A few weeks ago I wrote about my son’s love for rough tough, or rough and tumble play. In the piece I mentioned a group called the Alliance for Childhood and their quest to preserve play time for young children. They called play “endangered” and I thought they were just a little bit nuts. Perhaps a smidge hysterical. Well, people of the Alliance, I apologize. You’re not nuts. Play is truly under attack.
The enemies of play were born out of the school accountability movement, those folks who brought us No Child Left Behind and the tyranny of standardized testing that dominates the public school system. (In brief, NCLB is a federal funding law that focuses states on success of schools based on standarized test scores.)
The latest victim: Kindergarten. Gone are the sweet, innocent days of pastey art projects and dress up corners. Now kindergarten kids are expected to read, write, and do simple math by the time they move on to first grade. And we have those tests to blame. A story on parents holding their children back for a year before starting kindergarten in last Sunday’s NY Times explains:
Curriculum planners no longer ask, What does a 5-year-old need? Instead they ask, If a student is to pass reading and math tests in third grade, what does that student need to be doing in the prior grades?
The practice of sitting out a year is called redshirting, a term borrowed from sports. According to the article it is happening with more frequency, especially among affluent parents who would rather their child to be among the oldest in the class instead of the youngest. Schools like it because older children tend to do better on those pesky tests later on.
And parents like it because it gives their kids a jump on their peers. Studies have shown that being older in a class of students has benefits, especially when kids are grouped according to ability. The “smart” kids tend to remain in the higher level reading and math groups as they continue their education.
Redshirting is a direct response to the change in kindergarten curriculum. “Many parents, legislatures and teachers find the current curriculum too challenging for many older 4- and young 5-year-olds, which makes sense, because it’s largely the same curriculum taught to first graders less than a generation ago,” according to the article. In fact, nationwide teachers report that close to 50 percent of incoming kindergarten students have trouble handling the demands of school.
As we parents like to say to our preschoolers, this is not okay. It discriminates even further against poor and middle-class students whose parents may not be able to afford to keep them out of school for an extra year. And it means that all children who learn so much from fingerpainting and tower blocks are being denied their right to play. Sign me up, Alliance. And may the force be with you.