Playing vs. Learning

Readers fbsatnnabh
— Here’s my piece on The Huffington Post, about the “college prep” kindergarten. It goes on to talk about the amazing Peter Gray:

A kindergarten in New York has cancelled its end-of-the-year kiddie show in order to devote more time to college and career prep. In a letter to parents, the teachers explained:

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers. Please… know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.

Now, I don’t doubt that these teachers THOUGHT they were making the best possible decision. But having just read the mind-blowing book, Free to Learn, by Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College as well as author of the standard college textbook, Psychology, it seems to me that school is giving its poor, prepped-out kids the very least of what they need the most: Free time.

Free time to do what looks like absolutely, Dartmouth-be-damned nothing: Playing house, running around, feeding an animal — the stuff kids do when no one’s teaching them that “Diploma begins with D. Can you draw a D?”

The thing about playing is that it’s not separate from learning. It IS learning. In fact, if young kids aren’t playing, chances are they are getting a fraction of the knowledge they would get if they were “just” goofing around. This will sound strange but instructing kids may actually backfire.

Read the rest here.

It's possible that kids learn MORE when they are instructed LESS.

It’s possible that kids learn MORE when they are instructed LESS.


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76 Responses to Playing vs. Learning

  1. Meagan May 2, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    I don’t know exactly what a “Kindergarten Show” is supposed to be, but I kind of doubt it’s a great example of “free unstructured play.” Especially in the sort of school that would cut it for college prep. I’m picturing lots of rehearsals and emphasis on conformity.

    Not to say there isn’t value to school plays, but “play” isn’t one of them.

  2. SKL May 2, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    But putting on a “show” is not playing either.

    And we don’t know that the time saved from doing that won’t be spent doing developmentally appropriate things. I would rather my kid do show and tell or role playing in class than practice for weeks to stand on a stage and sing a dumb song.

    I also still wonder if the letter was not actually meant sarcastically, as in, “you asked for this. You can’t hold us accountable for the 3Rs and expect us to do all this extra fluff at the same time.”

  3. pentamom May 2, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    I don’t think Lenore is saying that the kindergarten play is free unstructured play, or that the reason it shouldn’t be cancelled is because kids need more free play. I just think she’s saying that if there’s something kids need more of, it’s not structured “college and career prep.” It’s not the cancellation of the play that’s really the issue, it’s the mentality behind it.

  4. Liam May 2, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    Please note that the letter is from the principal of the school. I’m sure the teachers are rolling their eyes at all the Race to the Top/corporate reform BS they’re forced to enforce.

  5. Coccinelle May 2, 2014 at 10:23 am #

    I agree with this article so much that I would actually get rid of all the ‘chances are’, ‘may’ and ‘it’s possible’.

  6. Rick May 2, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    My wife is a special ed teacher and in special ed, apparently, they have what’s called “alternate assessment”. In other words, the kids are taught life skills so they can make it in the real world. They take the bus. They go hiking and have a picnic. They put on plays. They learn to cook and bake. They sell things at holiday booths at Christmas. They volunteer at the farm. Meanwhile the regular ed kids sit at a desk and take test after test after test.

  7. Papilio May 2, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    What I remember from/know about pre-K and K – the first two years of primary school – is that there were two mixed-age groups; it was 5 hours on most days and just the morning on Wednesdays (not including lunch break, in which we went home); we had PT every morning and every afternoon (preferably outside, but there was an actual gym room for (pre)K); there was a lot of drawing and painting and claying and cutting & pasting and other art projects; there was circle time in which we talked about what we’d done that weekend (or whatever) and the seasons and other daily life themes; there were 2 or 3 letters of the month so that over the course of two years we’d get familiar with most of the alphabet (not including c q x y); and then there was the time we could pick what we wanted to do by putting the clothespin with our picture on the picture with the desired activity (which was necessary because places were limited). There were puzzles and mosaic, there were dolls, there was a life-size (for 4-5yos anyway) two-story ‘house’ to play mom&dad and/or kitchen etc, there was a corner with blocks or something or other building materials, I think there probably was a corner where we could paint, and I know for sure there was a corner outside the classrooms near the door outside for us to play with left-over planks, hammers, nails and other simple tools.
    Academic learning started and starts in first grade.

  8. Gina May 2, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    This is Summerhill thinking…and I agree…totally. A.S. Neill was the original Free-ranger!

  9. Havva May 2, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    Best example from the full article was the teacher taking away the popsicle sticks that the kids were trying to read the joke off of… in order to get them to focus on the structured reading lesson. I can’t help but think that my Montessori teacher seeing such a thing in class would have been smiling, and perhaps quietly leaned over to look at the riddle. Then stepped back and waited to see if that would prompt the kids to ask a question, or if they would just keep hammering away at the problem themselves. Of course in Montessori the kids wouldn’t have been interrupting a ‘lesson.’

    I think the worst part of the synchronized structured education, is that you spend oodles of time and effort trying to get all the kids to simultaneously do one activity when it isn’t the right activity for all the kids. And teachers think that this is crucial to learning.

    For instance: draw a C.
    One kid needs to spend more time doodling to figure out how to control a curved line at all, but you just keep making them try this one form and keep getting something too flat.

    Another kid is rapidly making progress on the C, and will probably pick it up in a few more days of doodling on her own… but hasn’t tried the A she struggled with last week since, and probably needs more A practice instead. But you are just going to keep her going on the C. Because this isn’t the A lesson

    And finally there is the kid who total has it down, did it right the first try. But he is bored and so the teacher wastes time trying to get him to be quit, sit still, and quit interfering with/distracting the other kids. Yeah this kid could use more practice on his numbers. But this isn’t the math lesson and you can’t have the ‘distraction’ of one kid doing his own thing. So… keep drawing those C’s don’t bother your class mates…etc.
    My nephew was the first kid. To try to help with school troubles mom was having him work reading and writing homework in kindergarten. There were protracted nightly sessions on handwriting for months. I wanted to help because learning to read was the best part of Kindergarten to me. But I realized he was frustrated, had horrible pencil control, and was starting to run from anything involving letters. So I gave him a huge book of mazes. He ripped right into them as soon as he opened them. Maze 1 he noticed he was going out of the line and it was hard to show off his solution. He slowed down and tried again. He was still work mazes when I had to go home. A month latter, his pencil control had gone through the roof. And the hand writing home work was rapidly done rather than the protracted fight it had been.

  10. pentamom May 2, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    Papilio — I did a double take when you said that c was not one of the letters you learned in kindergarten. Maybe know that “cat” is stereotypically the first word kids learn to spell in English! But then I realized that it would be rather different in Dutch — I’m only vaguely familiar with Dutch but I guess you don’t use that many c’s.

  11. J.T. Wenting May 2, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    The biggest insanity of all is trying to prepare children for college while still in kindergarten.
    That’s something they’re going to go to 15 years or so down the line, after primary school and highschool.

  12. CrazyCatLady May 2, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Hawa, my son was like that too. Then…he was given a Leapster. I told him he could only use it if he held the pencil/stylus correctly. And as that was the only requirement, he did.

