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Peter Cunningham

Balancing Work and Play, Even in Kindergarten

As far back as the 17th century, English peasants understood the importance of balancing work and play. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” is a proverb first found in print in 1659, long before Stanley Kubrick referenced it in the iconic movie, “The Shining.” Yet, in  Sunday’s New York Times, freelance science writer David Kohn takes up the issue again. Kohn asks if Common Core standards are inappropriately pushing kindergarten students toward academic content instead of encouraging learning through play. Kohn cites studies as well as the inevitable Finland comparison to argue that pushing kids too early to read might produce worse readers rather than better ones. Perhaps, but there is no shortage of academics like Morgan Polikoff or Daphna Bassok, Amy Claessens and Mimi Engel, who also cite studies to counter this point of view. Classroom teachers from  Ohio and  Michigan make the same point. Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio takes up the issue and always lands in the same place: learning to read is a good thing and, generally, the sooner the better. Common sense tells you that pushing kids too hard at any stage could turn them off. So, in the best of circumstances, parents and teachers decide what’s best for each individual student—knowing that kids need to be challenged and that setting goals are essential both in school and in life. I visited a kindergarten classroom earlier this year in a low-income community of Washington, D.C. The teacher told me that he alternates between 15-20 minutes of “work” with less structure and then moves to more physical forms of “play.” From my perspective, the students did not make much distinction between the two. And maybe that’s the point. My fellow blogger at Education Post, Erika Sanzi, former teacher and mother of a kindergartener, says:
My son learns so much in school and yet uses the word “fun” to describe his days. Sure, he reads about seasons and weather but then they actually make snow! Sure, he reads about trash and recycling but then they take a field trip to the landfill and stop at a park to have lunch and play on a playground. Whether it’s reading or science or math or recess or art—he’s engaged and learning.
“The divide between ‘play’ and ‘academics’ is often specious,” says education professor Sherman Dorn. He goes on to point out that the debate of work versus play in early learning is nothing new, emerging in the early 1800s with an alarmist report about “hothouse” education. He adds, “There has never been a time in the past two centuries when someone has not argued that young children need to be prepared for success early, or when others have argued against early education with any academic content.” Sounds like the debate will continue. Let’s just not blame Common Core.
Peter Cunningham is the Executive Director of Education Post.
Peter Cunningham
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with Whiteboard ...

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