This Thursday I'll be interviewing Joan Almon of the Alliance for Childhood for one of my upcoming podcasts. One of the primary missions of the Alliance is the return of play to children's lives -- particularly as far as their educations are concerned. Because of that, I designed my questions around the issue of academics versus play in preschool and kindergarten. But when I submitted them to my producer, he was puzzled. He asked me to reconsider my focus because, as he wrote, "It's inconceivable to me that any significant number of parents would wonder whether play is okay at this stage of life."
Unfortunately, I had to reassure him that a great many parents are worried about just this issue. Early childhood directors all around the country tell me stories about being rejected by parents because their programs are the traditional, play-based kind. These parents prefer more emphasis on letters and numbers than on sorting and stacking blocks or growing plants from seeds. They favor seatwork and worksheets that show "evidence" of what their children are learning, believing that this is what will best prepare their children for elementary school.
Of course, if you're one of these parents, it's not at all surprising. As the "earlier-is-better" syndrome has taken control of our society, parents have become convinced that unless they ensure their children a "head start" on academics (and athletics, too; but that's another blog), they'll be failing them. And nobody wants to fail their children!
What are your thoughts on this issue? If you're the parent of a preschooler, have you chosen a program that's play-based or academics-oriented? What determined your decision? If you're an early childhood educator, have your policies changed in recent years? If so, what precipitated the change?
I'd love to hear from you on this!