Saturday, January 18, 2014

All Work and No PLAY

I never went to Kindergarten as a child. Growing up in a heavily Catholic neighborhood, most of the kids started school when we entered first grade, as there was no Kindergarten at our local parish school. But those “good old days” (I can hear my father now!) we cut and pasted and poured and drew and traced at home. We ran and skipped and trotted and jumped rope. We climbed trees and played on all of the equipment at the playground. By the time we got to first grade, most of us were ready for the fine motor activity need to read and write.

Not so today.

Today, many mothers are forced to work in order to put food on the table and cannot stay home like the mothers of my day. Quality day care is not always affordable or available. Babysitters may allow your children to watch more TV than you’d like during the day and are often not interested in doing “messy” activities that are necessary for your child’s fine motor coordination and spatial reasoning. You need to make sure your day care provider is offering the old standards of blocks, clay, tracing, cutting, puzzles, sand or water play. If they are not, please consider that unless you are doing these activities at home, your child is at risk for school success.

I once had a neighbor who called me, knowing I was a teacher, and complained that her son was being retained in kindergarten. “He’s learned a lot this year,” she said, “He learned his colors, shapes, how to count, how to cut, and how to write his name.” She was not pleased to hear me say that he should have learned all these things before he set foot in kindergarten!

When I began teaching, I was assigned to pre-Kindergarten and then Kindergarten for a total of 5 years. I remember scouring my child development books for large and small-motor tasks in order to make certain they were ready to read in Grade 1. The push for reading and basic math skills in Kindergarten was just beginning in the 80’s. That push has caused more harm than good I am afraid. The achievement gap between black and white children begins in pre-school.

With the increased emphasis on early teaching of math and reading came less time for things like role-play and outside play. By the time full-time kindergarten came to be, activities such as puzzles and painting were disappearing and being replaced by reading, math, and writing centers All activities which require much eye-hand coordination as well as fine motor skills that many 5 and 6 year olds just do not have. It’s not that they are in need of special ed, but because each child develops physically in their own time. Look at a class of kindergarteners and first graders. Along with their differences in physical growth, there is a wide range of developmental skills and emotional states that just have to take their own path to maturity. Asking the kids to do things that are developmentally inappropriate is like asking a newborn squirrel to climb a tree. All in good time.

The increased time in kindergarten should have meant more time to pursue playing. Playing with materials like puzzles, blocks, paints and clay, role-playing with costumes, marching around, riding tricycles, climbing monkey bars.  Instead it is all academics and any gains kids make, decrease as the years go on.

 David W. Grissmer, a research professor, found pupils who attended high-poverty preschools had little or no opportunities to play with construction paper, blocks, or modeling clay.

“… the black-white achievement gap in elementary school also may have some of its roots in those foundational skills: Black children studied by the center entered kindergarten on average 9½ months developmentally younger than their white classmates in executive (focusing, listening, following directions) function and 8 months developmentally younger in visual-spatial skills, though it's not yet known why.”
 Sarah D. Sparks, outlines the study in her piece called, “Children’s Spatial Skills as Key to Math Learning,” at Education Week’s website.

According to Dr. Grissmer’s study for the National Institute of Child Health and Development done for 7 months in the 2010-2011 school year, “(low-scoring first graders) showed significant improvement in both math and executive-function skills” when they attended four weekly 45-minutes sessions where they performed handwriting and tracing tasks to music. They also practiced copying patterns and pictures by drawing, modeling, or using manipulatives such as Legos, clay, pattern blocks, paper chains, and beads. They showed very significant advances in their standardized test skills in math, although math was never mentioned or taught specifically during the sessions. They also showed great improvements in focusing and listening in their Grade 1 classes, thereby making it easier to learn.

“The development of fine-motor coordination and executive function may be more critical than subject content for early-childhood classrooms,” researcher David A. Grissmer stated. In the earliest grades, he said, "you can't just teach reading and math to get higher reading and math skills."

I certainly hope the powers that be read this study and make some changes to the academics in the earliest grades. If a child is not ready because they have not been taught the prerequisite skills, no amount of academics will make a difference.


Let the kids PLAY!


You can read the whole article (it’s worth it) here:

Still learning!

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