    And he worked at those stupid Leapster kinder letters for hours! Because it was electronic. Letters that even adults couldn’t do without the stupid game trying to correct you!

    A major portion of why we homeschool has to do with not filling ALL of my kid’s hours with school work (unless it is their choice.) Younger kids need to play. Older kids need to play too. My kids have learned so much just by climbing a tree…what the leaves are like, does it have sap or insects, where are the branches – are they set up in an easy to climb spiral (that relates to math concepts later on) or are they randomly spaced out? They have learned about gravity, and wood strength. All from climbing a tree.

  13. forsythia May 2, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Since when are the ability to communicate verbally and the ability to present and the ability to collaborate with others on a somewhat open-ended task to be completed as a group not critical for college and career success?

    These people are both utterly clueless and vastly too self-important.

    Another case of too many administrators making up too many decisions that they have to decide about.

  14. forsythia May 2, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Oh, and since when is putting on a show not developmentally appropriate for five year olds, SKL?

    When I was that age, my fellow youngsters and I were putting on shows all the time! Ditto for my sons in their preschool which featured large amounts of unstructured play time. The kids were constantly doing this.

  15. J- May 2, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. EVERY study I have ever seen conducted on the benefits of play is clear, kids learn though interactive play. More than that, play is necessary to improve the outcome of structured class/instruction time. With no outlet, kids subject to too much class time will zone out and not learn anything. An hour of PE a day (if that is even done anymore) doesn’t cut it.

    I remember reading about the effects of a society that doesn’t play from an anthropological perspective. The tribe is known as the Baining and they are the most boring people on earth. This is, I fear, what schools are going to turn children into.

  16. gap.runner May 2, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

    In most European countries, kids don’t do any academics until they start school at ages 6 to 7. Kindergarten (preschool) is a time for play, learning to get along with others, and being part of a group. Even the kids who are going on to school the following year, who are the same age as UK kindergartners, don’t do any academics. They may learn to write their names or draw simple figures with a pencil and that’s the extent of their academic work. In my son’s kindergarten his day was divided into indoor and outdoor free play times. Kids start first grade in September not knowing how to read. They learn the alphabet then and by the Christmas holidays they can read very well. European kindergarten teachers realize that kids ages 3 to 6 learn best through play. Primary schools (at least in Germany) have a shorter day than US ones, but there is still a fairly long recess break in the middle of the school day. Recess is for free play. At my son’s primary school there was one day a week that each grade would play soccer at recess (1st grade on Mondays, 2nd on Tuesdays, etc.). But the kids, even the first graders, organized the soccer games. There was no teacher involvement.

    Over here parents also don’t push their kids to excel. But even with all of the play time that European kids get, they still outperform their US counterparts.

  17. lollipoplover May 2, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    Einstein said “Creativity is intelligence having fun”.
    What we forget as adults is the *free* part of play- actually letting the child choose the activity. Children don’t need to work on critical skills every moment of the day. Even award-winning play toys and mindless toddler TV shows have intros of what child will learn by watching the cartoon: “Teaches cooperation and problem solving”. Makes me wonder what watching Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny growing up taught me!

    Sometimes kids just want to play in dirt. Or collect acorns and make fairy villages in hollowed out trees away from adults. Parents and teachers don’t need to turn every moment of the day into enriching young minds. They’re already rich.

  18. Papilio May 2, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    @Pentamom: Cat is with a K! 😀
    You guessed right: the Germanic base of Dutch is generally regularly spelled and doesn’t contain those four letters, then there are sets of Latin/French/English/etc loanwords that do, but kids don’t learn those words until later.

  19. anonymous this time May 2, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    I’m going to put in a strong, strong plug here for the Peter Gray book Lenore mentions. She turned me on to it a few weeks ago, and I am alternating between hope and despair after reading it, but it certainly confirms the gut feeling I had that school, as we know it today in nearly all the world, is tantamount to imprisonment, and it’s no wonder kids hate it.

    Truly, the way our whole society is set up, with pursuit of material “success” and “proving one’s value” through ascending up the hierarchy is tragic, and of course, this is reflected in how we require children to be “schooled.”

    It sucks. It really does. Whether they’re drilling these kids through some adult-created theatrical production, or drilling them on early reading skills, it sucks. Kids want to learn, but the way we teach them is kind of like the way sex would be if we picked out a “partner” for each child and forced them to start “practicing” a rote menu of stimulation techniques. No one would ever insist on that, but forcing kids to adhere to a fixed curriculum, insisting they acquire certain skills at certain times, before their natural interest and desire is engaged, is as freakish and abusive as any other manipulation of the natural order of development.

    Think about it.

  20. Wendy Constantinoff May 2, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    When I trained to be a nursery nurse over 40 years ago we were told that all learning for children under the statutory school age (ie 5 in UK) should be through play. This did not mean rushing around meaninglessly. A set text for the course being “Play with a purpose for the under sevens” I still have it somewhere. Looking on amazon i discovered it has been revised and republished for modern parents.

  21. Donna May 2, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    @anonymous this time – Not all kids hate school. My kid LOVES it. She is complaining about it ending in two weeks. And most of her friends like school. She only has one who hates it and even that seems more about leaving the house than school itself. I never hated school nor did any of my friends. I’m not saying that kids wouldn’t also enjoy school done differently and may even learn more, but that most kids that I know don’t equate it with torture and imprisonment.

  22. SKL May 2, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    LOL, I always felt like school was prison. But I went to a Lutheran school where I didn’t really fit in, and they beat kids with paddles and stuff like that. 😛

    There is certainly nothing new about school having certain prison-like qualities. There is also nothing new about young kids learning academics – and they didn’t all grow up to be idiots.

    I tend to be the devil’s advocate on this topic because I think the pendulum swung too far the other way in the late 1900s. Those were also the days when we began to see the scandal of kids graduating high school without being able to read etc. Kids can learn, they are not stupid, and there are developmentally appropriate ways to teach them. We should not be afraid of teaching kids, we should just be sensible about it. When I was a kid (5-6yo up), one of the free-range options I often chose for an afternoon / summer day was to go to the library and choose some fun books to read. Reading is part of a life of leisure, it’s not the antithesis of leisure. Same thing with being able to budget one’s allowance / candy money and knowing how much play time is left before dinner.

    In fact, I would say that not having basic reading and math skills would stunt the growth of a free-range kid. A kid who can read and do simple math can be entrusted with more responsibility and freedom IMO, because s/he can use those skills to troubleshoot unexpected situations.

  23. anonymous this time May 2, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    At times, I loved school. I actually enjoyed taking tests. I was a bright kid and did very well. I was also frustrated and bored, and I can tell you unequivocally that I HATED HOMEWORK.

    I have a kid in my family who loves school, everything about it, it would seem. And yet, when she got to spend the day at an alternative school, where the ages are more mixed K-8, the curriculum is more fluid, the ratio of outdoor to indoor time is about 1:3, and the kids are permitted to create their own climbing, balancing, and sliding equipment with long flat boards and old tires, she decided that she wanted to go to THAT school, she didn’t even feel the need to say “goodbye” at the public elementary that she had seemed to enjoy immensely.

