“My Child Is Getting Too Much Playtime in Pre-School”


This just popped up on a neighborhood listserv:

Just dyffafnntk
a quick question about preK: my child is in preK at [local school] and I’ve been a little surprised that they haven’t been doing anything educational.  My child was in preschool at [other local place] before and they used to read books, paint, practice letters, etc.. There was always a learning theme too.  I saw the handwritten schedule the teacher left yesterday and it was something like:  
 play dough time, bathroom, playground, table toys, lunch, nap time, movie time, bathroom, dismissal. 

My child also reports that there’s a lot of playtime.  I was just hoping for a little more enrichment or structured play-learning.

What gives?

Oh my. How long until we all understand that playtime = learning time, particularly when kids are very young, but probably also until the day we die?

In play, kids learn focus, creativity, compromise, communication…you name it. Reading and numbers will come later on. No need to rush.

Someone on the listserv proceeded to recommend Erika Christakis’ “The Importance of Being Little,” a book I am enjoying, too. And here’s what Peter Gray, author of Free To Learn, says on the topic:

A number of well-controlled studies have compared the effects of academically oriented early education classrooms with those of play-based classrooms…

The results are quite consistent from study to study:  Early academic training somewhat increases children’s immediate scores on the specific tests that the training is aimed at (no surprise), but these initial gains wash out within 1 to 3 years and, at least in some studies, are eventually reversed.  Perhaps more tragic than the lack of long-term academic advantage of early academic instruction is evidence that such instruction can produce long-term harm, especially in the realms of social and emotional development.

A Study in Germany that Changed Educational Policy There

For example, in the 1970s, the German government sponsored a large-scale comparison in which the graduates of 50 play-based kindergartens were compared, over time, with the graduates of 50 academic direct-instruction-based kindergartens.[2]  Despite the initial academic gains of direct instruction, by grade four the children from the direct-instruction kindergartens performed significantly worse than those from the play-based kindergartens on every measure that was used.  In particular, they were less advanced in reading and mathematics and less well adjusted socially and emotionally. At the time of the study, Germany was gradually making a switch from traditional play-based kindergartens to academic ones.  At least partly as a result of the study, Germany reversed that trend; they went back to play-based kindergartens.  Apparently, German educational authorities, at least at that time, unlike American authorities today, actually paid attention to educational research and used it to inform educational practice.

So if your child is not learning her alphabet in pre-school, but is spending her time playing “We are lions” and learning how to roar instead of talk, she’s getting a dose of everything she needs, including focus (find the other animals), self-control (can’t talk, must roar), imagination (how would a lion react to an elephant?), cooperation (now it’s your turn to chase ME!) and the kind of joy that makes her run (perhaps on all fours) back to school.

All that plus nap time? Sounds heavenly. – L


All reading and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All reading and no play makes Jack....

All phonics and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All phonics and no play makes Jack….


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76 Responses to “My Child Is Getting Too Much Playtime in Pre-School”

  1. Renee Anne September 18, 2016 at 10:12 am #

    I have an interesting conundrum with all this because my kindergartener is in a Montessori which is very structured, materials are used in very specific ways (to the point that they’re deemed “self-correcting”), and almost everything is taught in a specific, research-backed, sequential manner. That’s not to say that they don’t have playtime because they absolutely do. I know one of the complaints about the preschool program last year is that there was far too little “free play” time, where kids could just play and not be bogged down by the specifics of the equipment/materials. With that said, knowing how there’s been this huge push for rigid academic standards, I’m glad he’s in the Montessori.

    And when I taught pre-K, it was very much a play-based system but they were still learning.

  2. BL September 18, 2016 at 10:14 am #

    But with only free play, won’t the kids have to wait until first grade to start calculus?

    Can’t have that.

  3. Paul September 18, 2016 at 11:49 am #

    I would think that there is a perfectly good way to do both. Free play in the morning to help them socialize and work off energy, and in the afternoon not direct instruction education, but ancillary like going to the zoo or building something.

  4. Heartfruit September 18, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    I’d rather see story time then movie time on a pre-school schedule but I doubt that is an every day sort of thing. Otherwise I see nothing wrong with that schedule.

  5. Sarah September 18, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

    Yea, we looked into “preschool” for my guy for something to do. And most were pushing the academics. When I asked one teacher what percentage of parents are like me and want play and the others that want more “academics” and she said it was 50/50.

    And then a neighbor posted her son in his first week of preschool (age 4) and he was tracing his name. Yup. Could not wait until spring (before kindy starting next fall). Had to start then.

    My son goes to a special school for his speech. It is a “preschool” program for kids with fairly severe speech issues. Taught by a Speech Language Pathologist. She is wonderful. They do “sheet” work for sounds etc and he says “words are boring” meaning this part is boring. He likes her and the class is mostly directed play. They send home a sheet w e should stamp when he says the sound and we’ve never done them. We work on the sounds in context of daily lives. I told them he would then hate it in school. I’d rather it be a small novelty then the drill and kill.
    Can I say I am happy to be planning to homeschool. And grateful we have the choice.

  6. Suze September 18, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

    Tell this person to definitely not watch Michael Moore’s documentary ‘Where To Invade Next.’ The teachers in Finland want their children to play and be happy. They also have the best rated educational system in the world. I’m sure that would go over like a lead balloon with this parent !!

  7. Betsy in Michigan September 18, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    I HATE the way education is going. The only thing I’d replace in the above schedule instead of a movie would be an old fashioned (but scientifically sound) storytime and sometimes music (singing with some cool hands-on music makers, even pots and pans1). Once-in-a-while movie time I’d avoid Disney, and instead go for slower gentler shorts (ala’ Mr. Fred Rogers); classics like “the Red Balloon”. Unfortunately I wouldn’t bet on movie time being only occasionally – it seems as if it’s beginning to be a crutch (a sedative, if you will) in some places, like the drawn-out dismissal time at an elementary school w/out buses.

    Making food items like Jello, butter, applesauce, etc. is also a wonderful educational offering.

  8. NY Mom September 18, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    Finland has the most playtime–mostly out of doors.
    And the best scores.

    Even in the winter. Out of doors!
    Play, Kiddies, play!

  9. HRM September 18, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

    I know it’s always easy to comment on other countries’ practices, but as someone who actually went through the German school system from kindergarten to university degree, I never quite understood why many American parents seem to be so focused on keeping their children sheltered and dependent up to college age, while at the same time wanting them to grow up and succeed at everything so early in life.

    I had such a good time in kindergarten that my parents even kept me there for a year longer than usually required, and it’s not like we didn’t “learn” anything … but learning meant songs and dances and doing crafts and a lot of physical exercise. I still know how to build a rattle from papermaché and a broken lightbulb!

    I should also say that even in highschool, sports teams were always just extracurricular activities students did for fun – they were not competitive at all. I played basketball at my highschool for several years, and our team never once had to compete with another school’s team. I loved it. I know I would have hated it if we’d had to go to games that actually mattered to the reputation of the school or something….

    I don’t get the sense that I missed out on something by not being forced to sit down and focus on math for the first six years of my life, and I’m currently finishing a PhD at an American university … go figure. Teaching college here in the US, I was always struck by how much pressure students are under from their parents to achieve excellent grades, yet many of them don’t seem capable of basic things like setting an alarm clock or feeding themselves or figuring out how to get from point A to B.

