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Playing in Kindergarten?

September 11, 2010

I addressed the push for more academics in early education in my most recent post.   In it, I was responding to an article written in Chicago but also speaking from my own experience in Colorado. Apparently, plenty of people around the country think it’s a bad idea to let small children play. I just found an article (written by Jane Ching Fung, a teacher from Los Angeles) detailing benefits of play in early education. It was re-posted by Valerie Strauss at her Washington Post blog The Answer Sheet.  Below, I’ve included an excerpt:

This post was written by Jane Ching Fung, a kindergarten teacher and new-teacher mentor in inner-city Los Angeles. A 2002 winner of the Milken Educator Award, she is a National Board certified teacher and a director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. She is also a member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This post was first published on the Teacher Magazine website.

By Jane Ching Fung
“What is ’Choice Time?,’” she demanded. “Students don’t have time to play.”

My heart sank when I heard these words coming from the mouth of a district administrator. Everyone on our kindergarten team had included “Choice” minutes in her daily schedule. Choice was a time for students to engage in centers and activities that were not teacher directed, assigned, or graded but intentionally designed to be open-ended, student driven, and to promote unstructured interactions among the children.

Dare I say that “Choice” was time set aside for our young students to play?

Since when did the word “play” become outlawed in kindergarten? I remember a time when kindergarten classrooms were stocked with wooden blocks, paint, and dramatic-play corners complete with costuming, furniture, appliances, and play food. Not so long ago, there was a period during the day when we encouraged kindergarten students to freely explore, create, and interact with the materials and people around them.

On the surface, children may appear to be only “having fun” during this unstructured time, but take a closer look and you’ll discover what I know: Play is so much more than idle entertainment. Play, including the ability to make your own choices, helps children develop and use essential social-emotional and academic-learning skills.

Through play, I have seen my students develop social, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities in a safe, risk-free environment. Has our early childhood curriculum become so narrow that we now focus only on what is being tested and ignore all the other areas in a young child’s development?

As a primary teacher for the past 25 years and as a parent, I know that play is the foundation of learning. Young children have a natural desire to explore the world and the people around them; play provides them with an avenue to discover things on their own and to develop autonomy. In today’s diverse classrooms, providing opportunities for every student to choose and engage in activities meaningful to them can produce positive results in all areas of the curriculum. Learning is another word for it.

It scares me to think of  district administrators such as the one mentioned in the article above.  Who are these sinister types who can blithely say that small children don’t have time to play?  Can you show me your Early Education credentials and say that with a straight face?

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