    If a child is naturally geared toward status and competition, and Donna, since you are a lawyer, my guess is that you are naturally geared that way, then hooray, you adapt well to a school where you are evaluated constantly and forced to do what you are told every step of the way. It’s predictable, the system rewards you if you know how to work it, and you probably don’t know what you’re missing anyway.

    But even though I liked aspects of school, overall, I was unimpressed, and felt it was pretty much a waste of time. My dad even told me that everything they taught me in 12 years could easily be learned in 5 – 8 years, but the compulsory high school was more about keeping hormone-laden young people incarcerated so they wouldn’t get pregnant and set fires, since there was nothing else for them to do, too young to hire, no apprenticeships.

    In some ways, I think the kids who “like” school are being damaged just as much as those who hate it. If you like it, it means you are likely status-driven, prone to comparing yourself with others to motivate yourself, and stifled a bit in your creativity. I don’t imagine kids like this do best in life when they are encouraged to continue on this way instead of being challenged to drop that competitiveness in favour of authenticity.

  24. anonymous this time May 2, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    My last post was likely a bit incendiary and full of judgement. I regret that.

    What I really want to get across is that the way we’ve set up school, in my view, is not supporting the health and optimal learning for any child, whether they are “enjoying” it or “loathing” it.

  25. J G May 2, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    Being one myself, I am ashamed of the world we Baby Boomers have created for these children. We really did, as “Gen X” used to complain, take all the best stuff and locked it up, so no one else could get any. As in free time, for one example.

    Hopefully these kids will grow up and overthrow this awful regime we are subjecting them to.

  26. Tamara May 2, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

    @anonymous this time – I feel the same way as you on the school subject. I have been grappling with my feelings about the system (I don’t think you sounded judgmental, it seems to me that you are working through this issue as well) and debating the merits of unschooling my two school haters this year. My concerns are that the current school system seems geared towards conformity (mine so refuse to conform, and they come by that trait honestly) and teaching us to accept our positions as workers in society come graduation – yet without any real world education, just the stuff they have memorized along with everyone else. If they remember that even. The special needs program that teaches life skills sounds like a much better idea than 6 hours of being cooped up. I’m going to check out that Peter Gray book!

  27. SKL May 2, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

    I’m going to make another devil’s advocate comment. Isn’t play and practical life experience the parents’ responsibility? Who says school is the appropriate place for creating inventions out of junk, staging kid-conceived “shows,” and generally playing pretend? It’s appropriate to some extent in KG because it develops relevant language and social skills that not all kids come to school with, but if we’re talking play for the sake of play, we don’t need school for that. What we need is for parents to make time for it outside of school hours. School play time should mostly be actual recess, for blowing off steam, not “guided play,” which is actually more about getting kids to conform than letting them be creative.

    There are still some places where KG is a half day. Maybe parents should push for more of this (though full day was not a problem for my kids).

  28. SKL May 3, 2014 at 12:08 am #

    This is going to sound weird, but I really hated so-called play time in KG, and recess when I was older. I did not like the way the other kids played dolls or kitchen or whatever. I hated the way the boys tried to kill you during Dodge Ball, how the kids taunted during kickball, and the cliques that formed so early in elementary school. I just wanted to be free to mind my own business. It was a relief when the bell rang and we had to go back to our work, and my classmates were no longer allowed to say or do anything to me. Once school was out, I walked back to my familiar space where I could be myself and do things my own way. That was where my creative energies could flow.

  29. Donna May 3, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    “I’m going to make another devil’s advocate comment. Isn’t play and practical life experience the parents’ responsibility?”

    This exactly. Real life experience is not the goal or role of schools. The goal and role of schools is academic knowledge. Real life experience is up to the parents.

  30. Donna May 3, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    “If you like it, it means you are likely status-driven, prone to comparing yourself with others to motivate yourself, and stifled a bit in your creativity.”

    Wow, for the sake of pleasantness, I won’t touch that.

    “I don’t imagine kids like this do best in life when they are encouraged to continue on this way instead of being challenged to drop that competitiveness in favour of authenticity.”

    I’m pretty damn happy. The vast majority of my friends are pretty damn happy. We all generally consider ourselves successful at life and in our careers, although we all define success differently.

    I couldn’t do my job without a healthy sense of competitiveness. Nobody could. After months of being lied to, cussed out, insulted, treated rudely, threatened, harassed, blamed for everything wrong in their life – so far never physically assaulted myself but it has happened to others – I have often long since lost concern for the person sitting next to me in a trial. An intrinsic work ethic to always do my best and a belief in the system are important, but at the end of the day, there are just some cases where I work my butt off to win the trial of total jerk of a client who is 100% guilty simply because I hate to lose. And, frankly, the client couldn’t care less why I worked so hard as long as I do and it is what he deserves from his attorney regardless how big of a jerk he is.

    Competitive nature and desire for status are not negative unless taken to the extreme. They need not lead to comparing yourself to the Jones and interest in financial excess. God knows that I don’t have the ability for either as a public defender. But I do have a strong desire to win and a strong desire to be thought of as a good attorney, public defender, and fighter for my clients and work very hard to achieve both of these. It is what keeps me going on the bad days and I my clients deserve no less.

    You can have competitiveness, desire for status and still be your true authentic self. The two things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I can’t imagine that ANYONE who achieves any level of success in life (however success is defined by them) is ever motivated solely by intrinsic desires completely independent of what others think of them and a desire to succeed.

  31. JP Merzetti May 3, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    Couldn’t agree more!
    At the risk of sounding like a broken record (remember those?) when kids play, they’re learning how to learn.
    This um, actually belongs to them (as it should.)
    Aren’t the academicistas sort of trying to privatize this?
    Because kids do it – for free, unsupervised, no adult involvement required (you don’t even need to add batteries.)

    I can well imagine the sort that salivates over all that wasted playtime. If only they could grab all that too, and re-work it into some sort of Taylorized human engineered superhuman high-performance child.
    As if….mere childhood is some kind of toxic waste of human potential, a condition to be minimized for maximum productivity.

    (And curiously, why do the pundit bandits refuse the notion that children left to themselves will come along nicely and embrace academia positively all in good time?)

    Where did this “no time to waste” thing come from?
    Hurry-up adulthood?
    That kind of high anxiety betrays a certain denial of childhood, I think.
    We’re addicted (supposedly) to maximum efficiency.
    But that’s all about profits.
    What profits a human being to skip a free and natural development?

  32. Jenny Islander May 3, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    @SKL: My issue with all work and no play in the lower grades is that little kids, Kindergarteners especially, are mostly unready for abstract thought. They learn by getting their hands in the dirt, handling objects, and doodling around with things. Or as somebody said once, you can teach a child to recite a count by fives to 200, but that doesn’t mean he knows the difference between five things and four things.

    I was one of those kids who dreaded recess. Actually some years I dreaded recess more than class and some years less; it depended on the amount and quality of adult supervision. I was naturally an introvert and on top of that I was the chosen target of bullies for years. And I still say that young schoolchildren should be playing and messing around with stuff at least as much as they are sitting at desks. And no homework! What even is the point of that?

