Monday, April 13, 2009

The Disappearance of Playtime

I recently read Transform Education's post on time allocated in the elementary grades. And, my first thought was to add this to the pile. The blogosphere seems to be awash with stories on the lack of science instruction in elementary, the lack of arts in the elementary, the lack of physical education in the elementary, and the lack of everything else. And before you think it all goes to reading and math, you get plenty of articles on how we are behind the rest of the world in those areas.

Where do these minutes go? It can't be lunch; my kids have learned over the years to eat less for lunch because they only have about 12 minutes to get their food and snarf it down.

And, I'm not sure adding more days to the week, a la Duncan, is the answer either. I'd like some time to be with my family.

This, of course, is the byproduct of no prioritization and this false belief that we can do everything well. Districts have picked up Everyday Math, a solid math program to be sure, but one that demands up to 2 hours of math instruction per day at the elementary grades. Are districts foolish enough to believe they can pick up that type of commitment without dropping other items, or dishonest enough to themselves not to admit it?

With so many initiatives out there, the mark of a good administrator is one who gathers her staff internally and her community externally and says, "We can add this, but it will be at the cost of something else in both quality and time. Now we need to prioritize."

Which, brings up my second thought, you can see how playtime gets poached first, especially in schools where there isn't much communication with parents. There are no advocates for it.

From the article:

The report summarizes recent studies and reports showing long-term gains from play and focused, playful learning in early education. It also critiques kindergarten standards, scripted teaching, and standardized testing and makes recommendations for change.

David Elkind, author of The Power of Play, calls the research findings "heartbreaking." In a foreword to the report, Elkind writes, "We have had a politically and commercially driven effort to make kindergarten a one-size-smaller first grade. Why in the world are we trying to teach the elementary curriculum at the early childhood level?"

In a solely outcome-based educational environment, such as the NCLB area of accountability that we are in now, terms like "playtime", "student discovery", and "educating the whole child" are derided. Which is why we must consider the merits of at-least part-time curiosity-based education. I see the effects more and more when kids in my community are unable to come up with spontaneous activities and role-playing during their play time. They need scripted activities and games with structured narratives, like video games and teacher-organized recess games, in order to have fun. Is the ability to play "core knowledge" and a "21st century skill" (do we need to label it in order to preserve it)?

No comments: