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.
Roger Titcombe says
Absolutely right and very important Nancy
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Roger.
It just gets worse and more crazy. Just came across an outfit called La Petite Academy, a franchise child care operation with over 450 centers. Infants to Kindergarten. With a STEM curriculum. And proud of it. http://www.lapetite.com
Nancy Bailey says
I think they’ve been around, but thank you. They will advertise what gets them business and a STEM curriculum likely does that.
Priscilla Sanstead says
What was that Pasi Sahlberg quote – “When children spend more and more time at play, they sharpen their capacity to imagine, improvise, and collaborate.”
How frightening for the deniers and corporate reformers!
Nancy Bailey says
Corporate school reformers don’t understand the importance of play, or maybe they do worry about it. Thanks, Priscilla.
Avram Rips says
Teachers have always collected data ,such as portfolio and anecdotes from group and individual activities. Here is how it’s different. The teacher’s are being pressured quarterly to come up with three domains one child a week or more times 15 children a week. They are more worried about the Gold assessments that have to be entered in daily
. At the same time the Creative Curriculum has become a scripted curricula where I see teachers on the same page at the same time. I don’t see teachers sitting down in the block area and saying: ” i wonder what is going to happen to the marble when it goes down the ramp?” ” Let’s see.” The play time is when the teachers input the data,
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Avram. True, teachers have always collected data, but outside groups should not have access to that information. As far as teachers working with children and quizzing them, there’s a time for interacting with children and introducing them to new information. But children learn when they freely play and work out problems on their own. Adults need to let them do that, to imagine and socially interact with their peers.
Roy Turrentine says
Great post, Nancy. There are so many things in this I would like to respond to. No time.
Roy Turrentine says
there are plenty of things that point to the idea that all play is not equal. When one child plays by reading, they do not learn to shoot a basketball. This is, of course, the motivation for creating things like little league to promote baseball and kiddie football. Ironically, as the Little League became a thing in the United States, players like the Alou brothers in the 1960s began the Domenican dominance in the major leagues. Why do those Domenican guys all play baseball so well? When they are young, they play baseball without adults telling them to.
Young children, fixated on their parents at a young age, can be taught that reading is a recreation if we give them time to read the way young Domenican boys have time to play baseball. Once they can choose independently to read, they must be given time to pick up a book and read for recreation.. Mandating this in an educational program sounds like the Little league approach to teaching reading. Expect the kids that learned to read without adults to rise to the top.
Former Playworks Coach says
I worked for PlayWorks. Not only are they data mining on children, they are exploiting their workers. The school pays the “non-profit” Playworks more than double what the actual coach gets paid. I don’t believe that Playworks is a non-profit and I wish the IRS would audit, but it will never happen because so many corporations are in bed with Playworks.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for sharing. I think this validates everyone’s fears.
Playworks: Been there done that says
Playworks is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It has been part of the push to privatize schools in the Bay Area for 20 years. They use it to replace real PE coaches and teachers. Yes, Playworks is expensive in that it costs a lot and the Playworks coach gets paid poverty wages. But it’s still cheaper than a real PE coach. Most importantly, Playworks keeps the concept of teachers as temporary employees. I like some of the coaches , but the organization is evil.