  33. Warren May 3, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    Yes let’s start them on the road to higher learning from date of birth.

    The result, generations of people that are book smart and life stupid.

    When will parents and teachers accept the fact that not all people are destined for college.

    Going from a world of you can be anything you want to be when you grow up, to a world of you can be anything we groom you to be.

  34. Cynthia812 May 3, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    @SKL. I would agree that life skills should be learned out of school if the school day were cut to four or five hours, but as long as school and travel to and from take up so much of the day, the school is going to have to take on some of the responsibility.

  35. anonymous this time May 3, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    The actual “academic curriculum” covered for grade four here would be something I imagine I could cover off with my kid pretty expediently; it doesn’t require hours a day. To say that all of those hours children spend in school should be devoted solely to what is called “academics” is both cruel to children and, to me, a hugely inefficient use of time.

    It takes longer to “instruct” a child in a concept than it does for the child to learn it. That sounds strange, but realize that your child learned to speak not by having you drill every component of speech with him or her, but by listening to you speak fluently.

    All skills can be learned this way, with minimal formal instruction, but we’ve chosen a path that makes things expensive, boring, inefficient, and plays upon possibly the weakest aspects of human nature: judgement, comparisons, evaluations, competition, and selfishness.

    It’s so hard for us to imagine a life where kids spend most of their day pursuing what interests them (and I’m not talking about iPhones, per se) and having that be considered valuable. We don’t trust kids. That’s what it comes down to. We think that the way they learn at 2, 3, or 4 years old is totally different from how they learn at 8 years old and hence, we sit them in desks, give them rote exercises to practice, assign them subjects to learn about, and force them to assimilate what we think is impotent.

    Where has that gotten us? Do we really like the way we’ve ended up living? Do we like the way we’ve set up our whole system of survival based on competing with each other?

    Like I have said, if you read the book Lenore referenced in her OP, you may come away with a new perspective on everything we’re doing, not just school.

  36. anonymous this time May 3, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    Ha ha “important,” not “impotent.”

    Paging Dr. Freud.

  37. Rachel May 3, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    When my older son was in kindergarten (10 years ago), the federal government started “no child left behind.” Teachers were told they had to fit in 90 minutes of math, 90 minutes of writing/reading, etc every day. The mandates took up the whole day. So the principal took play time away from the kindergartners. The school tore down the cute play lofts they had in each kindergarten class, and took the toys out of the rooms.

    I was on the School Leadership Team of the school at the time, and argued the need for play time as a necessary part of education for this young age group. I asked if we could creatively sneak in play time as part of meeting the mandates. Playing with blocks and cars can be math for instance(counting, understanding motion and speed, etc.) I was largely ignored, by all but a few of the veteran teachers who agreed with me.

    Hopefully the tides will shift back, and schools will once again value play time.

  38. Puzzled May 3, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    SKL – that doesn’t sound weird to me, I hated recess too. I didn’t hate play, though – I just hated having to play with a particular group of people solely because they had been randomly put in my class that year. I wanted to play with my friends.

    I also agree that school is not necessarily the place for play. I’d go further, though – it’s not the place for anything. We don’t need a special place for playing, and all learning is essentially play. Therefore, we don’t need a special place for learning. The world is place enough.

    Tamara – that’s a great point. Why should it help me to get a job that I know the same things everyone else knows, and can do the same things everyone can do? That’s exactly why I’m so opposed to Common Core – not that it’s really anything new, just an acceleration of what’s already happening.

    And yes, schools teach conformity. It’s all about doing as you’re told, learning how to please each teacher, with their own idiosyncracies – never learning how to please yourself. It’s all about what hoops to jump through – even teachers talking to students will use phrases such as “learn to play the game” and “stay under the radar screen.” Why make learning a game? (Of course, learning is a game, but in a different sense.)

    I don’t know how may times I’ve heard teachers comment – or write in term comments – that a student needs to be a better job adapting to their classroom, their way of doing things…never once pausing to think that maybe they should adapt to the student.

  39. SKL May 3, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

    Learning tools in schools include a lot more than paper and pencils. There are all kinds of math manipulatives, science/ art/ music labs, games that practice number and reading skills, engaging books for free reading, etc. There are many ways of incorporating physical movement, talking, music, etc. into learning units. My kids are in 2nd grade and they still do a lot of moving around and three-dimensional learning. If this isn’t happening in some academic kindergartens, it’s because they are not being managed by knowledgeable people.

    I didn’t say kids don’t need free time during the course of the school day. Of course they do. If 7 hours isn’t enough time to teach academics AND give kids breaks, then the people in charge are not competent. You can teach most 5yos beginning reading and math skills in less than an hour a day (spread out). If a kid can’t bear an hour a day of academic learning, then maybe the kid isn’t mature enough for school. That’s no reason to make all the kids play baby games when they are ready for more.

  40. SKL May 3, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    “We don’t trust kids”? That’s what I think when I see people crying about a little seat work being “torture” and “prison.”

  41. Andy May 3, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    @SKL “You can teach most 5yos beginning reading and math skills in less than an hour a day (spread out). If a kid can’t bear an hour a day of academic learning, then maybe the kid isn’t mature enough for school.”

    That would explain raising number of redshited kids.

    I’m not sure what exactly you mean by “5yos beginning reading and math skills”, but kids here are not taught any of that until they are over six years old. The kid starting school at six years old here is supposed to count to five, draw, know colors and know one poem by heart.

    Those are official academic expectations on six years old upon entry to elementary school.

    The argument is that seven years old learn so much faster compared to five years old (due to brain development), that teaching kindergartners anything more has no measurable effect later on.

  42. SKL May 3, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    If this country were to decide to follow certain other countries and start teaching reading at age 7, then they would not need to have KG at all. However, the chance of this country making that big a change is about as high as the chance of certain European countries adding a couple of mandatory years of kiddy school just because the US does it.

    There are other high achieving countries that start formal education between ages 2 and 4. But I’ve never been one to say ___ country does X and therefore we need to do it too.

    If they didn’t teach kids to read in school, many parents would just teach it at home (as many do anyway). It’s not that big of a deal.

    Maybe the problem is the way we demand accountability from early childhood teachers.

  43. Evelyn May 4, 2014 at 1:49 am #

    Kids in the 1940s and 1950s had less emphasis put on schooling and learning AFTER HOURS and yet the children of those days made it through life with greater knowledge of grammar and maths and MANNERS. Why? Because school taught them correctly, it was re-iterated at home, AND when not in school or doing a small amount of homework (unlike the mountains of work children take home now-a-days), they were allowed to just PLAY!

  44. hineata May 4, 2014 at 3:51 am #

    We do do an awful lot of rubbish in school now, that I don’t think was covered in the ’40s and before. For example, these days, instead of treating writing as a tool, in NZ anyway, it is treated as a creative process.

