Christopher P. Brown is a Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in Early Childhood Education and a Fellow in the Priscilla Pond Flawn Regents Professorship in Early Childhood Education. His research centers on how early childhood education stakeholders across a range of political and educational contexts respond to policymakers’ high-stakes standards-based accountability reforms. Such work has led to empirical, theoretical, and practitioner-oriented publications on such topics as: high-stakes standards-based accountability reform in early childhood, early learning standards, pre-kindergarten assessment, pre-kindergarten alignment with elementary school, school readiness, culturally relevant teaching, kindergarten within a standardized education system, neoliberal reform, teacher education, and professional development.
Playtime in Kindergarten
Kindergarten has changed significantly in the last few years. Kindergarten used to be a place where children had the freedom to pursue their own learning interests. They engaged in play based activities like blocks and dramatic platy. Now, it’s a place where often 20 or more children interact with one teacher for an entire school day. They engage in as many as 15 different academic activities such as decoding word drills, practicing sight words, counting up to 100 in 1s 5s and 10s and writing in journals.
For 5 and 6 year olds, as well as their teachers, this is a lot of work. Why do these changes matter? Researchers consistently show that classrooms that offer children the opportunities for play-based and child-centered learning help them grow academically, socially, and emotionally. Recess, especially, helps children restore their attention for learning in the classroom. Focusing on rules can diminish children’s curiosity and their willingness to take academic risks and it impedes their self-confidence and motivation as learners. All of this can negatively impact their performance in school and in later life.
So how might kindergarten be improved? No one that I’ve studied, including the kindergarteners themselves, is advocating for the elimination of academics in kindergarten. Kindergarteners need to learn academic skills so that they can succeed in school. However, researchers, parents, teachers and policy makers are concerned with how the implementation of standards and tests have eliminated activities that offer children choice and voice in their learning. Kindergartners require more balanced learning experiences that nurture their development and their desire to learn and interact with others. This will improve their performance in school and assist them in seeing school as a place that will help them and their friends be better people.