Let’s Let Them Play or Hypocrisy in Early Childhood Education.
Your choice of titles here 🙂
Why is the state forcing serious formal learning on its youngest students when attendance isn’t even compulsory? I’m talking about Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten. According to the Washington Post, “Kindergarten is the new first grade.” More work, less play–with bragging rights about the growing percentage of positive test results. Defending this shift in curriculum are those like School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast who states, “We were shooting way too low. Kindergartners are ‘natural learners.’ And if we don’t provide them with a natural learning environment, we are putting them behind.”
So let’s talk about a natural learning environment for 4-6 year olds. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is essential for healthy brain development by promoting “the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children.” They cite other important benefits of child-driven play such as increased creativity, dexterity, imagination, and being more engaged in the world around them. In fact, “Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development. It has been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even to enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviors, and problem-solving skills.”
Another great read on the importance of play in early childhood education is Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play (kindergarten_report) by the Alliance for Childhood. So why is play being reduced and sometimes eliminated in the classroom structure for these young children?
The new Common Core Learning Standards, according to EngageNY, “serve as a consistent set of expectations for what students should learn and be able to do, so that we can ensure that every student across New York is on track for college and career readiness.” These standards are being taught in all grade levels, starting with Pre-K. Exactly how EngageNY is affiliated with the New York State Education Department isn’t entirely clear to me yet, but it appears that it operates under NYSED to promote the Regents Reform Agenda and the changes it will inevitably entail in all levels of our children’s schooling. Basically, EngageNY is the happy face that NYSED puts on to promote this insanity. We are meant to see it as positive, more user-friendly, less governmental, less bureaucratic– so that we accept it more easily and without question.
The first half-day of my son’s Pre-K class was introductory and parents were allowed to be there. We talked about the new learning requirements handed down by the state and that Pre-K was essential the new Kindergarten. Developmentally some of those kids won’t have the hand-strength or dexterity to hold a pencil correctly, yet they are required to learn to write. I recall an aid saying, “I feel sorry for the kids that didn’t get into the Pre-K program. They are going to be so far behind in Kindergarten.” Meanwhile we parents were concerned that our four-year-olds were NOT yet able to wipe their own butts, and that the school staff was not allowed to help.
My son has a friend. She is only two months older, but she made the cutoff to enter school a year earlier. Developmentally they are the same age, but she is required to learn at a pace that far exceeds my son’s Pre-K class. The only play she gets is recess, which is at the end of the day. Daily, she is required to complete approximately half a dozen worksheets (all Pearson print-outs by the way). Often she is tired during class. My son still gets naptime. She does not. Remember… they are the SAME age. If she falls asleep at her table she is penalized by having recess taken away from her. Unconscionable!
And here’s the hypocrisy part. According to the Common Core Learning Standards, these children are required to start a curriculum of formal learning at age 4, upon which the entire structure of learning progression is dependent. Yet they aren’t even required to attend school until age 6. So back to the aid’s comment about kids being behind in Kindergarten if they missed Pre-K. And let me take this a step further. What happens to the poor child who doesn’t enter the game until 1st grade? Will (s)he be seen as undesirable in the classroom? How ever will this child catch up in a system of constantly moving forward and a system that does not allow mistakes? Will the teacher be annoyed at the student? At the parent? At the potential of poor test results with which the teacher is being evaluated?
It is the current emphasis on testing that has led to the downsizing of play and the insane push towards “higher standards” in our schools. NYSED relies on tests to defend this madness. Testing in children under age 8 can give skewed results, according to the Alliance for Childhood, with factors such as anxiety, hunger, or being tired contributing to test results. Furthermore there is growing evidence that testing in young children is actually undermining their development. This is part of the reason that we opted out of testing.
Let’s go back to that Washington Post article for a moment. Despite increased pass rates on the Kindergarten test, the article goes on to state, “That kind of success hasn’t yet translated to the higher grades.” So I ask, was there a point? Did forcing an early formal education help in the long run? NO!
I am NOT saying that schooling be made compulsory for these 4 & 5 year olds. I AM saying that this new focus on introducing formal learning earlier and earlier is ridiculous. Let’s let our kids be kids. Let’s let them play. Their learning won’t be compromised. In fact, I think they will be learning so much more. But I guess tests won’t be able to measure that as easily so it will be hard for NYSED to understand.