I am currently pursingmy degree in Early Childhood Education and have studied the impacts that academicpolicies are having on our children at such a young age. So several questions arise, such as, at whatpoint did the question of accountability shift in the United States? When is too much, too soon? What role do play-based programs play in thefuture success of a student? I set outto answer this question using all of the prior research and knowledge acquiredthroughout the semester, as well as additional sources. At whatpoint did the question of accountability shift in the United State andwhy? In 1983, then President, RonaldRegan’s National Commission of Excellence in Education released a landmarkreport, Nation at Risk, in which he questioned the efficiency of the UnitedStates educational system (Cohen-Vogel & Little, 2016).
In response to said questions, a series ofreforms that included academic and accountability standards was created. There were concerns that response to saidreforms would push higher academic content at younger grades. Later, this issue was amplified by thepassing of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which holds that all children areto be tested annually, starting in the third grade and required teachers tofocus more and more on academic content (Cohen-Vogel & Little, 2016). Recentstudies propose that accountability reforms have led educators, especially in lowergrade levels to feel an immense amount of pressure to prepare students forassessments in the third grade (Booher-Jennings, 2005). According to Bassok, Latham & Rorem,another study of kindergarten between the years 1998 and 2010, found considerablechanges in the belief of Kindergarten teachers as it relates to schoolreadiness and the time spent on academic content and standardize assessments (Bassok,Latham & Rorem, 2016). “They notethat “kindergarten teachers in the later period held far higher academicexpectations for children both prior to kindergarten entry and during the kindergartenyear (Bassok, Latham & Rorem, 2016). They devoted more time to advancedliteracy and math content, teacher-directed instruction, and assessment andsubstantially less time to art, music, science, and child-selected activities” (Bassok, Latham & Rorem, 2016, p.1).
When istoo much too soon? According to Little& Vogel’s article, An Analysis of the Discourses Used by PolicyAdvocates in the Debate over Kindergarten, while this is not a new debateit has intensified over the years (Cohen-Little &Vogel, 2016). Some early education experts have concerns asit relates to the extreme shift in academic pressure at the expense ofplay-based programs (Little & Vogel, 2016). An exorbitant amount of literature shows that the quality ofchildren’s early educational experiences is critical because it parallelsoutcomes later in life (Cohen-Little & Vogel, 2016, as cited in Chetty etal).
While evidence suggest thatincreased, intense and academic content may be beneficial to Kindergartners, (Duncanet al., 2007; Watts et al., 2015), there is also evidence that academicadvantages may come at the risk of behavioral proficiency later in life(Huffman & Speer, 2000).So what exactlyhappened to Kindergarten and why are children being pushed so hard at such ayoung age to learn and absorb so much information? According to the article, What Happened to Kindergarten, Curwoodstates, “It’s a 21st-century truism that in order for the UnitedStates to get ahead in the global economy, we need to upgrade our publicschools” (Curwood, 2007, p. 28). Curwood states, that often we mistake “fasterfor better” (Curwood, 2007, p. 28) and because of that, Kindergartenerstudents’ encounter drills and homework, leaving no time for playtime.
“Kindergarten is now first grade and firstgrade is now second grade,” says Ann Stoudt, a kindergarten teacher in NewJersey for about 19 years (Curwood, 2007, p. 28). Curwood defends her position that we arepushing children to learn more and more at younger ages.What role do play-basedprograms play in the future success of a student? According to Karen Worth, a Senior Scientistfor the Education Development Center, students want to learn and understand ournatural word through natural inquiry (Learning Science Through Inquiry, (n.d.).
According to Cutter-Mackenzie and Edwards, open-ended play isimportant for young children because it provides opportunities that arenecessary to support learning, such as exploration and discovery (Cutter-Mackenzie& Edwards, 2013). Through play-basedprograms, children are able to be engaged learning through association of priorknowledge, thus children learn through inquiry. Students are able to form associations through authentic based learning andassessments (Cutter-Mackenzie & Edwards, 2013).According to video, TheLearning Classroom: Theory into Practice,children learn best when they are able to construct their own knowledge. This video provided an excellent example byproviding students with the materials and allowing them to collaborate to findthe answers (The Learning Classroom: Theory into Practice, 2003). In an article written by Susan Edwards, play-basedlearning is “a cornerstone of early childhood education”.
Shebelieves that play can be reflective, yet social, active and engaging for astudent. Edwards believes thatplay-based programs create “powerful pedagogical learning environments foryoung children” (Edwards, 2017).According to Plevyakand Morris (2002), “the pressure to perform on standardize tests in the upperprimary grades is having an impact on the curriculum in both Kindergarten andpreschool program” (Plevyak & Morris, 2002, p. 2).
Students are no longer aloud to be children,but rather are required to focus on preparing for what is to come next, such asbeing prepared for the next grade level. It has been indicated by numerous studies that attitudes and opinionsare the same of what to expect from a Kindergartener, however, teachers andparents rank those three categories in a completely different way (Welch , 1999). According to Clifford’s(1996) study, teachers ranked physical health, effective communication,curiosity and enthusiasm as indicators of readiness, however, parents believethat academic skills as more of necessary pre-kindergarten skill.So how do we meet the needs of thechanging landscape of Kindergarten as it exists today? According to McLennan, Kindergarten hastransformed from exploration and play to academic assessment. Today, teachers are trying to juggle andsupport play-based programs while still meeting the increasingly academicpressure in meeting academic standards. She suggests that as educators, we plan lessons based on the objectivesand curriculum, but only as a starting point for the lessons. Once the lessons begin, we should letstudents go where they will and encourage their creativity and exploration (McLennan,2011).
Her view is of more a student centeredclassroom verses teacher directed learning.McLeannan goes on to say that it isimportant to interpret the curriculum through “your classroom lens”, meaningthat one should consider the needs and interests, while considering the cultureof the community. She states that aseducators, we should offer opportunities for children to explore new ideas andpractice those concepts through hands on exploration.
Finally, McLennan states that she feels thereis a medium, which requires us to integrate a play-based program with theacademic standardize assessment (McLennan, 2011).Based on my research, it appears thatthere is a thing as too much too soon! Researchindicates that we may doing more harm socially to children than good, bypushing such an academic agenda at such an early age. Research indicates that play-based programsare extremely important to the success of a student because they help releasetheir energy and engage them mentally and physically. It is my opinion that we need to restore abalance between what was and what is Kindergarten today! I feel that there is enough research toindicate that we should slow down and focus more on developing a childemotionally and socially, so that they are better prepared for what is to comelater in life academically. I feel as if we arepushing the cart before the horse and doing our children a true injustice. Our children need guidance and direction, butnot at the expense of losing time through use of play-based activities. Thereis a healthy balance between learning what we need to learn and all of thisacademic legislation that has been shoved down our throats.
I really enjoyed watching the K4 during my practicumas they learned how to share, compromise and overall just work out theirissues. I watched the benefits of their learningenvironment as they played with playdoh and sand. I could see such a difference between the K4and Kindergarten students and honestly it frightens me because I felt like theKindergartner’s were just so overwhelmed. Reading all of this research has guaranteed has guaranteed that I willbe teaching my class with a very fine balance of engagement and assessment, butin a fun engaging way!