    I absolutely hate teaching writing, because from day one we’re supposed to allow children to write what they want, regardless of whether they can spell the words or not, and regardless of whether what they’re writing is absolute rubbish. ‘When I went to school’ (like the old fogey I feel like, LOL!) we copied sentences and then paragraphs for the first two or three years. We didn’t get to write creatively until we could actually write a few hundred words and knew how to structure a sentence and paragraph correctly. Even the kids who didn’t do so well in academics hit adulthood able to write legibly.

    Fast forward to now, and it seems many under thirty-five here struggle to write anything sensible – and these are people with English as a first language. It drives me insane. I might add that a lot of my younger students prefer to copy too until they feel confident about the process – technically, though, I’m not supposed to let them. (I do, though, naughty, naughty!)

    The point of the above rant is that if we actually stopped doing a lot of ‘creative’ stuff at school, stuck rigidly to the ‘3 R’s’ for 3 to 4 hours and then sent the kids home for lunch, free play and fun, sans homework, that everyone might be better off.

    Though that would mean a parent would have to be home, and sadly that’s not too realistic these days.

  45. Omer Golan-Joel May 4, 2014 at 7:53 am #

    Schooling, as it stands in today’s western world, is inhuman, unnatural and contrary to any sound logic. Who’s sadistic idea was it to force CHILDREN to sit straight in place behind desks for hours at time and do utterly boring things? This does not contribute to learning, as children, naturally (as adults do), learn by DOING, not by rote learning. The human being is a productive being – the animal who works (and plays). Playing freeform, working on projects without much supervision, being creative, making things, doing meaningful work for their own benefit and the benefit of the people around them – this is how children should learn. Knowledge, in the real meaning of the word, is concrete, not abstract; you learn by doing.

    The entire education system needs to be reworked if it is to be human in nature and not a constant torture for kids for the sake of abstract “knowledge”.

    A democracy needs responsible, independent citizens who can think for themselves, take initiative and be creative, not conformist drones who only know how to follow the instructions of their “betters”.

  46. Omer Golan-Joel May 4, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    Another note – a book I recommend about humane and democratic education fitting the nature of human beings is Helping Health Workers Learn by Hesperian Foundation (google it – it should be available online). This book in particular is about training third-world villagers to provide community healthcare to their friends and neighbours, but is relevant for education in general.

  47. Donna May 4, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    I think many here often ignore the real ways that the world has changed since their childhood. First and foremost, the vast majority of children grow up in households where all the adults in the house work outside the home. They don’t need to go to kindergarten to learn how to be away from mommy and play well with others. They don’t need half days to bridge the move from home to school. They’ve been doing all that since they were a couple months old. I guess I just don’t understand what they are supposed to get out of another year of doing exactly what they have been doing since they were 8 weeks old only now in a different building. What is the point?

    Second, I don’t know where some of your kids are going to school but being chained to a desk in rows for 7-8 hours a day is definitely not what my child has ever experienced to date. My 2nd grader has never even sat in a desk. She does sit at a table with 3-4 other kids occasionally, but spends most of her day doing other things, including laying in bean bag chairs while she reads, hands on science experiments, show and tell, tending the school gardens (2nd grade is in charge of the butterfly garden), hanging out in comfy chairs discussing their book in book club. Between that and one of art, music, PE or STEM lab each day as well as lunch and recess, I highly doubt that my kid spends more than an hour (spread out over 7 hours) or so sitting at that table all day. I’ve certainly never seen her there when I’ve been in the school.

    Also I may not agree with some aspects of society today, but at the end of the day, I want my child prepared to be successful, as she chooses to define success, within it and not in a fantasyland that doesn’t exist where there is no competition and everyone just floats through life doing only what makes them happy. That isn’t reality. That is never going to be reality. I don’t even want it to be reality.

  48. Papilio May 4, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    “However, the chance of this country making that big a change is about as high as the chance of certain European countries adding a couple of mandatory years of kiddy school just because the US does it.”
    Which chance would indeed be 0, because international comparisons show the USA isn’t exactly the country to emulate. Finland on the other hand…

    But all in all: what are you guys proposing? Some people point out that most parents work outside the house these days, so where should they leave their kids during those hours, if school is to be shortened or done away with completely?

  49. Jenny Islander May 4, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    You know, when I was in the upper grades “preparing to enter the world of work,” I was trained partly to create and curate paper files and partly to run a paperless office with the latest greatest office software. As it turns out, those courses were equally useless. I think demanding that schools predict workplace trends is a waste of time, money, and developmental years. Teach kids how to be neighbors, co-workers, and citizens and let the actual world of work teach them how to be employees.

    As for shortening the school day, I think that has to wait until we’ve fixed the gap between inflation and the buying power of the average worker that’s been festering since the ’70s. In the meantime, if K students have to be at school all day long, kick out No Child Left Behind and its Gradgrinding ilk and give those children things to do that are suited to the brain of a small child. They can even be educational.

  50. Donna May 4, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    “Teach kids how to be neighbors, co-workers, and citizens and let the actual world of work teach them how to be employees.”

    Again, this is not the job of schools. This is the job of parents. The picture of what constitutes a good neighbor, co-worker and citizen varies greatly in this country from person to person. I want the school to teach my child academics and to leave lessons of morality and character to me.

    “if K students have to be at school all day long, kick out No Child Left Behind and its Gradgrinding ilk and give those children things to do that are suited to the brain of a small child.”

    Definitely agree there.

  51. Andy May 4, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    @Papilio It is false dichotomy I think. The point of school is to teach kids academics, but that does not mean that every single second the kid spends in school must be spend on academics. I see zero problem with school teaching kids age appropriate number of hours with breaks and then provide cheap day-care like service for parents.

    That is how it was when I was a kid. Learning ended at 12:00 or sooner and then there was supervised play time until parents came. E.g. adult took you outside and then to play room. It was available only for small kids and ended once you could go home alone and stay there (maybe 6-10 years old?).

    It was not enriching or anything like that and there was one adult on 30 kids or more. Essentially, he made sure no one beats anybody and that was it. If parent wanted sport or art classes, he had to pay them separately.

  52. Papilio May 4, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    @Andy: Yeah, my primary school had something like that as well after the normal school day for those kids who couldn’t go home yet. They’d just let the kids play outside (weather permitting, otherwise they’d find them something to do inside I imagine) and an adult or two (could be a parent volunteering (without background check! Oh no those kiddies were doomed!!!)) drinking coffee and chatting a bit…

  53. Donna May 4, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    Andy – If my child is going to be in some institution while I am at work, I would much rather she do something enriching while she is there. I don’t think they need to sit in desks and do seat work, but that hasn’t remotely been my experience as to what is happening through 2nd grade so far either.

  54. Donna May 4, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Papilio – The schools have that here too. I simply see no benefit to cutting the school day down so that kids spend more time in the after school program. It’s boring. It lacks any form of enrichment. Except for the short time they are outside, the kids basically just sit around and talk to each other until parents come. They don’t roll out art supplies, balls and costumes and let kids go at it in the type of enriching free play that people like Peter Gray are envisioning. After school is a complete waste of time. My daughter begs me to make other arrangements when I have to be in court in the afternoon (I don’t mind her staying home alone after school, she just has no way to get there this year if I am in court at pick up time).

