Are high academic standards in early childhood education kicking children’s play to the curb?

With mounting pressures on preschools to succeed academically, is focus on a child’s whole development – mind, body and soul – getting pushed out the window?

We recently explored a topic about U.S. schools eliminating recess in order to meet the high academic standards put in place by districts and federal policies. This disheartening trend was brought to light again recently in a joint op-ed by Rob Saxton, Oregon’s Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Jada Rupley, the state’s early learning systems director, in The Oregonian. The joint op-ed, titled “Kindergarten test results a sobering snapshot”, outlined the state education leaders’ view that the results of a statewide kindergarten assessment were not up to par.

“The results provide a sobering snapshot of the skills our children possess as they enter kindergarten, reconfirming that we still have a long way to go in reaching our youngest learners,” the op-ed read.

The authors indicated that in order to meet the state’s higher education, university-level 40-40-20 goals, closing academic achievement gaps should start early, before students even enter kindergarten.

With academics taking center stage as early as preschool, there is no room for failure. What room is left for kids to explore, play, make discoveries and solve problems on their own? How will the future generation of children grow physically, emotionally, socially, creatively and physiologically?

“Today, kids aren’t given time and space to learn at their own speed,” wrote Washington Post education reporter, Valerie Strauss, in an article on the topic. “For some kids, learning to read in kindergarten is just fine. For many others, it isn’t. They just aren’t ready. In years gone by, kids were given time to develop and learn to read in the early grades without being seen as failures.”

Writer Alfie Kohn, author of more than a dozen books on education and human behavior, also cited his concern about what policymakers are dubbing “universal preschool”.

“Very few people are talking about the kind of education that would be offered — other than declaring it should be ‘high quality.’ And that phrase is often interpreted to mean ‘high intensity’: an accelerated version of skills-based teaching that most early-childhood experts regard as terrible,” he said in a Washington Post article. “That doesn’t leave much time for play.”

Daphna Bassok, co-author of “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? The Changing Nature of Kindergarten in the Age of Accountability” was also perplexed by the logic of emphasizing academic performance standards in gross disproportion to natural discovery, growth, and play.
“Kids like to play. Kids learn from play. Why it doesn’t make sense to just let them play is beyond me,” she said.

At Amazing Athletes, we believe in structured play, hands-on learning experiences, meaningful real-life concepts and the freedom for children to explore and solve problems on their own. By over-emphasizing prescriptive academic learning and de-emphasizing all other methods of learning, we are putting a child’s developmental needs by the wayside. We believe that activity-based developmental learning environments like ours have an important place alongside academics in teaching children fundamental life skills.

Amazing Athletes’ sports enrichment program is not about creating pro sports stars. Our research-based programs are founded on the belief that through motor development-focused, life skill-enriching activity, children can achieve their highest potential. We believe that learning and play are not mutually exclusive, but in fact go hand-in-hand.

  • Gina Henrie
    Posted at 19:28h, 17 September

    I’m looking into putting my child into school earlier but I’m not sure how to go about that. I like what you said about in order to meet the state’s higher education, university-level 40-40-20 goals, closing academic achievement gaps should start early. This is very useful information, thanks for sharing!