Today's Kindergarteners are Playing Less, Studying More
There have been some big changes made to the curriculum of many kindergartens, and these changes have many parents and educators very concerned. In the past, kindergarten placed a good deal of its focus on developing social and emotional skills, and allowed its students a good deal of playtime throughout the school day. Now, many kindergartens are pushing students to work on math, reading, and writing, and are assigning homework, and are significantly reducing (even eliminating) the amount of playtime. In other words, many modern kindergarten classrooms are teaching what is essentially a first-grade curriculum.
Is it a Good Idea to Reduce Kindergarten Playtime?
Proponents of this playtime reduction claim that less play will help kindergarteners prepare for standardized tests. Many parents and educators are critical of this viewpoint, and claim that it works against the best interests of the students.
The fact is, standardized tests are not effective for children this young. According to a report made by the Alliance for Childhood (a research/advocacy group focused on promoting effective education and healthy development for children), standardized tests do not reliably predict a child's future academic achievement, and they do not help children succeed in their current grade.
The report also claims that standardized testing of children below the age of 8 produces skewed results. This is due to a number of reasons, most notably that young children struggle to sit still for prolonged periods (such as those required for a standardized test). Other reasons for these skewed results include anxiety, hunger, and fatigue.
The Alliance for Childhood goes on to claim that the ratio between academic work and playtime have become unacceptable in many kindergartens. It has become quite common for kindergarteners to spend up to 3 hours a day on academics such as math and writing, and are given only 30 minutes a day for play. In fact, many kindergartens have eliminated play altogether.
Why Play is Important
The misconception is that playtime is wasted time. This is untrue. Unstructured play is tremendously important for a child's healthy social, emotional, and physical development. Unstructured play allows children to exercise their imaginations, to learn important social skills such as sharing, turn-taking, and cooperation, to develop empathy and compassion, and to learn restraint and appropriate expression of emotions.
Not only is playtime valuable in itself, it's been shown (by several studies) to actually enhance children's learning in the classroom. One such study, conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, linked positive classroom behavior with adequate amounts of unstructured playtime. Without playtime, children become more frustrated, fatigued, and unhappy, and their learning suffers greatly as a result.
Playtime is More Important Today Than Ever
The movement to reduce playtime in schools is particularly frustrating because, nowadays, children are getting less exercise and have fewer opportunities to use their imaginations than ever before. This is due to the increasing popularity of video games, television, computers, Internet, and other sedentary activities, which more and more children are choosing to spend their time doing. Unstructured playtime is a priceless opportunity for these children to get outside and develop their skills of imagination.
Playtime as Stress Relief
School is a stressful place, especially with the increased focus on standardized tests and academic performance. Playtime is an important and effective source of stress relief for children, and without it, many kids may experience significant adverse effects to their physical, mental, and emotional health.
If you're concerned that your child is becoming excessively stressed during their time at kindergarten, you'd be wise to meet with the teacher of the class, to discuss possible solutions for your child's stress. Additionally, make sure your child understands that the standardized tests are not a measure of how good a person he is, and ensure he gets plenty of rest and healthy, nutritious food.
Coordinating with other parents and educators is an important way to initiate positive change on this issue. Meet with other parents and find out how their children are holding up with the new focus on academics. Research the scientific literature, so you can have a productive, educated discussion with proponents of standardized testing. You can also join up with organized groups such as the PTA or the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), to participate in the ongoing discussions and to get information and support regarding this important issue.