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I think that both are important nowadays. Playtime should be first, but we need to prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st Century...
Here is the answer: http://www.allianceforchildhood.org/sites/allianceforchildhood.org/files...
Playing is essential for children to start learning. They don't contradict.
Do we have to do one or the other and does one (play) exclude the other (academics)? Also, that " ... children need this (academics) head start ..." means they need a head start against their peers since no one wants their child to be behind - or even 2nd place. The real problem is how we view play and academics - as a means to an end.
I think that, in the states, we have already pushed first grade learning standards down into Kindergarten. I went to Kindergarten in the 1980's, for three hours a day, and it was all about play, with some structured activities as well. As a prescchool teacher, I worry when parents ask me "when their child will be reading" because they are showing and interest in text in picture books and they make letters on their drawings and they "read" books to themselves. I always tell those parents that their child is exploring the world of communication, and the best thing for them to do is keep the books and the paper and the pencils available - and learn about reading and writing through play. This is such an important debate for teachers to speak about with other teachers, parents, and policymakers.
I chose 'none of the above' and am in substantial agreement with the previous writers. In our information-rich society, too many complex issues or circumstances are posed in an 'either-or' format and, in this case, 'Both' doesn't capture the nature of early learning either. Confusion over the nature and purpose of kindergarten and other early childhood programs is not new--but the stakes are higher and more people who have little knowledge about children in that age range are in control of the decision-making about expectations and curriculum. The vendors are lined up to take advantage of that with slick and colorful packages that do little to advance children's development and learning. Edutopia is doing a good job of emphasizing hands-on, project-based learning experiences for learners of all ages, A good place to stay current with research and policy reports on early childhood is the National Institute for Early Education Research at http://nieer.org/.
I think we should follow the Japanese model more and use KG to teach social skills and prepare students with the skills needed to be receptive to teacher instruction in the academic areas starting in grade one. Trying to teach students who often come from homes where parents are absent or where present may exert little effort to teach their children how to interact appropriately with other children their age or learn self discipline or how to delay gratification may need to learn these skills in school before they are ready to learn. KG offers the best opportunity for teaching these learning readiness skills.
Current and past research supports the idea that young students need dramatic play to support their language and social development. It is especially important for English Language Learners. It is part of the way young children process what they are learning. Constance Kamii (sp?) did lots of research on how young children develop math concepts and proved that to build their math sense and understanding of math concepts, they need lots of time with physical science: building with blocks, rolling cars down ramps, experimenting with water and sand, organizing and classifying materials, etc.
Therefore, "play" is integral how young students learn and must be integrated with in the academics. I also feel that we need to carefully look at the way the academics are being taught. This emphasis on chronic testing and requiring that all kindergartners be able to read 50 sight words by the end of the year does not seem to be "developmentally appropriate practice" - a phrase that is hardly ever heard in education anymore.
I agree that play IS the basis of learning. Children need to explore their world through creative play with rich language opportunities to build the foundation for learning. At a Reggio Emilia conference I recently attended in Providence Rhode Island, I learned of a school that formally assessed their 5 year olds. How developmentally inappropriate!
This question is misleading, as play DOES provide preparation! There is no need to think of play and "academics" as mutually exclusive. As just one example: when children move over, under, around, and through objects in an obstacle course, they're developing an understanding of prepositions and positional concepts, which are critical to both emergent literacy and basic geometry.
What do the policy makers know, anyway? Have they studied child development or educational theories? Have they spent hundreds of hours working with and observing young children? No!
Finland is number-one in the world in literacy and numeracy, and there the children learn through play until age 7. Might we not learn something from their example?
To hear what the experts have to say on this topic, go to the BAM Radio Network - The Education Station (www.bamradionetwork.com)!