Play vs. Instruction: What Should Kindergartners Be Doing?

All work and no play....
The Joyless Club: The Changing Brains of Children in Kindergarten

Kindergarten Playtime Disappears, Raising Alarm About Children's Learning and Health

College Park, MD, March 20, 2009-Time for play in most kindergartens has dwindled to the vanishing point, replaced by lengthy lessons and standardized testing, according to results of three new studies released today by the nonprofit Alliance for Childhood. Classic play materials like blocks, sand and water tables, and props for dramatic play have largely disappeared in the 268 kindergarten classrooms studied. The findings are documented in Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.

Researchers from U.C.L.A. and Long Island University found that, on a typical day, children in all-day kindergartens in Los Angeles and New York City spend four to six times as much time in literacy and math instruction and taking or preparing for tests (about two to three hours per day) as in free play or "choice time" (30 minutes or less). A third research team, at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, found that most of the activities available to children during choice time (a popular euphemism for playtime) are in fact teacher-directed and involve little or no free play, imagination, or creativity.

Child development experts have been raising alarms about the increasingly didactic, test-driven, and joyless course of early childhood education. "These practices, which are not well grounded in research, violate long-established principles of child development and good teaching," states the Alliance report. "It is increasingly clear that they are compromising both children's health and their long-term prospects for success in school."

The report summarizes recent studies and reports showing long-term gains from play and focused, playful learning in early education. It also critiques kindergarten standards, scripted teaching, and standardized testing and makes recommendations for change.

David Elkind, author of The Power of Play, calls the research findings "heartbreaking." In a foreword to the report, Elkind writes, "We have had a politically and commercially driven effort to make kindergarten a one-size-smaller first grade. Why in the world are we trying to teach the elementary curriculum at the early childhood level?"

The full text of Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School is available at www.allianceforchildhood.org.

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