I vividly remember the day my son, then five, learned to play the game “Mr. Fox.” Someone played the role of Mr. Fox— standing at the front of the room while a group of excited children called out “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” If Mr. Fox answered “2:00,” then the children took two steps closer to him. 4:00 – they took 4 steps closer and so on. At some point, the children asked “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” And Mr. Fox yelled “Dinnertime!!!!!!” Mr. Fox then raced to capture children as they made their way back to a safe base.
Now, this game really captured my child’s interest and enthusiasm. He loved it. We played it inside. We played it outside. We played it in the pool. Mr. Fox became a household game that continues to this day – some two years later.
How is it that such a silly game could spark so much enjoyment? What use is “play” like that anyway? Shouldn’t children be doing something “productive?” Something “educational?”
Yet make no mistake. Play is productive. It produces joy. Energy. And enthusiasm. Play is meaningful. Play is learning. And play is hard work.
In March of 2009, a summary report from the Alliance for Childhood was released. The article, entitled “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School,” argues that the disappearance of play from kindergarten and early childhood is damaging to both our children and our nation.
Authors Edward Miller and Joan Almon highlight the results of studies showing that preparation for tests and standardized testing are now daily occurrences in many kindergartens. And in many classrooms, there is no playtime at all. The authors note that kindergarteners “are now under great pressure to meet inappropriate expectations… [and] are being denied the benefits of play – a major stress reliever.” They go on to describe how many experts consider the increase in academic pressure combined with a lack of play (and stress relief), to be contributing factors in the increase in behavior problems, aggression, and anger seen in young children today.
Miller and Almon outline 5 recommendations for creating better kindergartens. Briefly summarized, these include:
1. Making play a priority for children.
2. Eliminating kindergarten standards that are developmentally inappropriate.
3. Stopping the use of standardized testing in kindergarten and replacing it with more age-appropriate alternatives.
4. Gaining a better understanding of how current practices impact long term development for children from different backgrounds. And
5. Enhancing teacher preparation – emphasizing the value of play and how to support the development of the whole child.
Importantly, the authors state that play-based kindergartens have clear advantages. Not only do the children develop solid intellectual skills but they are likely to become healthier and better adjusted. Intellectual skills + social and emotional health and adjustment? Now that’s a winning combination.
In The READY Method, Dr. Margaret Owen and I show parents involved in every day play interactions with their children. While playing with children may seem like an easy “job,” did you know that there are ways to play with children that actually support the child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and language development? Play builds connections – not just at school, but at home too.
For more information on the Alliance for Childhood, please visit:www.allianceforchildhood.org
To read the summary of Crisis in The Kindergarten, please click here