EarlyStories often sees articles proclaiming that pre-kindergarten is the new kindergarten, first grade the new kindergarten. What those catchy but somewhat cliched phrases mean is that early childhood programs are becoming too focused on academics at the expense of play, a key way young children learn. Of course, both are important and necessary — but the quality of both is equally important.
Taking a look at what experts have to say on these issues is one way to make such stories a little more informative and useful. The Harvard Education letter synethesizes some interesting recent reports by some of the top early childhood experts in its May/June Issue, in a piece entitled “Developmentally Appropriate Practice in the Age of Testing.”
On the issue of play, for example, the article points out that skilled adults must be in charge of guiding play for children so that it becomes a learning experience. “It’s a misinterpretation to think that letting students loose for extended periods of time is going to automatically yield learning gains,” Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School at the University of Virginia, is quoted as saying.
There are a number of other useful resources cited, including a report from the Alliance for Childhood describing how kindergartens are spending 2 to 3 hours a day instructing and testing children in literacy and math, with 30 minutes or less for play.
The report is featured prominently in “Kindergarten Cram,” a piece by Peggy Orenstein in The New York Times Magazine who took the issue further lby visiting kindergartens to ask about homework policies. She was assured (wrong answer in her mind) that five and six-year-olds were assigned it everyday.
EarlyStories would love to see journalism that highlights examples of kindergarten programs that successfully combine ways to play and learn, along with the stories showing that kindergarten has become all work and no play. Surely it is possible — and desirable — for early childhood learning to provide the best of both worlds?