Kindergarten - It's Time to Bring Playtime Back

Filed under: Opinions

kidsWhen we were growing up, kindergarten was all about playing. These days, play has gone out the window, replaced by academics. But is this good for our kids?

In January, I visited a two-day preschool with my three-year-old in hopes it would be a good fit for her. Within a half hour, I knew it wasn't. She spent most of her time at a table coloring or at circle listening to the teacher talk and read. Of the entire three hours, only 20 minutes were spent playing ... five minutes at each center. When the teacher called to find out why we hadn't enrolled, I expressed my concerns to her.

"Play?" she said. "Well, of course we play, but these kids need to be ready for kindergarten."

I sighed. "These kids" were only three years old. I remember when kindergarten was something that prepared kids for school, not something tots had to prepare for.
The Alliance for Childhood recently released a report titled Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School, advocating that today's early childhood curriculum is too deeply based in academics, with little room to for exploration and play. "We're very concerned about the lack of open-ended, child-initiated play, especially in early childhood," report co-author Ed Miller tells ParentDish. "There's a misunderstanding out there about how play actually works. It's not an obvious thing, but pretend play and making up stories are activities that build a foundation for math and literacy."

Miller points to a recent article in Scientific American that discusses how important play is in a person's overall development. "Our children's health and future are at stake," Miller says, noting that play is an economic issue, too; imagination and creativity are crucial to business success.

So what happened to make "play" such a bad word in school in the first place? Standardized testing, says Miller. Noting that testing small children isn't valid or reliable, Miller says that standardized tests measure things that are easily counted, such as letter recognition. Since these narrow tasks can be drilled over and over again, testing can actually produce good results. But by the fourth grade, says Miller, those scores begin to drop, and it's the kids who learned in play-based classrooms who begin to out perform their peers. "Nobody has figured out a test that measures imagination, enthusiasm or love of learning," says Miller.

My older daughter adores the structure of her highly-academic kindergarten. But still, I see the effects the endless worksheets and lack of free play have had on her. She won't curl up and read a book with me anymore, unless it's at bedtime (and so therefore, extending the time before lights out). She's decided against soccer, a favorite activity, and refuses to sign up for any kind of camp this summer. "All I want to do is play and play," she says, adamant that her free time be free. And because I believe that Miller and others like him are spot on, that's exactly what she's going to be allowed to do.

Miller says it's parents who have the biggest influence on their children's education. If you'd like to share a copy of this report with your school, click here. Print copies will soon be available.

How do you feel about play in early childhood? Are we pushing it out of our children's lives too soon? Or do you think kids need the heavy academics they get in school today? Share your thoughts with us.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.