  10. Mary September 18, 2016 at 12:56 pm #

    Thank you for reporting the true benefits of play. A warning though. The new buzz word is “PLAY BASED.”
    Play based usually means the teacher is directing the children and can include things like A, B, C Bingo.
    This is NOT true PLAY.
    The MOST beneficial activity for young children through AGE 8- is SELF DIRECTED DRAMATIC PLAY

    Which is basically just kids making up their own play scenario. It’s genius.
    “I’m a fireman then I’ll be an astronaut … Then “. This is sequential learning – aka MATH

  11. Gina September 18, 2016 at 1:11 pm #


    In Arizona, state licensing requires written daily, weekly and monthly schedules for all children in daycare…starting at 6 WEEKS!!!
    There must be a theme each week.


  12. SKL September 18, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

    While I agree with the value of play time, I would not be so sure that valuable play time is happening where the kids are sitting at a table etc. Just because academics aren’t on the schedule, that doesn’t mean the kids are doing all sorts of rich non-academic activities. It depends on the individual school.

    I would also be careful how you interpret the results of comparisons between academic and play-based preschools. There is a broad range of academic teaching styles used at that age, from really militant, punitive ones to relaxed ones. My feeling is that it’s not the ABCs, but fear of not learning them, which hampers long-term success. Also, play-based preschools may be preferred by well-to-do families, while many less-educated families want their kids to be learning academics younger. The well-to-do families have many resources to help support academic learning outside of preschool, which working class families do not. In other words, I doubt that they’re doing an “all other things remaining equal” comparison.

    You just aren’t going to convince me that exposing little kids to basics of reading and math is going to make them stupid. This whole “kids who learned ABCs in preschool grew up stupid and crazy” is sensationalism at its best.

  13. Katie September 18, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

    Daughter goes to a “play based” preschool a few days a week, I’m happy with it. She has structured activities sprinkled in there, but I feel like she gets good playtime. I wish it were a little more free but she actually likes learning math and such so it works out.

    However, i was also sending her one a week to a family friends house while I worked, no structure at all and she was having the time of her life there, she was always soaked with sweat and sparkly eyed when I picked her up. It was really good for her, I’m hoping to put her back in there soon ( the woman running it is having another baby so I have to wait). Her language skills improved so much in this situation (my kid is bilingual but her English is much stronger, this family was speaking her other language Japanese).

    My big concern is when she gets to school age. I’m also a tutor and I’ve seen some of the 1st/2nd graders homework… I think I had some homework at that age but not that much!! And it’s so rote :/

  14. Andrea Drummond September 18, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

    I love my daughter’s preschool and they do have play time but they also have academics, presented in a fun way. She has actually picked up on academic stuff at home, not because we force it on her but because we’re both nerds and just naturally like things like books. Daddy has been reading her night-night stories since she was a baby and she learned the ABCs from a musical alphabet table, and also looking at books herself. We’re in Virginia though and unfortunately in regular school everyone has to get ready for the dreaded Standards Of Learning tests, which many parents are starting to fight against, including me. I’m already planning to opt her out. Unfortunately, the teachers are still forced to teach to the test but the hope is if enough parents opt out they;ll eventually wake up and change something. With American bureaucracy (a huge reason I didn’t want to go into teaching) it’s not likely but one must try. That said, Pre-K is more like kindergarten used to be, kindergarten like first grade, and so on. I’ve actually thought about homeschooling just to avoid a lot of this crap but that intimidates me big time.

  15. lollipoplover September 18, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    There’s so many different preschool programs available! The trick is finding which one that best matches your individual child. We switched to a less formal (and less regulated) Pre-K with more playtime for our youngest. Once I had a parent teacher conference and the teacher expressed concern with my daughter’s scissor skills at age 4. Ha! I laughed as she had perfectly cut off the hair of her sister’s American Girl doll into a cute bob. Go figure, scissor skills.

    Learning can mix play and academic successfully. Young children need to learn emotionally, socially, and academically. There’s also a wide range of when they learn…pushing certainly doesn’t help:


  16. Donald Christensen September 18, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

    People tend to think that people get social skills like wisdom teeth. They just happen – or more accurately they don’t think at all. Social skills are sort of like oxygen. It’s not something you tend to think about unless you don’t have any!

    If you grow up socially inept, you you learn about hell on earth. Not only that, you’re not very skilled at applying all the academics that you learned.

  17. Library Momma September 18, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

    When my son was almost three years old, we started looking at possible preschools. All of them stressed how much they focused on academics. Since I had already looked into homeschooling as an option, we turned to that instead, which we wanted to do all along but we’re being pressure to send him to school. When I looked at kindergartens, most proudly advertised how they were teaching academics. So we continued to homeschool and still do even though our son is now in middle school. I realize that not all parents can homeschool their child, but it’s also not as impossible as many people think it is, nor is it illegal.

  18. Jess September 18, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    @SKL, i think you’re right and that attitude had a lot to do with it. If the class is pushing academics and the kids are being made to feel stupid for not picking up on it, that can have far more negative repercussions than the academics alone. Similarly, if academics are introduced but not force-fed, the kids pick up on it whether we think they are or not and can provide a good basis for more direct instruction.

  19. Mya Greene September 18, 2016 at 5:55 pm #

    Only two chances to go to the bathroom? That might get messy.

  20. BL September 18, 2016 at 6:21 pm #

    “However, i was also sending her one a week to a family friends house while I worked, no structure at all”

    There’s always structure in play. The question is whether it’s imposed from the outside by adults or created by the children.

  21. theresa September 18, 2016 at 6:29 pm #

    For goodness sake before you know it the kids will be public school and expect to read books like the cat in the hat before the year is out. And if they don’t get it easily more pressure is placed on them to get it. Work time will come all too soon enjoy playtime while it last. Ps this good for them in the long run so chill out!

  22. Jill R September 18, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

    This is a good example of why parents need to research the philosophy of the childcare, and prioritize it (within reason!) over things like nearby location & price point. I’m an Early Childhood Educator and it absolutely STUNS me that so many people, on one hand, want their kids to babies, yet on the other hand, they want “structure” and “academics”.
    In my career, I have put life jackets on TEN-year-olds to swim in a kiddie pool, with 4′ of water at most.
    I have heard numerous kids, up to about 9 years old, refer to cuts/scratches as “boo-boos” etc. The best was the 8-year-old who held up a band-aid covered elbow and told me, “I gotsa owwie.”
    I get beyond frustrated trying to explain to 8 and 9-year-olds that the words “dumb” and “stupid” are NOT, in fact, swear words, and as long as they’re not using them to be hurtful, they do not need to say “the S-word” or “D-word”. Likewise, I pretty much start fuming at co-workers when they admonish kids for saying things like “what the heck?” as if “heck” is a swear word.

    It’s like they want their kids to be infants, up till the teenage years. But then they also want these infant-children to be getting maximum academic time, because they think it equates to a “good education”.
    But honestly, what really gets to me, is these parents who did minimal research about their childcare or preschool, and chose it based on how cheap it was, and its’ location. Then they complain about it!
    If you really wanted “structure”, why didn’t you look at the past schedules or program/curriculum plans, when you toured the center?

    Anyways…for anyone who is interested in preschool curriculum philosophies, I believe Reggio Emilia to be the best. It’s all play-based, with adults being there to add new interesting opportunities for kids to learn for themselves. It promotes critical thinking and problem solving, and above all else, believes kids teach themselves and each other, adults can really only be the “third teacher”, after the child and the environment.
    Unfortunately Reggio-inspired centers aren’t that common, so you really have to check out each preschool to see if their values and beliefs about child development match with yours.

