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Can’t We Let Children Be Children?

Ohanian Comment: These fine letters are written in response to a In Kindergarten Playtime, a New Meaning for ‘Play’. Standardistos are also destroying childhood in first grade, second grade, third grade, etc. etc. ad nauseam. But kindergarten is a good target on which to focus because the outrage there is easier for the public to grasp.

Can’t We Let Children Be Children?

To the Editor:

“In Kindergarten Playtime, a New Meaning for ‘Play,’ ” by Clara Hemphill (On Education column, July 26), raises awareness of the drastic changes that have taken place in kindergartens throughout this country.

Despite the repeated protests of many early childhood educators, public school kindergartens have become less like “children’s gardens” and more like academic hotbeds every year.

Kindergartners are now expected to perform academic tasks that were expected of first or second graders 50 years ago. Why is it that we demand so much of our young children today?

If we continue to deprive children of play in schools, I fear we will be left with a generation of children who may be proficient in math and reading, but severely deficient in social and emotional skills.

Is this what we want for the children, and the future, of this country?

Lisa Beck
New York, July 26, 2006

To the Editor:

Deleting play from kindergarten is a fast route to shrinking a child’s creative potential and increasing her stress level.

Not only does play help the growth of social skills, as Clara Hemphill points out, it also helps the growth of creative problem solving. Trading time to imagine and invent for academic drills derails a child’s ability to think for herself, dream up a new invention and understand in her own way.

Passive learning and forced sitting decrease a child’s engagement in the learning process and create stress. The behaviors mentioned by Ms. Hemphill — thumb sucking and rocking — are symptoms of anxiety in little children.

In my private practice, I have worked with children whose anxiety was precipitated by kindergarten pressure. Is that what we want?

Ellen B. Luborsky
New York, July 26, 2006
The writer is a clinical psychologist.

To the Editor:

Clara Hemphill points out a disturbing trend in kindergarten education, one that surely must diminish — perhaps permanently — a young person’s love of learning and ability to think creatively.

In one charter school in my city, young students were asked to memorize a poem and recite it as a group. The teacher prompted them by saying: “Ready! Go!”

In a school just three miles away, teachers invited students to create their own dinosaur dioramas and present them, one by one, to a group of parents.

Which students do you predict will become adults who can think creatively, individually and “outside the box” — qualities that often result in new, unhampered, fresh ways of thinking?

But perhaps conformist thinking is what our government would prefer of us as citizens.

Sarah Treschl
Colorado Springs, July 26, 2006

To the Editor:

Clara Hemphill depicts schools so desperate to have their youngsters succeed that they’ve jettisoned early childhood wisdom about the importance of play, interaction, negotiation, development of language and so forth.

The danger of leaving no child behind, as it is currently being pursued by many schools, is that an entire generation will be left behind, alienated from schools and each other.

Laura Altshul
New Haven, July 26, 2006
The writer, the director of admissions at Foote School, taught kindergarten there for 23 years.

— four letters
New York Times




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