As public schools work to raise test scores, many parents have commented that kids don't get to play as much as they used to. The mid-morning recess has all but disappeared, and classrooms, even in kindergarten, offer fewer and fewer opportunities for art, music and imaginative play.
But in some schools, the pendulum is starting to swing back in the direction of play, according to Motoko Rich of The New York Times. She writes that Kindergarten teachers from Vermont to Washington are dusting off the painting easels and sand tables.
Even in the era of the Common Core, it seems these educators believe young children learn best through play.
“Five-year-olds need to play and color. They need to go out and sing songs,”Anapolis Kindergarten Teacher Traci Burns told Rich.
A recent opinion piece in the Sunday Review cites several academics who seem to agree with Burns. One, calls the trend away from play and toward earlier formal education a "a profound misunderstanding of how children learn."
Not all teachers agree. Some say that children have plenty of time to play outside of the school day. In districts where poverty is an issue, some educators believe targeted instruction is crucial to helping students catch up to their wealthier peers.
And even suburban public schools are concerned about improving student achievement following unflattering comparisons with international test scores and even test scores in nearby Massachusetts.
I recently spoke to a Tiverton parent who is pushing his school committee to embrace full-day Kindergarten classes. Part of his argument is that so much more is expected of Kindergartners these days that students risk falling behind if they don't have full-day K.
"Kindergarten is not a place where kids nap anymore," said Tiverton resident Mike DeCotis. "We need to have our kids in school for a full day so when they enter first grade they’re with the rest of the communities and the rest of the states in the country."
DeCotis may have a point when he says that Kindergartners are expected to do much more reading, writing and math than they used to. And educators who argue that young children are capable of absorbing much more complex ideas than previously thought may have a point as well.
Still, it seems hard to imagine that schools can't find a middle ground. The right kinds of play can be instructive for both teacher and student. Can't we make school be both fun and interesting at the same time that we hold high expectations for our students?