    “Theme” based curriculums are the worst–RUN away from those centers. Make sure your preschool is “play-based”, but beyond that, that it follows the interests of the children, and provides CHILD-directed play opportunities! If there are adult-directed activities, make sure they’re not ‘mandatory’ and that children have the option to do something else. Ask to see the curriculum plan (list of activities/learning opportunities) and if something seems too adult-directed, ask about it. Ask about a typical activity and how they set it up. Do the kids get to choose where things go, or does the adult have it all planned out? Listen for terms like “open-ended”, “child-directed”, “process art”, “observation”, “interests of the child”.
    And DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH! Everyone knows that the “early years are so important” but not many parents out there actually care about anything other than price, location, and that it’s a licensed/safe/clean place.

  23. WendyW September 19, 2016 at 12:57 am #

    Jill, can you please elaborate on your opinion that theme-based pre-schools are bad? As a homeschooler, we frequently did unit studies, which are basically a theme, though usually much wider than the narrow focus of a preschool theme. I’m curious what you find so bad about this method.

  24. sexhysteria September 19, 2016 at 4:38 am #

    Before we offer kids structured learning activities we need to find out which structured learning activities are beneficial or at least not harmful. Then we need to give kids a free choice in whether they want to play freely OR participate in structured learning. If some parents love structured pre-K learning activities so much then the parents should spend hours studying the alphabet, hand-writing letters, etc.

  25. BL September 19, 2016 at 5:12 am #

    “I have heard numerous kids, up to about 9 years old, refer to cuts/scratches as “boo-boos” etc. The best was the 8-year-old who held up a band-aid covered elbow and told me, “I gotsa owwie.””

    Where does crap like this come from?

    It’s not as if “cut”, “scratch” or “bruise” are too hard to say.

  26. Katie G September 19, 2016 at 6:53 am #

    Great point on the fear aspect, SKL. Children can pick up their ABC at surprisingly early ages; I know the=is because there is video evidence complete with the date of my dad showing me letter magnets and me identifying them mostly correctly when I was 22 months old! They’d just read and played with me enough I’d absorbed it!

  27. Juluho September 19, 2016 at 7:38 am #

    The current education trend is disturbing. My 10 yr old son went to half day preschool 3 days a week and the main objective was studying letters, numbers, and colors and learning how to be in a classroom.

    My 7 yr old daughter was in full day preschool which the objectives weren’t much different than Kindegarten 10 years ago.

    Fast forward to K, my daughter had to learn 200 sight words and read by the second quarter, my son half that. That trend continued for each grade (they are only 2 grades apart) wherein my daughter’s workload and the expectations for the grade increased from the time my son was in that grade.

    In short, the mother is responding to the public school’s expectations and the current full court press education standards are setting children up for exhaustion. We should let kids be kids, but parents have to work within the culture of their schools.

  28. K September 19, 2016 at 8:00 am #

    I can’t decide if I’m on board with this mom or not. Most of what she’s asking for should be in a good preschool – reading stories, painting. It’s only practicing letters that I wouldn’t want to see in the curriculum. And while most of the schedule at her son’s preschool looks good, watching TV every day doesn’t. I’m not totally anti-tv, but if I’m paying someone to watch (engage, interact with, care for) my kid, they should be doing better than putting on a movie every day!

  29. Rae Pica September 19, 2016 at 9:54 am #

    AAAARRRRGGGGHHH!!!! I am so tired of parents not getting this. I understand that they’re the easiest group of people in the universe to scare, but why can’t they delve a little deeper? Why wouldn’t a parent want to know what is truly best for their children??

    If I may, I’d also like to suggest that this parent (and all parents, for that matter) read my book, What If Everybody Understood Child Development? Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing for kids if everybody who lives and works with them did?

  30. AmyO September 19, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    Not quite the same vein, but I used to run a summer day camp, and I had a parent pull her child out because she said her daughter came home “too tired” and would “want to go to bed right after dinner instead of hanging out with me”. First and last time I ever had that complaint.

    Child was back three days later, by the way. I guess having to entertain an 8 year old all day was more work than it was worth.

  31. Anna September 19, 2016 at 10:45 am #

    Renee Anne: “I have an interesting conundrum with all this because my kindergartener is in a Montessori which is very structured. . .”

    I know what you mean – during my teacher training, I did some study and observation of Montessori education, and while I admire what I saw and would vastly prefer it to what goes on in mainstream education, I think the philosophy is somewhat flawed.

    If you read Montessori’s own writings, she was actually rather rigid about many things, and she put little value on imagination and creativity. Her idea was that fantastical play is actually not a natural and valuable childhood activity, but rather a symptom that the child’s life is disordered, so he’s filling in a void. The properly ordered child is supposed to enjoy learning activities so much he doesn’t feel the need to pretend to be a dog or a pirate. By strict Montessori principles, even reading children fairy tales and stories with fantastical elements such as talking animals is harmful, because it will distort the child’s sense of reality. My sense from the political remarks sprinkled in some of her writings is that the long-term goal of education is to produce good little worker bees.

    On the other hand, much more than most modern education, she did advocate truly paying attention to the child’s own mentality and how the child actually thinks and learns, so the learning activities she devised are very engaging and effective – if perhaps not as essential as she considered them.

  32. Backroads September 19, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    I ran into a similar conundrum the other week at my school. There is a group of parents complaining the kindergarten is far too structured (and they’re probably right). When this was discussed at a meeting, a first grade teacher passionately defended the kinder curriculum, saying our high poverty population needed such a kindergarten to escape said poverty.

    I haven’t been able to find a study that supports the claim less play will improve test scores.

  33. John B. September 19, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    I think one of the most important things children learn from playtime is conflict resolution. I think that would be a difficult skill to learn during academic training. Conflict resolution skills will go a long way in aiding them in their social development. Even more so than math!

  34. Elsie K September 19, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

    I don’t disagree that kids can learn their numbers and letters at very early ages, but for people like Katie who claim to have known them before the age of two, my question in this: What good did it do in the long run? Is a child who learned letters at age two academically ahead at age twenty? Do they make more money by age forty? Just because a school or parent could claim that child was academically superior to their peers at age 2, 3, 4 etc, does that really mean anything?

    Like walking: my oldest learned to walk after age one when my friend’s child learned at seven months. I was horrified my child was behind. Now years later, you’d never be able to tell who walked early and who walked later. I think we obsess over the present without looking at the long term. Whether one learns to read at age 2 or age 6, where is the kid in the long term?

  35. elizabeth September 19, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

    kelsie, you may be right. I didn’t really pick up on the reading skills until grade school. however, I was academically ahead all through school in reading and comprehension, and I was writing flash fictions when I was twelve years old, and graduated to full novels by thirteen. I am now working on trying to get ahold of a traditional publisher, and I have published books independently. so while youre right that when doesn’t matter, but youre a bit wrong on how long a kid who is ahead stays ahead.

  36. elizabeth September 19, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

    pardon me, elsie k.

  37. ElsieK September 19, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

    Re: elizabeth

    I don’t know. We all have our own stories to support our beliefs and experience. I have a friend with a Phd who didn’t learn to read until she was eight. I have no idea when I learned to read (my mom can’t tell me either, but she says she did nothing out of the ordinary as a parent) and I have a degree in literature. The baby who walks at seven months is no more likely to be an athlete than the kid who walks at fifteen months. And as a musician, I can say that in my experience, unless one is a parent who absolutely makes their kid practice hours and hours a day, starting a kid on violin or piano at age 3 will show little difference at age 16 when compared to the kid who started at age 8.

    A kid who stays ahead academically usually has parents who care and value education. I think most parents here fit that description.

