The early childhood field has a history of conflict over means and goals that periodically erupts into public debates about the role of play versus academics and construction versus instruction. Concerns about whether preschool and kindergarten have become too stressful and regimented are met head on with concerns that they are academically weak and fail to cognitively challenge children. These conflicts have been intensified by increased demands for assessment and Common Core State Standards driving curriculum in the early grades.
Some worry that the push for quality education even partially driven by a desire to improve achievement may deprive children of important childhood experiences. Others worry that unstructured play without teacher engagement does little to develop children’s minds, particularly for children at high risk of academic failure. Fears are further fanned through research with one recent study reporting that kindergarten may be “too easy,” and another questioning the assumption of causal relationships between play and child development in the areas of creativity, reasoning, and executive function.
If this debate takes place only in the popular press it seems all too likely that we will be propelled into yet another unproductive and oversimplified debate over play versus academics. To promote a better discussion, NIEER will be hosting a conversation beginning with brief blog posts from experts in early childhood education on play; the goals, content, and methods of early education; and what best practice should look like in the early years. We want you to get involved! Leave comments on the blog with your own thoughts on play-based learning in preschool, share resources on Facebook and Twitter, and catch up on our past writings on the importance of play.