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All Work And No Play Makes For Troubling Trend In Early Education

Susan Notes:

Anne Haas Dyson, a professor
of curriculum and instruction at Illinois, says
playtime for children is a "fundamental avenue"
for learning.


staff

Parents and educators who favor traditional
classroom-style learning over free,
unstructured playtime in preschool and
kindergarten may actually be stunting a childâs
development instead of enhancing it, according
to a University of Illinois professor who
studies childhood learning and literacy
development.

Anne Haas Dyson, a professor of curriculum and
instruction in the U. of I. College of
Education, says playtime for children is a
âfundamental avenueâ for learning, and attempts
by parents and educators to create gifted
children by bombarding them with information is
well-intentioned but ultimately
counterproductive.

âThat approach doesnât appreciate the role of
play and imagination in a childâs intellectual
development,â Dyson said. âPlay is where
children discover ideas, experiences and
concepts and think about them and their
consequences. This is where literacy and
learning really begins.â

What Dyson calls the âbanning of the
imaginationâ in schools may be influenced by
what some critics have called the âBaby Genius
Edutainment Complex,â a cottage industry of
mind-enrichment products developed specifically
for infants and toddlers and marketed to
anxious parents eager to give their childrenâs
cognitive abilities an early boost.

âI see this âEinstein in the cribâ trend as a
societal reduction of children to the means for
fulfilling parentsâ desires for intellectual
distinction,â Dyson said.

âChildren learn the way we all learn: through
engagement, and through construction. They have
to make sense of the world, and thatâs what
play or any other symbolic activity does for
children.â

While Dyson does see some value in teaching the
ABCs to children in pre-kindergarten, she
thinks that trying to accelerate learning
actually works against a childâs development.
Kindergarten and preschool, she said, should be
a place for children to experience play as
intellectual inquiry, before they get taken
over by the tyranny of high-stakes testing.

âIâm certainly not opposed to literacy in the
early grades,â Dyson said, âbut the idea that
we can eliminate play from the curriculum
doesnât make sense. Kids donât respond well to
sitting still in their desks and listening at
that age. They need stimulation.â

Dyson said that having an early-childhood
curriculum reduced to isolated test scores or
other measurable pieces of information doesnât
take into account a childâs interests or an
ability to imagine, problem solve or negotiate
with other children, all of which are important
social and intellectual qualities.

âAll tests tell us is how many letters and how
many sounds children know,â she said. âI think
there should be this grand societal
conversation about whatâs intellectually
motivating and exciting for our children.â

Dyson doesnât believe there should be any sort
of compromise in the amount of learning by rote
and play that children experience, especially
in preschool and kindergarten.

âWe have to intellectually engage kids,â she
said. âWe have to give them a sense of their
own agency, their own capacity, and an ability
to ask questions and solve problems. So we have
to give them more open-ended activities that
allow them the space they need to make sense of
things.â

So what can parents and educators do to
stimulate children?

âI think parents ought to engage with their
children,â Dyson said.

âFollow the childâs interests in people,
objects, places, and activities, and talk with
them. Itâs social interaction that creates a
link between the child and an ongoing activity.
Help them learn how to articulate themselves
and participate in the world.â

One thing that parents may worry too much about
is the television shows their children watch.
She said that parents should be attentive to
what their children watch and make judgments
about the appropriateness of the material, but
more important, they need to talk with their
children about what they see.

âI think we want children to grow up media-
literate,â Dyson said, âbut we donât want to
dismiss the sources of their pleasure only
because it doesnât appeal to our adult
sensibilities. Contemporary childhoods are
mediated in large part by the media, and it can
be very informative for kids.â

Dyson said that the media inform childrenâs
play and even their early writing efforts. For
example, a 5-year-old Dyson knows who is just
learning about written language and the
alphabet can already spell âHannah,â thanks to
Hannah Montana, the popular Disney show
character.

âKnowledge of media gets kids a lot of social
cachet because their peers watch it, too,â
Dyson said. âAnd a lot of social bonding
between children who normally wouldnât have
much in common occurs when they watch the same
shows.â

Dyson is a co-author of the forthcoming book
âChildren, Language, and Literacy: Diverse
Children in Diverse Times,â which discusses the
nature of contemporary early-childhood programs
and childrenâs language learning.

Adapted from materials provided by
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Science Daily
2009-02-16
http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/02/090212125137.htm


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