  38. lollipoplover September 19, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    I never went to preschool.

    A few of my siblings did, but my mom didn’t think I *needed* it (this was the ’70’s).
    We had a handful of books at home that I memorized but never actually was taught how to read, but from the lack of book choices, I had memorized them and this was how I self-taught myself words.

    I went to Kindergarten (1/2 day) by bus when I was 4 1/2. We played outside every morning and afternoon before the bell, had hammers and wood to make construction projects, and had milk and cookies almost every day for snack. I saw my mom every afternoon and played outside until my siblings came home from school later.
    My parents had zero idea or interest in the curriculum.

    My kids all went to preschool for a few mornings a week. I consider that a 1000% improvement on what I had at the same age so for that alone I pat myself on the back that things are going to be just fine.
    Finding less structured and non-rigid programs for preschoolers and parents with zero desire to micro-manage play time was more style.
    Too much playtime?
    That’s like too much chocolate.
    There can never be too much!

  39. Workshop September 19, 2016 at 4:55 pm #

    Success isn’t really defined by how high your IQ is. What is really needed is the practical ability to interact with people. How to get them to do what you want them to. Meaning: If I just sit in my cube and do the work I’m assigned, I’ll get the job I’ve always had. But if I go out and network, figure out what other people need, and offer them that service, I can get promoted. It doesn’t matter what my IQ is, but how I apply my knowledge to the world.

    There’s a huge side of “practical application” to the knowledge equation that never gets addressed in school. That practical application resides solely on the child’s environment. And it doesn’t matter if the child started reading at two years old or if the adult has an IQ of 176.

    Play helps children marry that “practical application” to “interacting with the world.”

  40. Jessica September 19, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

    Re Montessori:
    I see what both the commenters are saying about Montessori. We have a friend whose 4-yo is in a Montessori school, and it is just not a good fit. She is extremely imaginative and creative, and therefore spends the day getting “redirected” because she just isn’t into building, manipulatves, Etc. My son, on the other hand, would probably do great in Montessori because he isn’t at all into “pretend” and would love the highly structured, goal-focused tasks. I think Montessori can be really good, but I think it isn’t perfect for every child.

  41. test September 19, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

    I think that kids need a lot of free play, but they do not need it all non sleeping time in a day. However, I still find ABC and similar “academics” useless and waste of time. I would much rather have them learning about how world works – birds eat worms, worms hide in ground, humans have hearth which pumps blood, immune system fights viruses and bacteria drama, earth goes round the sun and stars are suns far away, cosmonauts go to space and dinosaurs don’t exist anymore. That sort of thing. Also a little tech in the mix – car eats fuel, this is what derailleur on bike does, electricity makes light bulb glow and maybe apple light bulb experiment.

    I would find this sort of thing strongly superior to abcs and drilled math. I dont know why when they talk about preschool learning it is never about “how world works” but only about memorizing letters.

    While free play is the way kids learn, they wont invent new discoveries/facts/systems just like that. Those need to come from elsewhere – free play mostly repeats, reinforces and combines them. A kid that never seen a cartoon and never heard a story wont invent elaborate fantasy worlds by itself, a kid that heard them will incorporate them into play.

    Kids wants to learn, at least those I encountered. To my surprise, preschoolers actually like encyclopedia and seem interested and thankful when you teach them these things. You just need not to overdo it and not to push too far. Then they will happily play pretend they are white blood cells protecting against virus – reinforcing what they learned without knowing they are doing it.

  42. test September 19, 2016 at 5:12 pm #

    Weird when I submit comment as andy, it does not show up. When I submit it as test, it shows up.

  43. test September 19, 2016 at 5:22 pm #

    From theories I read, early reading depends mostly on how fast kids memory develops. E.g. kids who can learn reading soon are the ones with good early memory. “Real” reading is supposed to be a bit different mechanism that rely on more then just memory. In turn, speed of early development is not correlated much with how smart you grow up to be – unless school system weeds people out before they developed. As in, slow early learner can caught up not because he “worked hard”, but simply because the brain developed later (of course, if you are lazy brain development alone wont bring home grades)

    Which is why early reading does not matter – you are measuring speed of brain development more then anything. Simultaneously, where it takes a lot of time to memorize letters shapes when the kid is 3.5, it takes significantly less time when the kid is 7. The effort/time/result ration is quite bad.

  44. lollipoplover September 19, 2016 at 5:45 pm #

    Part of the push for earlier academics definitely comes from parents, especially those paying for expensive schools or daycare and wanting a measurable return for the higher tuition. The need for metrics and progress reports for parents on student progress seems to force schools and teacher (see Gina’s comment above) toward more structured play so they can tell parents that Junior knows X amount of letters, colors, words, etc.
    We can’t really measure reasoning, problem solving, empathy, or social skills and they become less important in this surreal educational race to get our kids to be early readers and great standardized test takers.

  45. SKL September 19, 2016 at 5:46 pm #

    I went to half-day KG at age 4 (I turned 5 in October). It was academic. Yes, there was play (I didn’t like the play parts) – the kitchen role playing, puzzles, duck-duck-goose. But we also learned to read story books and do simple math computations in half-day KG.

    My mom would not have worried about the lack of play, because what do you think we did the whole time we weren’t in school? You guessed it! Play!

    Do we really need to pay other people to allow our kids to play?

    PS my parents both worked. When I was in KG I walked to my parent’s shop after school. Where I had small areas for PLAY. Then at home after dinner my sibs and I played some more. What a concept!

  46. SKL September 19, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    IME the people most enthralled with play-based pre-K and KG are those whose kids are already ahead of the game academically. Many say, “my kid already knows how to read so she doesn’t need academics [or I’m teaching that at home kuz I like my method better], so I want her to play and socialize.” Which is great, but it has nothing to do with “later is better” or “I don’t want my kid to be stupid in 4th grade because she could read in KG.”

  47. Donna September 19, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

    I don’t see that what the mother is asking for is that absurd for the age group. Reading books, painting and practicing letters (if by practicing letters you mean singing the ABCs and beginning to learn how to identify them on sight and what sounds they make and not worksheets requiring copying the letters) all seem very normal for the age … both in my daughter’s preschool years and mine. In fact, it sounds like what most parents taught at home in my childhood. Heck, it is what is on Sesame Street.

    There seems to be a lack of understanding of what “play-based education” entails. It is absolutely not kids just hanging out all day without any attempt to teach them anything. It means that kids are taught via play and games. It is singing the ABCs while dancing around the room rather than sitting in a chair and drilling the ABCs.

    Kids at preschool age absolutely LOVE to learn if you make learning fun for them. None of the kids in my daughter’s preschool classes were complaining about having to sing the ABCs or counting objects. They were always smiling and laughing when I was in the classroom, despite the fact that they were also learning a little something.

  48. Anna September 19, 2016 at 6:16 pm #

    “Kids at preschool age absolutely LOVE to learn if you make learning fun for them.”

    Sure, but I guess the real question is what activities constitutes the most important learning. E.g., my son’s preschool frequently sends home activities like “Look through this magazine and find objects that start with the letter T, cut them out, and paste them on this page.” So far (perhaps due to the novelty factor) he’s enjoyed these activities, but I’m unconvinced of their educational value. I seriously doubt that he’s learning nearly as much doing this as he would building with his blocks, Lincoln Logs, or train tracks for an equivalent amount of time.