  55. SKL May 4, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Aftercare at my kids’ school is great. People have donated a ton of old games, Legos, etc., a large assortment of kids from ages 5-12 hang out together (part inside and part outside), and the kids pretty much do whatever they want as long as it isn’t mean. The monitors even have a little snack store so kids can spend their allowance / chore money. 😉 My kids are expected to do their homework and some reading during this time, but they still have hours to putz / exercise. There are a few more “enriching” options, i.e., chess club / music lessons / sports for the older kids, but even without those I’m happy with the deal. That said, I think 3 hours of undirected putzing away from home is sufficient for a school day. 😉 I do think they could get bored if it was much longer.

    When it comes down to it, we’re used to a balance of school work / leisure in the USA starting at 5yo or even younger. If it’s managed right, there’s nothing pathological about it. The key is to make sure that the people working with the youngest kids have the right personality and tools. So far, my kids have had two good teachers. The third one (1st grade) wasn’t great for my kids because my kids are outliers, but the problems had nothing to do with too much “sitting” etc.

  56. Donna May 4, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

    Papilio – If the US only had to educate a largely homogeneous population the size of Rhode Island, we could do a bang up job of it too, even with kids starting real education at 5.

  57. Jenny Islander May 4, 2014 at 7:56 pm #


    Good neighbors: Taking turns, sharing, understanding that it’s okay for people to be different, cleaning up for the next person, learning the conjunction between freedom and responsibility: sure, that’s the parents’ responsibility. And it’s also the teachers’ responsibility. Schools that let this stuff go are nasty places to be in.

    Co-workers: How to cooperate on a project, how to give and receive criticism without drama, how to allocate materials, how to set goals and use time productively: most definitely a school responsibility, with parental help–otherwise nothing would get done.

    Citizens: Teaching logical thought, baloney detection, democracy 101, the conjunction between justice and mercy, community responsibility and patriotism: That’s how you continue the best of America, and that’s the responsibility of everyone who has responsibility for a child.

  58. SKL May 4, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

    Yeah, to Donna’s point, there are populations within the US that would fare quite well on those international tests if it weren’t for our pesky diversity and a few other things….

    How come I never hear the high achieving US populations whining about how hard public KG was for their kids? Actually I’m more likely to hear them complaining that their kid isn’t challenged enough. Many choose private schools because they don’t want their kid to have to wait so long to become proficient at reading and math. Now why would intelligent people choose to spend money to get their kids on an early path to education, if experience proved this screws kids up?

  59. Let Her Eat Dirt May 4, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    Is that principal for real? I cannot believe that anyone would write a letter that ridiculous. We’re so focused on preparing kindergardeners for college that we can’t spare a minute? Please! Get over yourselves! I could understand why a principal or teacher would want to do away with an end-of-year show. As some commenters have suggested, these shows often are a waste of time as kids stand around waiting for adults to tell them what to do. But the reason to get rid of the show should not be because the kids have to “prepare for college.” Give me a break! Kids need to play!

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    A dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  60. Puzzled May 4, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

    It’s clear our society doesn’t trust kids. We think they are different sorts of creatures from the rest of us. If I pick up a book, read it halfway, and put it down, it’s no big deal, I’ve just lost interest. If a child loses interest in something, they will grow up to be irresponsible and useless (or so we seem to think.) If I tell someone a bird is pretty, they’ll probably agree or disagree. If a child tells someone a bird is pretty, depending on context, they’ll either be told to shut up and pay attention, or be bombarbed with books on birds in order to take advantage of the enthusiasm they’ve shown.

    Most of all, perhaps, everyone understands that I learn by doing, by reading, by being involved with the world, and that I learn what I need to learn to improve my life, as I need to learn it. Children, on the other hand, are believed to learn by sitting in desks being lectured to or filling out ditto sheets.

    Finally, it is understood that I have things going on in my life. If I’m late to an appointment, the doctor may not be able to see me, and I may have to pay a fee – natural consequences, but no one will treat me like a criminal. If I curse, people may not want to be around me, but I won’t be punished. No one tells me when to go to sleep, only what I need to get done. I am left to deal with the consequences of my actions. If I eat a lot of sugar, I will get diabetes and have to deal with it. Young people, on the other hand, are denied these basic civilities and essentials of citizenship. They are denied moral agency. Their actions result in artificial consequences, doled out by authoritarian figures who cannot be challenged. There is no understand, they live in a world of zero-tolerance. (We often hear that children think in black and white – maybe it’s because schools do also?)

  61. Papilio May 5, 2014 at 1:34 am #

    @Donna: “If the US only had to educate a largely homogeneous population the size of Rhode Island, we could do a bang up job of it too”
    Oh, come on. Wikipedia, about the USA: “While immigration has increased drastically over the last century, the foreign born share of the population was still higher in 1900 (about 20%) than it is today (about 10%).”
    Percentage of foreign born people living in NL in 2014: 10,6.
    Only four USA states have a bigger population than NL’s 16,8. Of the eight European countries with a bigger population than California (38,3 million), seven outperformed the USA on the PISA of 2012.

    But to be fair, you do have a poverty problem holding you back.

    @SKL: “Now why would intelligent people choose to spend money to get their kids on an early path to education, if experience proved this screws kids up?”
    I’d guess “experience” considers 100% of kids, while the kids of intelligent people are likely to be intelligent too and therefore developmentally ready earlier than average.

    I hope I’m wrong, but I get the impression that many of the commenters here would score among, say, the top 15% IQs, but still pretend to be completely average and therefore think their own experience is a good indicator of problems with an educational system that has to deal with kids of (almost) all intelligences.

  62. hineata May 5, 2014 at 1:47 am #

    @SKL and Donna – I wonder if diversity is an issue? Down here we have the most mixed population on Earth (this according to the Bone Marrow Registry, of all people 🙂 ), largely thanks to the fact that ‘race relations is being decided in the nation’s bedrooms’ as one of our academics noted in the eighties. It gets more and more mixed every day. One friend of mine has a baby who has seven different races in her immediate ancestry, forget ethnicities.

    I doubt that this diversity is a cause of our recent drop in international tables. ‘Diversity’ has been a mark of our population from early times. Rather we’re not teaching properly somehow. We need to get to the bottom of that, and probably so do you guys. One issue is definitely the deficit thinking applied to minorities. We are working on that here – hopefully you are in the States too….

  63. Andy May 5, 2014 at 5:16 am #

    @Papilio “the kids of intelligent people are likely to be intelligent too and therefore developmentally ready earlier than average”

    Those two things are unrelated, look it up. There is very little relation between final intelligence and speed of early development. That is why miracle kids disappear usually disappear after puberty.

    Additionally, you hear achieving US populations whining about how hard KG was for their kids. Plenty of those complaining are affluent middle class parents. Some of them push for early achievement cause they are scared for future, others do not and complain. Even others intelligentsia royally spoil their kids and expect zero from them.

    Educational fads come and go while smart, educated and business skilled people argue about what is best.

