Playtime Valuable - and Under Siege, Experts Warn
With pre-K and the early grades expected to be a key element of President Barack Obama's education agenda, early-childhood experts are urging policymakers to arrest what they see as the loss of free, unstructured playtime for children both in and out of school.
"Play is interfered with at every turn," Vivian Gussin Paley, an author and expert on young children's play told a group of 900 gathered last week for a conference at the 92nd Street Y, a cultural and community center known for its sought-after nursery school program. “What is happening to the preschoolers and the kindergarteners when they are barely given any time to set the table in the doll corner, which is not even there in some places?”
Participants at the Nov. 14 meeting were urged to push for more recess periods in elementary schools and to spread their message to boards of education and government groups.
The event comes amid ongoing warnings about today’s students needing skills to compete in the workplace, and when the federal No Child Left Behind Act's accountability mandates have fueled an increase in test preparation and test taking in the early grades.
'Play Equals Learning'
But play is the way in which children will develop skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, and confidence, said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, an author and psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.
"Play equals learning," she said during one of the sessions at the conference. "For too long, we have divorced the two."
Ms. Hirsh-Pasek added that while early-childhood education is expected to be “on the national agenda” under Mr. Obama’s administration, the topic of what is going on inside preschools is not yet part of the discussion.
"Don’t just say preschool is important," she said. "How we do it is important."
In his comments, Michael Thompson, a psychologist, consultant, and co-author of the 2000 book Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, attributed the rise of childhood obesity, anxiety, depression among children, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to the fact that children are missing out on "free, undirected play."
"We are doing wonderful things for kids, but we are not leaving them alone enough," he said.
Copyright 2009 by Editorial Projects in Education. All rights reserved.
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