Where does pretending come in? It relates to what philosophers call “counterfactual” thinking, like Einstein wondering what would happen if a train went at the speed of light.
~Alison Gopnik, “Let the Children Play, It’s Good for Them” Smithsonian Magazine. July 2012.
There’s a troubling phenomenon happening in early childhood education. It involves aligning standards to fake play.
Children own real play.
In Educating Young Children, Mary Hohmann and David P. Weikart discuss the HighScope preschool program and the welcome backseat adults often take to allow children to freely play. They say: When children are playing or starting to play, and are receptive to other players, adults can sometimes join them in a nondisruptive manner. This is real play.
Real play involves children using their imaginations to plan and work things out on their own. It’s messy and hard work for the child, but it builds thinking skills.
Educating Young Children provides descriptions of materials for play. The authors describe adult-guided educational activities too, but children are also trusted to learn through free play. Adults support the children in their activities. There’s no worry about test scores, but a focus on the child, their development, and the joy of learning.
Unfortunately, for years, unstructured play has been beyond the reach of many children. Kiss curiosity and problem solving good-bye.
NCLB, RTTT, and to a lesser extent Common Core State Standards (Next Generation Learning), drove play out of early-childhood classrooms. Who remembers kindergarten dress-up and play kitchens? Children are expected to perform beyond their age and development.
Play-deniers see play as a frivolous waste of time. They don’t recognize its importance to cognitive development.
Play-deniers attack Jean Piaget. They believe children should learn faster, and they will argue that children are different today than they were yesterday.
Play-deniers love control. They tell us where and what children should learn. They align everything a child does in school to standards they create. They want tidy and measurable online instruction to collect data.
Recently, play-deniers realized there’s a growing backlash to the loss of play. We hear talk about play-based learning returning.
Don’t believe them.
Replacing Recess with Fake Play and Data Collection
One of the first things play-deniers did was get rid of recess. Recess used to be the best free-time for children. For those who understand the importance of play, the loss of recess has been the death of learning for young children.
Playworks promises to return recess and play to children in their schools. But Playworks is controlled physical education at a cost. They outline the activities that children are to do.
Lois Weiner is a former education professor, teacher, and author of the book Future of Our Schools. She says, “We don’t need rubrics for recess. And anyone who says we do doesn’t understand play.”
Another question, should taxpayers have to pay for play?
Do parents know that Playworks collects information about children and how they behave in the controlled setting adults create?
Data were collected near the end of the first year of Playworks’ operation, including administrative records, teacher and student surveys, focus groups, and observations of recess. Surveys assessed child outcomes, including their perceptions of school climate, experience with conflict resolution, learning and achievement, recess experience, and relationships with adults and peers.
In the past, teachers might have observed how children played at recess and shared their findings with parents. But this was done privately within the confines of the classroom.
Now, companies take over recess and collect information for commercial purposes and to track behavior. They are aligning fake play to standards they created to maintain social and behavioral control.
“A New Push for Play-Based Learning: Why Districts Say It’s Leading to More Engaged Students, Collaborative Classmates … and Better Grades” is a great example of fake play. Children work in orderly fashion on activities planned by adults.
Watching children play in such controlled settings opens the door to data collection. Children might enjoy these coordinated activities because they’re more fun than worksheets. They could learn too, but the richness of free play is missing.
Children merely follow orders while being observed. It’s still about manipulation, data collection, and keeping the child’s behavior and emotions under control.
In “How to Use Play for Learning,” we see the same control. Children move from station-to-station to accomplish a teacher-prepared activity. It’s neat and orderly.
Sometimes parents and educators can help with guided exploration. But with the loss of free play, owned by the child, much learning will be lost forever.
And data collection on children to make a profit and track a child’s behavior for outside interests should never be acceptable in our public schools (or anyplace).
The question every parent should ask is “What information are you collecting about my child, who gets to look at it, and why?”
A commenter below named Summer mentioned specific questions about data collection that could be helpful to parents especially since school will be starting soon. Summer kindly gave me permission to insert the questions into the post. I hope they help. Hold your school accountable.
The questions I would ask, as a parent would be:
- What information are you collecting about my child?
- Who collects the data?
- Who sees the data?
- Are you collecting general group data or is personally identifiable information being collected about my child?
- Can I opt-out?
- Are you going to use this data as assessment and what decisions will be made from this data?
- Where is the data stored? Is it secured? Is it in a cloud-based software location?
- Where is the physical storage center located? If it’s paper documentation is it being transferred to software later?
- If paper, where are the files stored?
- If it’s through a university, does the university have access to the data – either electronically or otherwise?
- Can I, as a parent, opt-out?
- Will the data be used as observational only, or will it be used to correct behavior? If to correct, can I be involved in that process?
- What are the qualifications of the observer/data collector?
- Is my child’s photo/image being used? If so, how? (Parent should have to sign an agreement/disclosure).
Mary Hohmann and David P. Weikart, Educating Young Children. (Ypsilanti, Michigan: HIGH/SCOPE PRESS), 1995. p. 210-213.
Email conversation with Dr. Lois Weiner.