    Similarly, when I lived in a super-zip in Virginia and took my (then barely 18-month-old) son to the library story time designed for his age group, invariably, the “theme” for the day was some letter or number, and all the moms were deeply concerned to show that their child already knew that letter or number. The absurdity of prioritizing literacy for pre-verbal children didn’t seem to occur to anyone in the room, despite the fact that things like sensory integration and language learning itself are far more important and difficult feats of cognition – trying to teach a child at that stage a secondary symbol like a letter of the alphabet is not just pointless; it indicates a complete obtuseness about the relative value and difficulty of various kinds of knowledge.

  49. Donna September 19, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

    “my son’s preschool frequently sends home activities like “Look through this magazine and find objects that start with the letter T, cut them out, and paste them on this page.” So far (perhaps due to the novelty factor) he’s enjoyed these activities, but I’m unconvinced of their educational value. I seriously doubt that he’s learning nearly as much doing this as he would building with his blocks, Lincoln Logs, or train tracks for an equivalent amount of time.”

    Each activity teaches completely different skills. Saying that your child is learning more building with blocks rather than learning letter T is the equivalent of saying that children learn more in math so their education should focus solely on math.

    Kids are generally awake for 12-13 hours a day. They actually have plenty of time to cut things that start with the letter T out of magazines AND play with blocks AND play with Lincoln Logs AND train tracks AND learn to count to 10 AND play in the toy kitchen AND read books AND play with play dough. And they learn different skills from all of it.

    I agree with SKL. People who are saying that kids don’t need to learn anything in pre-k are people whose kids don’t need to learn anything in pre-k because they provide an enriching environment that will teach them the letter T, help them catch up when they get to kindergarten and don’t know the letter T when everyone else does and have the intelligence to learn the letter T quickly when taught.

  50. Anna September 19, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

    “People who are saying that kids don’t need to learn anything in pre-k are people whose kids don’t need to learn anything in pre-k because they provide an enriching environment that will teach them the letter T, help them catch up when they get to kindergarten and don’t know the letter T when everyone else does and have the intelligence to learn the letter T quickly when taught.”

    Sounds convincing. . . except it just ain’t so. What long-term studies there are suggest that an early academic focus harms underprivileged kids even more than it does middle-class kids.

  51. SKL September 19, 2016 at 7:54 pm #

    Anna, it re harming underprivileged kids, it depends on the alternatives available to those specific kids. Kids who often don’t have one single children’s book in the home. Be sure you are comparing apples to apples. How rich are the play activities that are realistically offered to the children of low-income parents?

    Or are we saying watching TV and playing with play-doh and table toys all day is really awesome for pre-K kids?

    I also wanted to comment (in response to someone else) that Maria Montessori was working with kids in very working-class families. So yes, she was trying to develop literacy, numeracy and other skills in kids who would probably grow up to be worker bees. She did a pretty good job of it, too. Is illiteracy better?

  52. Jill R September 19, 2016 at 8:57 pm #

    WendyW: it’s just what you said–“the narrow focus of a preschool theme”. In the field of Early Childhood Education, the term “theme-based” refers to the oldschool preschool/kindergarten curriculum model that you would see in almost all daycares back in the 80’s and early 90’s… September’s theme is “apples”. Here kids, sit down and make this apple craft. Here’s your pre-cut red apple, and there’s your pre-cut brown stems and green leaves….
    All the activities are picked out of a book, corresponding to the theme. Teachers usually did the pre-cut paper thing for craft time, there was minimal creativity encouraged, very adult-directed.

    Now you see fewer and fewer of these types of daycares, as we know more about child development and that different kids learn differently. Now early education favours the play-based, child-directed curriculum models. There are still “themes” or topics, we just tend to call them “interests” which are based on observations.
    So we can still definitely do the apple theme! Only this way, the theme comes up because the adults observed the children being interested in apples (a kid comes to daycare telling everyone about how he went apple-picking, which leads to the group reading a book about apples. Then the kids ask for apples for a snack…now interest is piqued) and so the adults respond by planning some activities involving apples. Except the apple crafts here do not involve pre-cut shapes, lol, and it’s not supposed to be focused on an end product, because it’s the PROCESS that matters.
    Sometimes the interest dies immediately, and all your activities fall flat, and you just pick up on the next theme/interest you observe.
    Sometimes the kids adore the theme and you go on to extend and build upon that interest, suggesting and introducing new things related to the theme. Maybe “apples” leads to baking an apple pie, which leads to a new theme/interest of “baking/bakeries”, which leads to “shopping” because the kids really liked shopping and paying with money while playing “bakery shop”…..
    Kids are just so much more into it when they came up with the idea!

    So themes aren’t bad, in and of themselves. It’s specifically the “theme-based” preschool model that is the least desirable curriculum model for a preschool to use. I really can’t comment on elementary or secondary curriculum types, as I’m not a school teacher–I’ve only studied early childhood education and early years development, up to about age 6…though I do think the overall concept would carry forward into later childhood, that children learn more effectively when they enjoy the subject or can relate it to something they’re interested in.

  53. Jenny Islander September 19, 2016 at 11:32 pm #

    I think more people should look into Charlotte Mason’s method. She was running schools at the time when the current conventional wisdom was beginning to gel into, well, the current conventional wisdom. Here’s her idea of preschool, in paraphrase:

    1. Get outside. Out, out, out! Get them muddy, get them wet. There’s nothing magical about the outdoors, but it seems obvious (she said, writing in the 19th century) that children’s brains are best suited to the environment that has been the realm of children since time immemorial, which can be summed up as, “Go play over there.” So get them out as much as the weather and fauna will permit. (Mason recommended three hours per day, but she lived in the south of England.)

    2. Practice minimal supervision. Don’t structure their play for them or start the day with a list of goals beyond “clean, fed, and with a little practice in good habits under their belts.” The most teaching you should do while outdoors is something like, “Hey, can you go to that grass clump over there, take a look at it, and tell me what’s underneath?” Then go back to whatever you’re working on (sewing, your phone, whatever).

    3. Also keep abstraction to a minimum. Even reading to your preschooler should be minimized. Preschoolers need to master gross and fine motor skills, use all of their senses, and slowly increase their attention spans. So a book a day is plenty. PIck books that don’t make you wince or roll your eyes as an adult; those are the best for kids. There was lots of what Mason called “twaddle” back then, and there’s even more now. Also speaking of fine motor skills, tracking letters with one’s eyes is a fine motor skill; trying to push it early can lead to eyestrain and may contribute to dyslexia. So if you’re going to introduce preschoolers to letters, make them big. Maybe their first letters should be S-T-O-P or O-P-E-N. Or try tangible letters, such as letter blocks.

    4. Mason observed, generations ahead of her time, that people run on habit–good or bad. So working on one good habit at a time, gently, should start early. Begin with things like “We line up our shoes at the door when we come inside.”

    That’s it in a very small nutshell.

  54. test September 20, 2016 at 1:58 am #

    “the people most enthralled with play-based pre-K and KG are those whose kids are already ahead of the game academically. ”

    I don’t think it is true, at least not around me. First, a lot of those people are from school systems and cultures that does not expect the kids to know letters before school. Schools here expect kids to sorta kinda write their own names before elementary, but that is pretty much it concerning writing/reading. The advice I was told about making it easier for kid to learn later on said I should make kid to guess first letter in spoken words.

    More importantly, the parents go for early writing and academics around me are the ones who want kindergarden to teach them. They want kindergarden to do the same thing they do with children, because that is what they consider important.

    I don’t teach my kids letter nor really expect kindergarden to do so, because I don’t think that is important at this age. I am teaching my kids about world and want kindergarden to do so, because it makes sense to me.

