore, I learned how to identify the letters of the alphabet, read, write and compute -- and quickly so.

Today's child comes to school more likely to know how to identify, write, count, etc., but less likely to know how to occupy his own time. The time his parents (primarily his mother, who has been brainwashed into believing the good mother is constantly busy in her child's life) have not occupied for him has been filled by preschool teachers, television, soccer coaches, piano teachers, etc.

It is therefore not surprising that today's teachers say today's children have difficulty working independently and persevering in the face of challenge.

A 40-year veteran teacher recently told me (and I've heard this many times before) that when she began teaching, the typical early elementary student would try two or three approaches to a problem before asking for help. The typical student of the 1990s makes one unsuccessful attempt and asks for help. "Sometimes," she said, "they tell me they 'can't' without even trying. They just look at a problem and give up!"

This tendency is, by the way, typical of children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Maybe attention deficit disorder is caused by adults who don't give preschool children sufficient opportunity to learn to occupy their own time.

In that case, I am forever indebted to my mother for telling me: "If you can't find something to do, I'll find something for you to do. What's it going to be?" I was out from "underfoot" faster than you can sing the alphabet song.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at on the World Wide Web.
If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.

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