How children’s ‘play’ is being sneakily redefined

Nov 16, 2011 by

By Alfie Kohn –

* Children should have plenty of opportunities to play.

* Even young children have too few such opportunities these days, particularly in school settings.

These two propositions — both of them indisputable and important — have been offered many times.[1] The second one in particular reflects the “cult of rigor” at the center of corporate-style school reform. Its devastating impact can be mapped horizontally (with test preparation displacing more valuable activities at every age level) as well as vertically (with pressures being pushed down to the youngest grades, resulting in developmentally inappropriate instruction). The typical American kindergarten now resembles a really bad first-grade classroom. Even preschool teachers are told to sacrifice opportunities for imaginative play in favor of drilling young children until they master a defined set of skills.

As with anything that needs to be said — and isn’t being heard by the people in power — there’s a temptation to keep saying it. But because we’ve been reminded so often of those two basic contentions about play, I’d like to offer five other propositions on the subject that seem less obvious, or at least less frequently discussed.

1. “Play” is being sneakily redefined. Whenever an educational concept begins to attract favorable attention, its name will soon be invoked by people (or institutions) even when what they’re doing represents a diluted, if not thoroughly distorted, version of the original idea. Much that has been billed as “progressive,” “authentic,” “balanced,” “developmental,” “student-centered,” “hands on,” “differentiated,” or “discovery based” turns out to be discouragingly traditional. So it is with play: “Most of the activities set up in ‘choice time’ or ‘center time’ [in early-childhood classrooms] and described as play by some teachers, are in fact teacher-directed and involve little or no free play, imagination, or creativity,” as the Alliance for Childhood’s Ed Miller put it.[2] Thus, the frequency with which people still talk about play shouldn’t lead us to conclude that all is well.

via How children’s ‘play’ is being sneakily redefined – The Answer Sheet – The Washington Post.

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