  55. Cerellia September 20, 2016 at 5:06 am #

    “People who are saying that kids don’t need to learn anything in pre-k are people whose kids don’t need to learn anything in pre-k because they provide an enriching environment that will teach them …

    Of course kids need to learn a whole lot of things:
    They need to learn to stand up and balance themselves (big thing) usually before they are in any school. They should practice these balance skills daily through walking, balance games, cycling, skating, walking on stilts… so that they get a good feeling where they are in space. They should move a lot in open space, so they get a feeling for distances. Swimming and diving are also very good.
    They should use all parts of their body together in play and exercise so that the two hemispheres of the brain form strong links.
    They need to learn all sorts of cross motor movements, running, climbing, tumbling, ect. and they should also learn some fine motor skills through crafting and drawing, ect.
    They should have practised their immagination in play and through stories, because reading is so much more fun if you can make mental pictures about what you are reading.
    They should learn to speak articulated and with rich vocabulary. I agree that this is an area where some children are at a disadvantage due to their background so that is really a point the pre-school should focus on.
    They need to play a lot with minimal or no adult intevention so that they learn to communicate and solve problems. They should also learn that they are members of a community and that they are expected to contribute to the community with helping in the house and garden, ect. They should learn that they are trusted to do useful things on their own and they should learn to take care of them selves to some extend and not expect others to serve them.
    And above all, they need to learn that they are loved and valued for what they are and that the world is a good and interesting place which is worth learning a lot about. Because one has to be content in order to be receptive to learning.

    Most of the things can be achieved by just giving the children the time and space and let them do what they usually do: play. If the kindergarten day includes one or two structured activities (e.g. a circle time with music and movement, Art, Story time, ect. particular learning areas can be enhanced.

    I believe children who have thoroughly developed these basics, will fly through learning their letters and have more fun with reading, solving problems and learning about the world.

  56. Cerellia September 20, 2016 at 5:49 am #

    Proper reading is a complex combination of strategies. The phonetic principle is one of them but sounding out letter after letter can not lead to fluent reading, either. In order to read properly and use correct spelling, one has to internalise (mostly unconsciously) a whole set of rules, some have to do with the length of the word as a whole, some with the rhythm of the sillables and some with the adjacent sounds, ect.
    All in all it is a very complex process that requires a prequisite of brain development (and movement and play seem to be the best preparation for this). Ideally children use these methods with so much ease that they have free capacity in their brain to form mental pictures about what they are reading which help them to understand aswell as enjoy the text.
    What if children are made to read before these basisc are there? They rely on a one sided reading method – e.g. only sight recognition, which reaches its limits when it comes to long or unusual words, or partly sounding out and then guessing the word. Some children progress easy to the more complex reading methods when their brain matures, others have become so used to their limited methods that they will struggle later on.

  57. lollipoplover September 20, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    “None of the kids in my daughter’s preschool classes were complaining about having to sing the ABCs or counting objects. They were always smiling and laughing when I was in the classroom, despite the fact that they were also learning a little something.”


    My son HATED singing. When I sang to him as a toddler, he’d cover his ears and say “stop”. I thought it was my terrible singing voice. In preschool, he really disliked circle time but would sit through it to get to better activities. His preschool was on 20 acres of land and he most enjoyed going out to the creek on the property, flying kites, and playing in the Gaga pit with his friends. We worried too much (first born) because he didn’t know his letters and was not at all academically focused entering kindergarten.

    He’s now in high school, has mostly honors classes, and does quite well. We were lucky that our school offers hands-on science classes and he chose an engineering track (which he loves) in middle school. The only class he despised was the mandatory chorus he was required to take to meet his arts credit (he lip synched his way through that one). He’s still not a music kid, even though my other two love singing.
    Every child learns in their own individual way.

  58. Donna September 20, 2016 at 9:18 am #

    “The advice I was told about making it easier for kid to learn later on said I should make kid to guess first letter in spoken words.”

    Hmmmm. Do you really not understand that in order for children to guess the first letter in spoken words that they have to first know the letters and understand their basic concept, meaning that children must, in fact, be taught their ABCs before they can play this game? Otherwise this game would be pretty cruel and discouraging, although potentially funny.

    Mom: “Johnny can you guess the first letter in the word dog?”
    Johnny: I have no idea what a letter is and no idea why I am being asked this stupid question, but I’ll just give an answer to please you … “ball, mommy”

    The reality is that in modern society we have always taught our children basic academic knowledge before formal schooling starts. Kids from non-disadvantaged households did not start school having no concept of numbers and letters in previous generations. This stuff was taught organically in day-to-day life – counting the apples you are buying in the grocery store, counting blocks while you put them away, singing the ABC song, playing with letter refrigerator magnets, copying parents, copying older siblings, watching Sesame Street (my friends and I could all count to 10 in Spanish in kindergarten thanks 100% to Sesame Street). Today, it is more institutionalized, largely because children’s lives in general are more institutionalized now that the majority of children grow up in households where all the adult caregivers work outside the home. As long as it remains fun, play-based learning and not drills and rote memorization, this isn’t a bad thing.

  59. SKL September 20, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    It’s true, learning to read is complex, but there isn’t “one” way to do it either. It’s not true that all kids need to have a lot of fine and gross motor development before they can read. Some kids eagerly work on the fundamentals of reading before they can walk, and are reading before they can pedal a trike. Some kids would rather read 100 books than go to the park.

    There are kids who don’t enjoy reading and get stressed out by it, but that is also true of bike riding, chatting, and playing house. I have a kid who was 7 before she learned how to pump her swing (and still doesn’t like doing it), but she was reading fluently at 4.

    And of course I have the other kid, who was ahead in all things physical as a preschooler, but yet had multiple learning issues. Being physical did help those issues, but again, not everyone needs to learn things in that sequence (physical -> mental).

    So out with the scare tactics. Let all the kids try all the things, and don’t shame them for what doesn’t stick. And stop assuming that kids who are reading young must have been mistreated.

  60. lollipoplover September 20, 2016 at 10:32 am #


    I really don’t see it as scare tactics or reading young as mistreated but we aren’t doing our kids any favors pushing them at too young of an age to do anything (sports, academics, potty training) they aren’t developmentally ready for.


    Pushing too early CAN poison the educational well so to speak and burn kids out. Or cause unnecessary anxiety. For some kids it isn’t a big deal, but for others, this pressure to achieve and perform at increasingly younger ages just make kids hate school. And that IS sad.

  61. Donna September 20, 2016 at 10:39 am #

    Also, out with the idea that the only advantage to things is in the long term. There is a joy to simply learning when you want to learn, even if you don’t remain advanced in the subject for your entire life.

    My daughter was obsessed with writing at a very young age. She had amazing fine motor coordination and could write all her letters and her daycare classmates names from memory at 3. She was constantly wanting to write and my life consisted largely of spelling words for her to write until she thankfully learned how to read in kindergarten. In 1st grade, she wanted to learn cursive and insisted on me printing out workbook pages for her to learn. She also insisted on learning to tie her shoes at 4 and I laughed when I went into her pre-k class for some performance and several classmates were lined up in front of her so that she could tie their shoes.

    Now in 5th grade, my child no longer has outstanding fine motor skills. The other kids have all caught up and she is probably just average. She writes cursive better than most of her classmates, but that is only because it is a skill that is not emphasized any more, not because she has an exceptional ability. While she would be viewed evidence that teaching writing early is bad because she did not maintain the level of advancement over her peers through the years, that was never the point. I never expected that. The point was that she had an insane ability to write at a very young age and doing so brought her great pleasure at the time so it was worth it for her to learn to do it even if it did not lead to her being some highly successful calligrapher in elementary school.