    It is more that high achieving is synonym with rich and rich are more likely to be in good school when it matters. They are also are more likely to be able to undo damage if it really happen for their particular kids. Unless you really really royally screw, good elementary school can make up for whatever happened in kindergarten and good high school can make up for bad elementary.

  64. Donna May 5, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Papilio –

    Give me a break. Finland has the population of Minnesota – our 21st most populous state. According to you, there are only 8 European countries with a population that tops California, which would be a fine comparison if the US stopped at California, but we still have another 278 million people in our other 49 states. The US population is closer to the population of the entire EU than it is to any one country comprising the EU.

    10% of 315 million people is still 6 times the entire population of Finland for just our foreign born residents alone. And that doesn’t include the millions of so-called “anchor babies” for whom English is still a second language and not known upon starting school or spoken in the home. That population probably tops Finland’s entire population a few times as well. Nor does it include the many millions of US born citizens who more closely identify culturally to their ancestral home than the US.

    You leaped out of apples and oranges and are comparing apples to potato chips.

    The US has some issues. I am not saying that it is a wonderful, perfect country that can make no improvements in educating its citizens. Far from it. The vast majority of the problems with the US education system, originally anyway, were social issues, not educational issues. Comparing ourselves to Finland and then dicking around over whether we should start reading at 5 or 6, instead of addressing the social issues, is what has gotten us into this stupid educational mess of No Child Left Behind and Common Core to start with. It helps matters none to continue down that road.

    The fact is that each country has its own unique economy, population, culture, social problems, political structure, geography, etc. and all that plays into how its citizens learn. In truth, comparing any one country’s education system to any other country’s is meaningless unless you can completely level all the other playing fields. We could make a full replica of Finland’s education system here and come up even shorter than we do now. Finland could make a full replica of ours and exceed its current standards. Or, most likely, in either case there would be no change since reading at 5 or 6 doesn’t matter one way or another in the long run.

    That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look at other countries to see if there is something that we can learn from what they do differently, just that looking at numbers and using them to decide that one system is clearly better than the other is ridiculous when there are so many other factors that go into education being successful.

  65. SKL May 5, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    Papilio, diversity is a lot more than just who wasn’t born in this country. At least, here in the US it is. A large chunk of US-born individuals do not speak English as their main language; many come to school not knowing English at all. Many kids in the USA have parents who did not finish high school, including a significant number (of parents) who cannot read a storybook to their child (in any language). A significant % of US kids are raised in poverty and many live in homes with no books. One of the reasons for the push to earlier public education is to give these kids some exposure so they will have a chance. Further, there are large sub-cultures within which it is very unpopular to take education seriously, exposing studious kids to bullying and worse. Many teachers are afraid to teach in schools with these populations; those who do spend much of the time on discipline and the rest on trying to help the kids who are behind. All of these issues obviously drag down the US test scores. It doesn’t mean putting our kids in KG at 5 is making them stupid.

    As for successful = born rich, no, in this country there are many people who were born poor but utilized educational opportunity to rise to a higher economic level. I happen to be one of them.

    To Hineata, these issues of diversity are not new concepts and yes, we’ve been addressing them for many years. The effectiveness of what is done mirrors the effectiveness of most things done by government/politicians. Which means, there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but who knows if it will ever happen.

  66. SKL May 5, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    Donna, I think you’re talking about Finland while Papilio is talking about the Netherlands.

    Papilio, it does get irritating to see someone without much knowledge of one’s local country spout off about how it sucks and why your country is better. I’m sure both countries have their strengths and weaknesses, but you aren’t qualified to diagnose our educational ills, if you don’t even understand what is meant by “diversity” in the USA.

  67. Donna May 5, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    hineata – Mixed ethnicity isn’t as much of an issue as recent immigration. But diversity extends beyond immigration. Economic diversity, residential diversity, cultural diversity between parts of the country, linguistic diversity.

  68. Donna May 5, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    SKL – I only mentioned Finland because Papilio specified Finland in his comment.

  69. Donna May 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    “I hope I’m wrong, but I get the impression that many of the commenters here would score among, say, the top 15% IQs, but still pretend to be completely average”

    I do, however, think that this is by in large true. Most intelligent people I know think of themselves as average because in their circles they are. Think about it: how much time do you spend socially interacting with people substantially outside your own general intellect? Your family is probably pretty comparable. Your friends are probably pretty comparable. Your co-workers are likely pretty comparable. I thought that I was much more average than I am before I started working almost exclusively with average (clients, not coworkers).

    However, I disagree about introducing reading concepts early. Insisting that everyone must achieve is a problem, but working on identifying letters, sounds, etc. at an early age isn’t a problem regardless of intellect. It is something that most parents that I know do at home anyway just in the general course of the day. Always have. My mother sang the ABCs, pointed letters out in books that we read together, pointed out the sounds that letters make, counted with me, taught me how to spell my name, etc. long before I ever entered school. What the heck else are you going to do with a toddler?

    But many kids, particularly those living poverty, don’t have parents who do this with them. Some kids show up in kindergarten having never seen a book and having rarely been spoken to except to be given orders or yelled at. Teaching them very beginning literacy at young ages is just bringing them up to what the rest of us are getting at home.

  70. SKL May 5, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    By the way, since we keep hearing about Finland, it really isn’t true that they don’t start learning to read until age 7. That is when they are required to go to 1st grade, but nearly all children attend structured academic pre-school for *years* before that, and they are about to up the requirements in that regard. The below cut-and-paste is one of many articles you can easily find on this topic.

    Finland’s Approach to Child Care and Preschool Programs

    March 19, 2014 by Alyssa Haywoode

    Finland seems to be performing an academic miracle: educating children who get top scores on reading, math and science tests even though these children don’t start school until they are 7 years old.

    Often, however, news of the Finnish miracle overlooks an important fact: The country has strong preschool and day care programs that the government is making even stronger.

    Finland is “working to expand early education, through a heavily subsidized, academically oriented day-care system that’s already widely used,” Michael Alison Chandler writes in a Washington Post article. “And that starting time? It’s about to get younger, with compulsory preschool for all 6-year-olds.”

    Chandler interviewed Krista Kiuru, the Finnish minister of education and science, who was in Washington touring schools and meeting with education officials.

    Kiuru explained that Finland’s preschool programs enroll 98 percent of the country’s 6-year-olds, and younger children attend day care programs.

    “We recently moved day care from the responsibility of the Social Affairs and Health Ministry to the Ministry of Education, because we saw that day care and preschool are very important for doing better in elementary school. If we can see kids’ advantages and disadvantages early on and make sure that they have help in those very early years, then they can get better results. Early possibilities to react are very important.

    “We are also developing a new national curriculum for day care and preschool that we will start in 2016. We want to make sure all youngsters are in the same position wherever they live in Finland.” Well-trained teachers are also a key part of Finland’s day care programs. Lead teachers have bachelor’s degrees.

    Explaining how important strong day care programs are for attracting more mothers into the workplace, Kiuru said: “We want to raise the employment level. We could benefit as a nation if all the young professional mothers, who have the skills that we need, bring their skills to the job market and create more growth, and at the same time, we will guarantee equal and universal day care for the kids. That is one of the targets of the government. I believe that it is also the way to educate our kids better.”

