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A Call to Action on the Education of Young Children

Susan Notes: Three thousand cheers for this statement urging caution about the rush to universal preschool, putting unproven methods of academic instruction and unreliable standardized testing right up front.

Scroll elsewhere in the Allicance for Childhood site and you will see their strong support of play.

WE ARE DEEPLY CONCERNED that current trends in early education, fueled by political pressure, are leading to an emphasis on unproven methods of academic instruction and unreliable standardized testing that can undermine learning and damage young children’s healthy development.

Many states are moving toward universal preschool so that all children can benefit from early education. We strongly support these efforts, provided that preschool programs are based on well-established knowledge of how children learn and how to lay a foundation for lifelong learning—not on educational fads. We call for early education that emphasizes experiential, hands-on activities, open-ended creative play, and caring human relationships.

Preschool education must not follow the same path that has led kindergartens toward intense academic instruction with little or no time for child-initiated learning. If such practices were effective for five-year-olds, we would have seen better long-term results by now. We call for a reversal of the pushing down of the curriculum that has transformed kindergarten into de facto first grade.

Education is not a race where the prize goes to the one who finishes first. To help young children develop literacy and a lifelong love of learning we need to respect and, when needed, to strengthen their individual abilities and drive to learn. Instead, current trends in early education policy and practice heighten pressure and stress in children’s lives, which can contribute to behavioral and learning problems. We call for research on the causes of increased levels of anger, misbehavior, and school expulsion among young children.

Justified concern for low-income children, who often lag academically, has been a powerful force behind the current overemphasis on early instruction in literacy and math. This well-intentioned but misguided policy may actually put children at increased risk of school failure by denying them positive early learning experiences. We call for additional research that examines the long-term impact of different preschool and kindergarten practices on children from diverse backgrounds.

Creative play that children can control is central to their physical, emotional, and cognitive growth. It contributes greatly to their language development, social skills, and problemsolving capacities, and lays an essential foundation for later academic learning. Yet many children do not have the opportunity to develop their capacity for socio-dramatic play. Preschool is the place to intervene and restore childhood play. We call for teacher education that emphasizes the full development of the child including the importance of play, nurtures children’s innate love of learning, and supports teachers’ own capacities for creativity, autonomy, and integrity.

Prepared by the Alliance for Childhood, a partnership of educators, health care professionals, researchers, and other childhood advocates who are working together to improve the health and well-being of all children. This statement has been endorsed by the following individuals (organizations included for identification purposes only):

Joan Almon, President, Alliance for Childhood, College Park, MD

Paul Ammon, Professor and Director, Developmental Teacher Education Program,
University of California, Berkeley

Nancy Balaban, Infant and Parent Development and Early Intervention Program, Bank Street Graduate School of Education, New York City

Marilyn Benoit, M.D., past president, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Washington, D.C.

Karen D. Benson, Professor, California State University, Sacramento

Lorayne Carbon, Director, Early Childhood Center, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY

Virginia Casper, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Bank Street College of Education,
New York City

Rhonda Clements, Manhattanville College and past president, American Association for the Child’s Right to Play, Purchase, NY

Renatta M. Cooper, Commissioner, First 5 Los Angeles

Ellen F. Crain, M.D., Department of Pediatrics, Jacobi Medical Center, New York City

William Crain, Professor of Psychology, City College of New York

Jan Drucker, Professor of Psychology, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY

Claude S. Endfield, Chair, Early Childhood Development Program, Northland Pioneer College, Holbrook, AZ

Billie Enz, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Lauren Franco, Coordinator, Child Development Institute, Sarah Lawrence College, NY

Margery B. Franklin, Director, Child Development Institute, Sarah Lawrence College, NY

Ellie Friedland, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, Wheelock College, Boston

Annapurna Ganesh, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, University of Houston

Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard University

Claire Ryle Garrison, Director, Whole Child Initiative, Mill Valley, CA

Elizabeth Goodenough, Lecturer, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Stanley Greenspan, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, George Washington University Medical Center, Bethesda, MD

Jane M. Healy, educational psychologist, author, and lecturer, Vail, CO

Susan Howard, Chairperson, Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America, Amherst, MA

Olga Jarrett, Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education, Georgia State Univ., Atlanta

Jim Johnson, Professor-in-Charge of Early Childhood Education, Pennsylvania State Univ.,
University Park, PA

Muktha Jost, Assistant Professor of Education, North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro, NC

Amelia Klein, Associate Professor, Early Childhood Education, Wheelock College, Boston

Tovah P. Klein, Director, Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, New York City

Edgar Klugman, Professor Emeritus, Wheelock College and co-founder, Playing For Keeps, Boston

Alfie Kohn, author, Belmont, Mass.

Susan Kotansky, pre-K teacher and Adjunct Professor, Lehman College of New York

Jonathan Kozol, author, Byfield, Mass.

Vicki Kubler LaBoskey, Professor, Mills College and President, California Council on Teacher Education, Oakland, CA

— Alliance for Childhood
policy statement


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