The big problem with early childhood education

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In this Washington post, which appeared on Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog, Nancy Carlsson-Paige explains that the biggest problem in early childhood education today is the erosion of time for play.

Carlsson-Paige is an emeritus professor at Lesley College, where she taught teachers of early childhood. She explains in this post that the changes in the recent past have damaged children and their classrooms.

She said, in a recent speech:

For the last 15 years or so, our education system has been dominated by standards and tests, by the gathering of endless amounts of data collected to prove that teachers are doing their job and kids are learning. But these hyper requirements have oppressed teachers and drained the creativity and joy from learning for students. Unfortunately, this misguided approach to education has now reached down to our youngest children.

In kindergartens and pre-K classrooms around the country we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in play. There are fewer activity centers in classrooms and much less child choice, as well as less arts and music. At the same time, teacher directed instruction has greatly increased, along with more scripted curriculum and paper and pencil tasks.

Play is very important in child development, she says:

Children all over the world play. They all know how to play, and no one has to teach them how. Any time we see a human activity that is wired into the brain and accomplished by all children worldwide, we know it is critical to human development.

So much is learned through play in the early years that play has been called the engine of development. Children learn concepts through play; they learn to cope and make sense of life experiences; and, they develop critical human capacities such as problem solving, imagination, self regulation and original thinking.

She notes that early childhood educators were never at the table when government officials, think tanks, testing companies, and standards writers decided that play didn’t matter. It does matter, and strangely enough, we need to fight to defend the right of children to play.

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