    Earlier this month, NPR also reported on Kiuru’s visit and on Finnish day care, noting, “Then there’s the money issue. In Finland, of course, preschool and day care are basically free, because people pay a lot more taxes to fund these programs. Another glaring difference is the child poverty rate, which is almost 25 percent in the U.S. — five times more than in Finland.”

    Additionally, “In Finland, children from poor families have access to high-quality preschool. In the U.S., most poor children get poor quality preschool, if they get any at all.”

    W. Steven Barnett, the director of NIEER (the National Institute for Early Education Research) told NPR, “It’s very clear from the research in the U.S. that our problems with inequality [and] school failure are set when children walk in the school door.” That’s in part because the majority of the United States’ poorest 4-year-olds do not enroll in preschool programs.

    “Those kids are going to be in a spiral of failure, and we set that up by not adequately investing before they get to kindergarten,” Barnett says. “We certainly can learn from countries like Finland.”

    Kiuru told NPR that she is “in no position to say why the U.S. is struggling so much with this issue, but if her country has a lesson to offer, it’s this: ‘If you invest in early childhood education, in preschool and day care, that will lead [to] better results.’”

    Kiuru calls that the “Finnish way,” but creating more innovative and meaningful preschool opportunities for children should also be as American as baseball and apple pie.

  71. Papilio May 5, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    @Donna: SKL is right, “NL” is the common abbreviation for The Netherlands, not for Finland. I jumped to the assumption you were referring to my country, knowing where I’m from, as I was the one commenting. Guess I should have looked up the population of Rhode Island as well LOL
    I referred to European countries with a bigger population than California because you mentioned country sizes. I know individual states do get a say about what they do and don’t put on the curriculum and there are different school-related laws in different states > isn’t the organisation of education a matter on state level? Rather than something for which the size of the entire country plays a role?
    Hence my argument that size doesn’t matter.
    Your paragraphs about introducing letters etc to young children – was that also directed at me? Because I never objected to that. I did object to teaching all kids how to actually, really, read, at age 5, as a standard thing regardless of the individual child, but as I recall from an earlier discussion we did agree on that. Have you changed your mind or were you just defending common practices in your country in the face of my “attack”?

    @SKL: “diversity is a lot more than just who wasn’t born in this country. At least, here in the US it is” I had to go back and read Donna’s comment again, but you’re right, I interpreted ‘not homogenous’ as ‘there are lots of immigrants’.
    About Finland: I’ve always understood they only taught kids how to read at age 7. I don’t see anything in your article-quote contradicting that, unless you mean “academic pre-school” = “place where they teach kids how to read”?

    @Andy: “There is very little relation between final intelligence and speed of early development. That is why miracle kids disappear usually disappear after puberty.”
    Miracle kids who score average IQs once they’re adults? Interesting. Do you have a link for me please? I only really based myself on what I read in a forum for parents of gifted kids, plus some additional literature on that same group of children.

    Sleep well everyone.

  72. Nic May 5, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

    I subscribe to the belief that play is learning and that kids need a whole lot of free unstructured play to learn the things we can’t teach them in formal education. I did like the blurb about Peter Gray’s book, however looking further I noted Peter is an advocate for ‘unschooling’. This type of movement appears to be gaining momentum, and has it’s own level of risks for children and their learning. Recently a program aired in Australia looking at unschooling, which basically throws out the books and structured experiences, and relies on kids making their own schedule, rules and what they want to do. The results were shocking, with one seemingly educated teacher who opted her kids out, having 3 of her 4 boys struggling with literacy into their late teens and early 20’s. We need to be careful that we are offering a balance of play and formal education that is developmentally appropriate. We also need to look at how we motivate and support each individual child, not pidgeon hole them. And to finish up, kindergarten or preschool is not preparation for college, it should be an experience in it’s own right.

  73. SKL May 6, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    Papilio, learning to read is a complex process. It is an extremely rare person who can meet the alphabet one day and read a book the next.

    So I’m not sure what you are picturing when you say “learning to read.” In the USA there is a broad range of approaches to reading in KG. Usually they at least introduce the alphabet letters and encourage kids to try to copy them and understand that they represent sounds. Meanwhile they read picture books to the kids and encourage them to engage by intepreting the pictures and so on. They introduce rhymes and alliteration and other things that draw attention to sound patterns which eventually contribute to decoding skills. They build vocabulary for kids who lack it, so they can understand what is written in the books. At some point in the KG year, many schools introduce sounding out very simple words like m-a-n and/or recognizing very common sight words such as “the” and “is.” Because all kids are different, at the end of such a year, many kids will be able to put it all together and read kiddy books. Many others will not. Nobody I know expects every KG student to read a regular book. They might ask kids to try to sound out a very simple “phonic reader” or “sight word reader” to practice basic skills learned. If they can’t do it, most public schools will still accept them in 1st grade the following year.

    And most US kids turn 7 either before or during 1st grade.

  74. Papilio May 6, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    @SKL: Introducing letters sounds like K to me, vocalizing CVC words (and on sight – but that’s really an English concept because of that irregular spelling), in other words teaching them how to decode a written word to a spoken word they recognize, is what I expect in 1st grade. Drawing and coloring neatly within the lines > K, writing > 1st (I still remember the dotted lines we had to follow with our pencils to learn the shapes cursive letters are made of, and then the letters themselves. Personally I disliked having to connect all the letters because I write with my left hand and it’s so roundabout!). Counting > K, math > 1st. So to me K is all about preparing (and practising fine motor skills and all that), and in 1st grade the work really begins.

    “It is an extremely rare person who can meet the alphabet one day and read a book the next.”
    Duh… I had to go through that process all over again when I took Ancient Greek classes in university – it really does take a while to stop confusing some of the letters, and unlike in first grade, *we* had to figure out a handy way to write them!

  75. anonymous this time May 6, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

    “… at the end of the day, I want my child prepared to be successful, as she chooses to define success, within it and not in a fantasyland that doesn’t exist where there is no competition and everyone just floats through life doing only what makes them happy. That isn’t reality. That is never going to be reality. I don’t even want it to be reality.”

    I think the book Lenore mentioned would really change your perspective on whether children allowed to pursue their own interests, in the company of other children both older, the same age, and younger than themselves, can, in fact, go on to lead what you might define as “productive lives.”

    It’s a big leap to make; we have been conditioned to imagine that more rigour, not less, will make our kids more “successful.” That’s why Gray wrote the book. Because he did research, and compiled others’ research, and refutes this idea. Quite well, if I might say.

    I’ll admit I felt panicky too reading about the setup of the Sudbury Valley School, and had my doubts about whether kids would learn anything there. But I read through the whole book, and I came out realizing that we are absolutely doing all kids a disservice by segregating them by age and forcing a curriculum upon them. And I felt sad about my own kids, and their experiences, and my parents, and myself. I come from a family where everyone has two Masters’ or a PhD except me. And they all struggled in school— socially, academically, spiritually, or in all of these ways.

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