Kindergartners Today are Playing Less, Studying More

Reduced play and increased testing may actually hamper kindergartner learning

kindergarten children writing
Kindergartners should be exploring, discovering, and learning how to make friends--not taking tests. Laurence Mouton/Getty Images

Today's kindergarten curriculum looks nothing like the curriculum we knew when we were kindergartners. For children today, kindergarten isn't just about naps and playtime and developing social and emotional skills. Now, kindergartners are tackling reading, writing, math and homework, and with most states having adopted the Common Core State Standards, children this age are taking tests, as well. Kindergartners today are writing sentences, learning geography, and doing simple math problems.

In other words, a kindergarten curriculum today is more likely to resemble a smaller-scale version of a first grade curriculum.

Less Play for Kindergartners: Is It a Good Idea?

In a trend that's being criticized by many parents and educators, more school districts are downsizing playtime in kindergarten and placing increasing emphasis on preparing kindergartners for standardized tests. The message to 5-year-olds is: Playtime's over, kids; it’s time to crack open those books.

But testing children this age neither reliably predicts future achievement nor helps them do any better in school, according to a 2009 report called "Crisis in the Kindergarten" by the Alliance for Childhood, a College Park, Maryland-based research and advocacy group that works to promote children's healthy development and learning.

For one thing, says the Alliance for Childhood, testing kids younger than 8 may produce skewed results because kids this age can't sit still for long periods of time.

Test results can also be affected by factors such as hunger, fatigue, or anxiety, which are much more apt to play a role in how a young child like a kindergartner performs on a test.

The report also points out that many kindergartners are spending as much as 2 to 3 hours on math and reading, and spending only 30 minutes or less a day on playing.

In some schools, kindergartners have no playtime at all.

Less Play for Kindergartners: The Importance of Playtime

The problem with crowding out play from a kindergartner's day is that unstructured play is an essential foundation from which kids can grow emotionally, socially, and even physically. When kids are free to play on their own, they can use their imaginations. They can interact with each other and develop problem-solving skills, learn how to cooperate and share, develop empathy, and learn self control.

What's more, studies have shown that recess helps kids do better in school. In one study from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, researchers found that playtime was associated with better classroom behavior. Not getting enough breaks and sitting for hours on end in a classroom actually worked against learning.

Less Play for Kindergartners: Why Playtime in School is More Crucial Today Than Ever Before

Ironically, as recess is being cut back at schools, having playtime at school is even more important for kids than ever before.

Today, children are less likely to get exercise and run-around time at home. Video games, TV, computers and other sedentary activities have gobbled up more of children's free time than ever before. Kindergartners and older grade-school age children are less likely to rely on just their imaginations to play and create.

Less Play for Kindergartners: The Stress Factor

Many education experts say all the emphasis on academics and testing may lead to increased stress for a kindergartner. And of course, the cutting back of stress-relieving exercise and free play, which is precisely what a stressed kindergartner may need, certainly doesn’t help matters.

If you see signs of stress that may be related to testing in your kindergartner, the Alliance for Childhood suggests talking to your kindergarten teacher about what you can do to reduce your kindergartner’s stress. Other tips to keep in mind:

  • Reassure your child that the tests do not measure how smart or good a person she is.
  • Make sure your kindergartner gets plenty of sleep the night before and eats a healthy breakfast on test day.
  • Meet with your child’s teacher and principal to discuss ways to curb excessive testing.
  • Talk to other parents about how their children are faring with the workload and kindergarten testing. Work together to educate yourselves and your school about the drawbacks and limitations of testing young children.
  • Ask parents' groups such as the PTA to organize a meeting on early childhood education and alternatives to standardized tests.
  • Contact your local chapter of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or child development experts at a local university to get information and support for your concerns about kindergarten testing and erosion of playtime.

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