  62. SKL September 20, 2016 at 11:09 am #


    My mom told me she hated KG. Know why? Because of paste. All her memories of KG were of getting paste on her hands and on her clothes, which icked her out.

    I didn’t like KG because I found the teacher scary and because I hated the play time. I did not want to play house with bossy girls. I did not want to do wooden puzzles. Actually the only thing I liked in KG was reading. I also hated recess and gym from rather early in my school career. How come nobody’s worried about my psyche over that?

    You say we shouldn’t “push,” but nobody here is advocating “pushing” – unless your meaning of “push” is different from mine. Being pushed isn’t super fun for a 5yo whether it’s to use a knife and fork or to sing a stupid song. My kid hates being asked to speak in front of her class – always has. Should KG classes nationwide stop letting kids talk in class since there are kids who feel “pushed” when invited to do it? (I recall my own trauma when asked by my KG teacher to state my name. Horrors!) What about kids who don’t like to go outside and play when it’s hot or cold? Will they be damaged for life because their teachers sent them out anyway? Or should all the kids be kept inside in deference to those who don’t want to do it?

    And I agree with Donna – learning something new and different is really fun for most kids, in a way that playing outside in the same old yard just isn’t. Most kids are so proud to show off their ABCs and writing their names etc. The problem comes when people start shaming them or punishing them for having limited attention spans (which applies to every kind of learning).

  63. SKL September 20, 2016 at 11:16 am #

    And I agree – I wouldn’t take away my kid’s early years of reading for anything. She joyfully read thousands of books before the age when some people say reading should be “introduced.” Ask her if she’d be happier without all that reading.

    And the OP wasn’t even talking about “reading,” but about stuff like read-alouds instead of TV time. It’s a pretty big stretch to argue that read-alouds damage preschoolers’ minds (especially compared to TV).

    The last comment I keep forgetting to make is that today’s pre-K kids are often the same age as yesterday’s KG kids. So it is appropriate for preschools to make adjustments to accommodate older kids.

  64. test September 20, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

    @Donna “Do you really not understand that in order for children to guess the first letter in spoken words that they have to first know the letters and understand their basic concept, meaning that children must, in fact, be taught their ABCs before they can play this game? Otherwise this game would be pretty cruel and discouraging, although potentially funny.”

    Not really, actually. I know for a fact that my daughter had no idea what the word used for “letter” in that sentence means when it was asked. It was exercise about hearing word and saying the sound that is in the beginning. It took a lot of attempts till she got it. She still sometimes says first two letter instead of one or non-existent letter. In our language, letters in word sounds pretty much the same as when you say them separately, so there is really no ‘a’ is pronounced ‘ej’ confusion :). Nevertheless, there was no attempt to teach her relationship with written letters (the idea simply did not occurred to me not that I would categorically refuse).

    We had to do the exercise because of writing/reading unrelated speech issue and this was supposed to help. The doctor recommended after speech issue was corrected to continue with exercise so that school is easier. I do that sort of irregularly now, daughters friends without speech issue did not had to do exercise.

    “The reality is that in modern society we have always taught our children basic academic knowledge before formal schooling starts.”

    I am not sure what that means. America middle class last generation? Maybe. When I was growing up only the most motivated ambitious families did that and it was explicitly *discouraged* by the school system. The argument was that the kid will be bored in the school otherwise and mothers who tried anyway were criticized.

    Not that I agree with that approach, holding back interested kids in no good either. But, illiteracy ended up quite low so reading this was not something that was harmed in majority of kids.

    If everyone else teaches their kid academics before school starts, then you have to do it too. The kid would otherwise get reputation of being slow or even troublemaker and it is hard to get out of that even when the kid gets better. But, if there is no such competition and school does not expect kids to know writing before first grade, kids will learn to write and read.

  65. test September 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    Also I guess I already told it, but I find it somewhat troubling that when we talk about learning in pre-school it is always about letters. As if learning about how trees grow, space, human body, society did not fall into “preschool learning”. Or learning about crafting and how wheels or screws work.

    This kind of general knowledge is what I want them to learn at that age and they wont learn it from free play only.

  66. Donna September 20, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

    “It was exercise about hearing word and saying the sound that is in the beginning.”

    You originally said identifying the LETTER at the beginning of the word. That is vastly different than identifying the SOUND at the beginning of the word. Identifying a letter actually requires knowing letters. Identifying a sound requires only knowing a sound.

    “America middle class last generation? Maybe. When I was growing up only the most motivated ambitious families did that and it was explicitly *discouraged* by the school system. ‘

    No, America working/middle class in several generations prior. My parents knew their ABCs before starting school. My grandparents did as well. Now my father had been in an iron lung for a couple years prior to starting school so that may have played a part in his learning as there was little else to do. And none of my family would have been considered middle class. I am a first generation college graduate. My maternal grandparents ultimately became middle class, but they hit that mark after my mother started school.

    In fact, schools were not even uniform on the reading position when I was in kindergarten in 1975. My kindergarten did not teach to read. I moved to another state for 1st grade. We found out that I was way behind in that they taught reading in kindergarten. Despite having scored the best on the oral placement test (good ol’ tracking years) that the principal had ever seen, I had to be moved from my advanced class to remedial reading. I caught up because I was very smart and had supportive parents. Many kids would not have caught up.

  67. Donna September 20, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

    “I find it somewhat troubling that when we talk about learning in pre-school it is always about letters”

    I was only talking about it because that seems to be the big hang-up with some people. People on this blog seem pretty happy to allow their kids to learn anything else in preschool except letters.

  68. Havva September 20, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    Part of the problem with studies that say that kids who did some skill really young show no advantage x years later, is that in most cases kids are not allowed to continue developing at their own pace. And in being either restrained or pushed beyond their abilities, they grow resentful.

    I was highly excited by math, and motivated to learn everything I could. I had great learning tools and excellent teachers from preschool to 3rd grade. By the end of Kindergarten I knew my numbers up to 999,999, I was adept at addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division with the aid of bead sets. Though, I mostly stuck to single digit numbers in the multiplication and division.

    By the end of 3rd grade, I was doing my math on paper with no aids including multi digit multiplication and division, I could add subtract, multiply and divide fractions even with different numerators. I had dabbled a bit in geometry, and was just starting to scratch the surface of algebra too, and I was really excited.

    In 4th grade I went to public school and it all came to a screeching halt. I was issued a text book that started with multiplying a two digit number by a one digit number. By the end, the book had only advanced to multiplying a 3 digit number by a 2 digit number. My previous teachers had always had multiple books available, so I asked for the next book. I was told “you can have the next book, next year.” I was drilled to high heavens on memorizing times tables. And given no hints on how to help me memorize these things. However I was told incessantly that I would never be any good at math if I couldn’t memorize my times tables. … Never mind what I could do with a times table sitting on the desk next to me. I was hopeless at “just memorize it!” By the end of 4th grade I hated math. By the end of 6th grade, I had learned exactly 1 new concept and a couple of formulas. I was finally in exactly the same place as all my other classmates.

    In 7th grade that I finally got into algebra. But my enthusiasm was gone. About 10 minutes into the first new material, I decided that I hated it, and it didn’t make any sense.

