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Today’s Kindergarteners are Playing Less, Studying More

Reduced play and increased testing may actually hamper kindergartener learning

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Today's kindergarten curriculum looks nothing like the kindergarten curriculum we knew when we were kindergarteners. For kindergarteners today, kindergarten isn't just about naps and playtime and developing social and emotional skills anymore. Now, kindergarteners are tackling reading, writing, math and homework. Kindergarteners today are writing sentences, learning geography, and doing simple math problems. In other words, a kindergarten curriculum today is more likely to resemble a smaller-scale version of a first grade curriculum.

Less Play for Kindergarteners: Is It a Good Idea?

In a trend that's being criticized by many parents and educators, more school districts are downsizing playtime in kindergarten and placing increasing emphasis on preparing kindergarteners for standardized tests. The message to 5-year-olds is: Playtime's over, kids; it’s time to crack open those books.

But testing children this age neither reliably predicts future achievement nor helps them do any better in school, according to a new report called "Crisis in the Kindergarten" by the Alliance for Childhood, a College Park, Maryland-based research and advocacy group that works to promote children's healthy development and learning.

For one thing, says the Alliance for Childhood, testing kids younger than 8 may produce skewed results because kids this age can't sit still for long periods of time. Test results can also be affected by factors such as hunger, fatigue, or anxiety, which are much more apt to play a role in how a young child like a kindergartener performs on a test.

The report also points out that many kindergarteners are spending as much as 2 to 3 hours on math and reading, and spending only 30 minutes or less a day on playing. In some schools, kindergarteners have no playtime at all.

Less Play for Kindergarteners: The Importance of Playtime

The problem with crowding out play from a kindergartener's day is that unstructured play is an essential foundation from which kids can grow emotionally, socially, and even physically. When kids are free to play on their own, they can use their imaginations. They can interact with each other and develop problem-solving skills, learn how to cooperate and share, develop empathy, and learn self control.

What's more, studies have shown that recess helps kids do better in school. In one study from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, researchers found that playtime was associated with better classroom behavior. Not getting enough breaks and sitting for hours on end in a classroom actually worked against learning.

Less Play for Kindergarteners: Why Playtime in School is More Crucial Today Than Ever Before

Ironically, as recess is being cut back at schools, having playtime at school is even more important for kids than ever before. Today, children are less likely to get exercise and run-around time at home. Videogames, TV, computers and other sedentary activities have gobbled up more of children's free time than ever before. Kindergarteners and older grade-school age children are less likely to rely on just their imaginations to play and create.

Less Play for Kindergarteners: The Stress Factor

Many education experts say all the emphasis on academics and testing may lead to increased stress for a kindergartener. And of course, the cutting back of stress-relieving exercise and free play, which is precisely what a stressed kindergartener may need, certainly doesn’t help matters.

If you see signs of stress that may be related to testing in your kindergartener, the Alliance for Childhood suggests talking to your kindergarten teacher about what you can do to reduce your kindergartener’s stress. Other tips to keep in mind:

  • Reassure your child that the tests do not measure how smart or good a person she is.
  • Make sure your kindergartener gets plenty of sleep the night before and eats a healthy breakfast on test day.
  • Meet with your child’s teacher and principal to discuss ways to curb excessive testing.
  • Talk to other parents about how their children are faring with the workload and kindergarten testing. Work together to educate yourselves and your school about the drawbacks and limitations of testing young children.
  • Ask parents' groups such as the PTA to organize a meeting on early childhood education and alternatives to standardized tests.
  • Contact your local chapter of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or child development experts at a local university to get information and support for your concerns about kindergarten testing and erosion of playtime.
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