As kindergartners in the '80s and '90s, the goals we had were simple: learn left from right, how to play well with others and paint pictures that would inevitably end up on the refrigerator. These days, however, a lot more academic knowledge is expected of the "Sesame Street"-loving set.
Rather than play-based learning, 5-year-olds are spending much more time doing teacher led academic activities, researchers say. That means dramatic play areas, sensory tables—with things like sand and water and craft projects—have been replaced with writing centers and sight-word memorization lists.
Christopher Brown, an Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in Early Childhood Education at the University of Texas at Austin, filmed a classroom of 22 kindergartners and a teacher. During one day, he noted 15 different academic activities such as decoding word drills, practicing addition and journal writing.
And what about recess, you ask? Well, that came at the end of the day and was only 15 minutes long. For those of us with fond memories of school days filled with play and story time, it seems almost cruel. "There's pressure on me and the kids to perform at a higher level academically," the teacher told Brown, who also noted the need to be prepared for state tests.
The questions many parents across the country are now asking: Is this too much, too soon? Isn't there value in letting kids be kids at that age? Are those all-important social skills being sacrificed for the sake of academic excellence?
Interestingly, when Brown asked some of the children what they were learning, they told him they were learning to follow the rules and learning in order to get to the next grade and one day get jobs. Important goals, to be sure. But should that be the main concern for a 5-year-old?
Imagination play certainly has many benefits, like self-regulation, reduced aggression and empathy (to name a few). Learning by exploring is also key. What those kids all really wished for, added Brown, was more time to play. Perhaps we parents should listen to them and advocate for more play-based learning.
That's not to say kindergarten classes should ditch the academics, but can't we make room in the day for both?