    If it wasn’t for the efforts of a dying relative I’m not sure I would have given that class the effort it required. And I certainly wouldn’t have recovered my love of math. In high-school I even found some willing, if skeptical, math teachers and administrators, to let me carve out my own path and run ahead in math again. But the whole of the public school system is set up against students forging ahead on their own. And I think it is to the detriment of students, and kills the learning drive for those who’s skill levels do not fall in line with the planned path, be they ahead of the curve or behind it.

    There is a lot to be said for play, and it is certainly safer the doing early academics wrong. But I also thing there is a lot to recommend effective early academics such as Montessori. But if you don’t respect the individual, if you don’t respect the “sensitive periods” Maria Montessori wrote about, you are asking for trouble.

  69. EricS September 20, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    This is the mental conditioning that parents have been subjected to since THEY were kids. Well, the go to school, get college degree, get a good job, make money, get married, buy a house, have kids. But these days, parents are being overly pro-active to make sure they have a leg up over everyone else. So instead letting them be kids, and teaching them life lessons here and there to help them as they get older, they are already treating them like high school kids going off to College. There are different stages in our lives, which nature has intended it to be. We can push our kids hard to be able to read and do math by the time they are 4 years old, but we also eliminate the necessary basic skills they need as children from 1 to 4. Literally, parents need to take baby steps. It’s not about what the parents want for themselves, for their kids. This is about what is best for the children now. Not 5 years from now, not 10 years, not 20 years. What is best for them now. Because what they learn now, determines how their brain develops, and what personalities they take on.

    You teach them to be tough, competitive, “failure is not an option” mentality, that is what they’ll become. And when they look back at their childhood, that is all they will see. No playing, no having fun, no random (and seemingly) pointless activities that are actually pretty fun. Just work, work, work. And they haven’t even started kindergarten yet.

  70. test September 21, 2016 at 6:42 am #

    @Donna For me letter and sound in the beginning were the same thing, did not realized in english it is not the same word. Sorry for confusion.

    I did not meant that “word vs letters” comment to be targeted personally at you, more like the general observation that when anyone talks about preschool and academics, it is never about general knowledge and always about writing and reading. It is not that people would be opposed to that, it is more like if we collectively did not cared at all about that aspect of preschool education.

    Even when they brag, they are less likely to brag about ‘my daughter understand solar system’ (or whatever unexpected in that age), but they are much more likely often brag about early reading. (Before anyone bring this up, this discussion has no bragging in it, bragging and talking about experience when it is relevant is different.)

  71. Rhiannon Ayley September 21, 2016 at 11:24 am #

    I didn’t start reading until I was seven years old. My mother initially tried to teach me to read when I was five, but I just wasn’t ready, she was a bit worried, but thankfully she let me wait until I was older. I also went to a school where play was valued over academics, so I was allowed to progress at my own pace.

    To anyone out there who is worried about their child’s progress, here’s some advice: let them play. I was allowed to play, and I was the valedictorian of my high school graduating class.

    Now, I’m in college and I could not be more grateful I had the chance to play as a child. I really wish more people had the opportunity to wait before focusing on academics. It’s not until I read stories like this that I realize just how lucky I was.

  72. Donna September 21, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

    “Even when they brag, they are less likely to brag about ‘my daughter understand solar system’ (or whatever unexpected in that age), but they are much more likely often brag about early reading.”

    I think that is because some parts of society have come to believe that early reading equals intelligence, when it really only indicates a early proficiency in reading.

    My stance is not that every kid should be able to read at any certain age. It is with the notion that it is somehow harmful to introduce young kids to the concepts of reading and allow those who are ready to go on and do it. It is also with the notion that ‘academics” and free play are mutually exclusive. Sometimes I read this blog and think about many “how is it that you got your children to sleep 23 hours a day” based on the insistence that saying the ABCs destroys any ability for free play whatsoever. Not having a job, children or any other pressing duties at age 4, my child had plenty of time in her day to learn her ABCs, to count, to draw, to paint, do a gymnastics class AND still free play about 10 hours a day.

  73. Dean September 21, 2016 at 4:28 pm #

    Never went to pre-school…don’t think my floks had ever heard of such a thing. However, my mother was called in by my kindergarten teacher and read the “riot act” for allowing me to learn how to spell my name, a a skill she said was “reserved” for second graders. As a leadr in Scoutng, I’ve had teachers say I, and my fellow volunteers should “butt out”, and leave all teaching to “professionals.”. It is hard to believe that a child can only learn while under the wing of the nanny state, duringt those few hours per week they are in school.

  74. lollipoplover September 21, 2016 at 7:22 pm #

    “I really wish more people had the opportunity to wait before focusing on academics. It’s not until I read stories like this that I realize just how lucky I was.”

    I totally agree.

    What I’ve found in coaching youth sports is that so many kids are lacking the physical skills that come from free play. Spacial awareness, coordination, and even just playing simple kid-led games. I ask them all the time what games they want to play and they stare back at me like I should be telling them what to do at all times. Coming up with their own games to play- it seems like kids don’t even know HOW to free play anymore, maybe that’s part of the problem.

    Kids will gravitate towards activities they enjoy if they are given freedom to explore and play. From the Michael Moore documentary comparing US and Finland, I remember the Math teacher who said what was important to learn was for the kids to be happy. I agree wholeheartedly that happy students make for enthusiastic learners. From some of the comments above, I guess some children do find happiness doing academic activities at young ages. To each his own, but my kids were happiest playing with friends, usually outside, and not doing kumon worksheets.

  75. Another Katie September 23, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

    Our daughters have gone to a locally-owned (non-chain/franchise) daycare that still offers a traditional nursery school and a private full day kindergarten program. I was so thrilled when at the pre-K open house night our older child’s teacher (who has 27 years of experience teaching 4 year olds at this facility) said, “We learn through play here. All too soon they’re going to be in kindergarten and the play will be over.” Meanwhile, friends from our playgroup had their 4 year olds coming home with nightly homework from different preschool daycare centers. Math and phonics worksheets, mainly, but also mandatory “family” projects like making a family tree and science projects. Seriously?

    In the public preschools (which in this area are largely for poor and working class families who can’t afford private nursery schools and don’t have their kids in daycare) the mentality seems to be that early academics will help students overcome socioeconomic disadvantages. In many of the private preschools and daycare centers which have middle and upper middle class families, the mentality is that early academics will help Junior do well in school and get into a good college.

    6YO had homework in kindergarten. Frankly, she’s a bright kid and started K ready for 1st grade in terms of academics and we felt that it was pointless to make her do homework like, “Count ten Q-tips” or “Find words starting with the letter A” when she was reading chapter books and looking at bugs under a microscope for fun.

    In 1st grade, she’s expected to read 20-30 minutes (with a daily reading log filled out and signed by the parent), do specific activities in online math programs (which the teacher monitors), and to do other things as well. It amounts to an hour or more a day.

  76. Shannon Schnurr September 28, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

    We love the daycare that our girls attend (I have a 3.5 year old and a 1 year old). A couple days a week my husband and I both start work really early so we have our nanny come and take the girls to daycare. The other day our nanny (who is new and young but also wonderful!) said “Whenever I drop the girls off or pick them up they always seem to be playing outside in the yard, is that normal?” and I told her I didn’t know if it was normal but that’s why we love that place! It’s very play oriented and we know it’s good for them. Sadly though my oldest just lost her best friend to a more “academic” school. Her parents wanted her to have a more academic environment so she switched schools and my daughter misses her and now has had to adjust to a social environment that is less “friendly” (two of the girls she now wants to play with often don’t want to play with her). I’m upset about the change but am also now trying to tell myself that learning to deal with these changes and navigate new social situation is part fo what she will have to learn.