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Early Childhood Teachers Come to the Defense of Play

Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 04:00 AM

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In the discussion of what makes up high-quality pre-kindergarten, designers of early childhood programs agree that young children need a play-based education that allows them to explore, develop critical thinking and social skills and test their own boundaries.

That means lots of time in the block corner, getting hands dirty at the sand table, putting together puzzles.

But looming beyond the four-year-old year is the reality that expectations are getting higher for the grades kindergarten, first and second. Many educators worry that the chipping away of playtime in these early years could encroach on pre-k territory as well. 

"The second-grade and first-grade curriculum has now been pushed down into kindergarten," said Regina Gallagher, head of early childhood programs at the Goddard Riverside Community Center. "If we push it down into pre-k, then children lose their childhood.”

To get the expansion of pre-k right, educators have said everyone needs to be on the same page about play, including teachers, administrators and parents.

Listen to early childhood educators on the importance of play in developing academic skills needed in later years. 

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Comments [2]

Hong-Loan Tran from California

My understanding of child development, supplemented by my own observations in a preschool setting, is that the pre-K years need to be play based, not academic. Some of the pictures accompanying the articles by Khan show a preschool classroom that seems very academic to me. I see blocks on display but not an area for block play. My concern is that if the implementation of pre-K is not done using developmentally appropriate practices, it would do more harm than good. Young children need an environment where they can freely choose which activity that they want to be involved in. Having an overly structured curriculum in the pre-K years is not appropriate because it doesn't allow for exploration, which is how children begin to think creatively and critically. When children wonder, they begin to make sense of the world around them - be it in the sandbox, water table, during house play,or in the garden digging for worms. Wonderful ideas occur when young children have plenty of opportunities to become engaged in an activity of their own choice. An overly structured curriculum that is mainly teacher driven, would send the message to children that what they think and wonder about does not matter, since doing these teacher driven activities at this set time is more important. If this happens, I feel strongly that it has the subversive and corrosive message that the child is "disruptive", "inattentive", "a bad child" ... you fill in the blank. When children are prevented from wondering, they are prevented from developing their critically thinking skills. Young children benefit from a play-based pre-K, not an academically oriented one. When implementing the expansion of pre-K, policy makers need to make developmentally appropriate practices a priority. I'm watching to see how this will turn out and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it turns out well.

Jul. 07 2014 05:19 PM
concernedmom from New York, NY

Thank you for your reporting on this topic. It is of great concern to us as our child is about to enter kindergarten in September and after visiting all our local public and charter school options I was disheartened to see the K classrooms resembled first grade classrooms. Zero play curriculum in six different schools. Only one classroom we visited had a tiny toy play kitchen to which I thought, great, there's something. But I was heartbroken when we learned that the lovely teacher had purchased the item personally to use for reward in the classroom when students reached certain goals/criteria. The play was reduced to a reward. At another school, only one classroom even had blocks and they were in a box in a shelf out of sight and there were only enough blocks for one child to play with. I visited a couple of private schools to inquire about their K curriculums, the academic pressure was evident there as well however they had not thrown out the baby with the bathwater with regard to kindergarten curriculum. If I had the money I would happily pay the $17,000.00 for the private K as they gave the best impression of addressing learning according to where each individual child is developmentally and of instilling a love for learning in their students. I fear our child will be turned off to school and to learning as he faces an 8 hour intense school day, with zero play, an expectation to be seated for long periods working academically and where a 20 minute recess period during lunch can be taken away if the children get too rowdy (they will be 'benched' if they get too loud or boisterous). Perhaps state standards and testing has changed, but human beings still develop the same way. Must we rob children of the joy of learning? The word itself means "children's garden" and from what we've seen both public and charter school kindergarten classrooms do not exhibit any sense of this. I'm hoping that pre-k teachers' call to attention of this matter does filter back up to K and 1st grade levels for the children's sake.

May. 29 2014 04:19 PM

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