K & Preschool Teachers: Last Stand in War on Childhood?
This is from Peter Gray's Freedom to Learn blog at Psychology Today, July 8, 2015.
It's not just in the US that this is occurring. Here's a comment from the UK:
Results of a "netnographic" study of the views of kindergarten teachers
The most recent issue of the American Journal of Play includes an interesting article, by Meghan Lynch, describing her netnographic study (abstract) of kindergarten teachers' writings about play in the classroom (you can download the article here (pdf file). Netnography is a new variety of ethnography that relies on the analysis of publicly available comments in social media to learn about the views and practices of a group of people. Lynch identified 78 distinct discussions by kindergarten teachers about play and academic training in kindergarten, on seven online teacher message boards, and analyzed them qualitatively. She found that almost all of the teachers agreed about the benefits of play for children and that most expressed concern about the conflict between childrenÃ¢€™s needs for play and the pressure to restrict play in order to teach academic skills.
Pressures from "the system," from mandated policies
Many teachers explained that, because of policies mandated by NCLB and Common Core, they have no time for play in their classroom. They reported feeling overwhelmed by the attempts to raise the academic skills of little children who aren't ready for such skills. Teachers further lamented that there is no time even for traditional activities beyond play-- "no more time for show and tell, no time for holiday and special crafts projects, not enough time for daily music and movement activities, the list goes on." Some feared that snack time was going to be taken away, because, as one put it, "it takes at least ten minutes and with our new math mandated seventy minutes per day, there just is not time."
Pressures from principals
The system, of course, funnels its way to teachers by way of superintendents and principals. Lynch found that principals were very frequently mentioned, usually is a negative light, in the discussions she analyzed. For example, one teacher wrote, "My P[rincipal] said, 'They are not in kindergarten to color and play.'" Another wrote, "My new P was appalled to see housekeeping centers and blocks. I got in trouble because I was completing mandatory individual testing on the sixth day of school and let my kids play with math manipulatives for twenty minutes while I did this."
Another teacher described how, when she was moved to a new classroom, the principal threw away her entire closet full of play materials, despite the teacherÃ¢€™s protest. Still another wrote about how she had the kids sitting on the floor singing "Farmer in the Dell," when the superintendent walked in and said, "You are going to stop singing and start teaching, right?"
Those teachers whose principals or superintendents allowed some play in kindergarten spoke of themselves as "lucky" and worried about what would happen if that person were replaced. One, for example, wrote, "I am blessed to have an assistant superintendent of elementary ed with an early-childhood background. She is extremely supportive of developmentally appropriate kindergarten classrooms."
Pressures from other teachers
Some kindergarten teachers, whose classrooms are located in elementary schools, said they felt looked down upon by the teachers of the higher grades if they allowed their students to play, or sing, or do other nonacademic things. One wrote, "One of our K teachers was made fun of by other teachers because the kids sang too much." Another wrote, "I will never forget the first-grade teacher telling me that by January our whole day should be spent in our seats doing paper-and-pencil activities to prepare them for first grade."
Pressures from parents
Yet another source of pressure the kindergarten teachers described are parents. For example, one teacher wrote, "So many preschools build up a lot of hype about how academic they are in an effort to entice parents to send their children to their preschool. They give parents the wrong message. It confuses parents when their children come into kindergarten and they see the kitchen area, blocks. . . . The parents think their children aren't learning if they aren't doing paper-and-pencil tasks."
Fighting the pressures
Many of the teachers described themselves as "battling" their administrators in order to preserve play. They said they were continuing to allow play in their classrooms, even though doing so got them repeatedly into trouble with the school administration. One wrote, as advice to another, "I've considered myself a bit of a rebel during all of the foolishness that's been going on in our state and in our classrooms for the past few years. I hope you will not buckle under the pressure--even though currently it is very scary to 'buck the system.' If we don't stay strong, though, the system is going to beat us down."
Some reported an end-run approach: To preserve some play they used labels designed to replace the p word with terms that sounded academic. They might retain their old play corner in the room by calling it a "developmental center," or "work center," or "active learning center"Ã¢€”anything but play! Along this same line, one special ed teacher managed to retain nap time by relabeling it "Sensory Differentiation Time"!
Before ending, I should note, not all of the teachers in Lynch's study supported the retention of play. Those teachers become yet another pressure working against those kindergarten teachers who wish to retain play. One teacher wrote that kindergarten teachers who permit play are simply being "lazy." Of course, the selective process of hiring and firing teachers to fit the horrible guidelines is going to increase the number of anti-play kindergarten teachers over time.
How sad it will be when nobody remembers that children once played.
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