Why Can't the Children Just Play?

November 04, 2015

In the sand

As the Director of a Preschool for the past 23 years, you can imagine I have seen many programs come and go.  I have heard the “experts” change opinions about what kind of approach works best when educating our youngest children.  I have seen different teaching styles and different philosophies for teaching, all supposedly based on the “most current brain research” available.

Over the years, the only thing that remains clear is that we all have one thing in common—we want our children to be successful.  We want to give them every opportunity to become intelligent, well-adjusted and happy adults.

But when did raising and educating a successful future generation turn into pushing kids so hard, so early in life?  I am concerned about the growing trend to push 4/5 year olds to demonstrate learning abilities that often do not seem age-appropriate.

Florida VPK Accomplishes its Original Goal

The original intent of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-K Program was to make quality Pre-K available and accessible for all four-year-olds.  I applaud this effort, and I think this has been accomplished.

In its first few years, Florida VPK was effective in setting attainable goals and standards for most children entering Kindergarten.  However, over the last several years, these same standards have been modified to be more and more demanding.

Changes in our society’s expectations reflect the desire to give our children every advantage as early as possible.  We now live in a culture that is demanding more and more from our children at all ages.  You can speak to many Kindergarten and First Grade teachers who will tell you the same thing.  And whether for better or for worse, this is true for Pre-K children as well.

No More Time To Play

In an atmosphere where play is learning and where exploration should be encouraged, Pre-K teachers now must spend valuable time administering “assessments” at least three times per year.  With increasing pressure for their students to compare favorably to others, more and more Pre-K teachers have followed the lead of their elementary school colleagues—they are adjusting their approach so that lesson plans align with the abilities required by the assessments.

I agree that there must be some way to evaluate whether a given VPK provider is doing an adequate job of preparing the children for Kindergarten.  But are we sure that standardized “testing” is the answer for a 4 year old?

Exploration is the Preschooler’s Key To Learning

Just the other day, Florida elementary school teacher Wendy Bradshaw resigned from her position in Polk County, Florida, through an open letter which she shared on her Facebook page. In her letter, which has now gone viral, she cites the ever-increasing pressure on our youngest students as unhealthy and developmentally inappropriate. Sadly, I think she is right.

One of my teachers sent me this link from a Mom expressing the same concerns.  I found it interesting as well.

Are we not doing our preschool-aged children an injustice by focusing on compound words and addition and subtraction concepts when it is not even age-appropriate for them to be reading?

What about exploring natural actions and consequences while floating objects in water? Or learning about weights and measures while playing in sand in the classroom Science Center? There are many valuable lessons to be learned from a classroom full of well-planned play opportunities, and we miss those crucial moments when we bend to the pressures of standardized academics.

Besides, when did preschool become elementary school?

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