When I was in kindergarten, my school day ended at noon.
My teacher played the piano and my class sang along. She read out loud to us, The Carrot Seed and Are You My Mother?
In all fairness, I do remember a pencil can in the middle of our communal table and echoing the words to a Dick and Jane book.
But mostly, I remember Green Trees. Yes, that’s right our playing field had a name. And I recall, vividly, a seesaw and running and playing tag.
Twenty years later, things were different.
My son’s kindergarten day ended at 3:00. He was not yet 5, but the first thing his teacher told me at his parent conference in November was, “He still wants to play.” She said this as if this was a bad thing and that something had to be done if my son was to succeed at all.
Being an NYU student who was majoring in education, I ignored her. Well, that’s not exactly true. I talked about her endlessly to anyone who would listen, wondering why someone who obviously knew nothing about children or education was allowed to teach.
The year before, when my son was 4, his teacher raved at our parent conference about how he had a glowing imagination. She reported that he could brilliantly story tell, recall details from stories he’d been told and had a flare for description. And most importantly, he had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.
So you can imagine my surprise when his kindergarten teacher did not feel the same way about his development and wanted him to sit still longer and pay attention better.
This child of mine had learned to tie his shoes the previous summer while he was still 4; but when I showed up in April to help out in his classroom, his teacher looked at me, pointed to my son’s untied shoe laces and said, “It’s time he learn to tie his shoes.”
Why had my son played (pun intended) like he couldn’t tie his shoes throughout most of the year?
And what else had he pretended he couldn’t do?
According to Let the Kids Learn Through Play, a New York Times piece, academic teaching in kindergarten can backfire. It can cause unnecessary stress and spoil a child’s desire to learn.
Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist, spent his career studying how the human brain develops and says that most kids younger than 8 are better suited for exploration than they are for didactic explanation.
Formal education at an early age will not foster people who can discover and innovate; and in fact, may result in children earning lower grades than children who had the opportunity to learn through play.
My grandson is now learning to read and it’s as if this generation of teachers and educational policy makers still did not get the memo:
Children learn through play.
It is essential for their development, not to mention their happiness and overall well-being.
Great story Cory. We should send it out to all the schools. They can learn from it
Great insights, thanks. If an adult is not willing to go sit on the floor and play with them its very hard to connect with children at the ages you are mentioning. Its physical and there is a risk of getting your clothes dirty, but that is where the rewards are.