Friday, April 11, 2008

The Importance of Play

I was supposed to fly home today, but am stuck in New York another night as American tries to fix all their planes. The only bright spot is that I got a little extra time to read and finished this great book.

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn--and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less by Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, Ph.D., and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., with Diane Eyer, Ph.D.

I loved this book! It provides evidence (from real studies!) that the academic focus of preschools (and some parents) does not provide any academic benefit for kids (and may even cause some problems later on). Evidence like this is essential for maintaining our priorities in early education as the push for skills at earlier ages and testing for those skills reaches into the preschools and kindergartens. My own state is considering lowering the age of required attendance (currently 7) and providing full-day kindergarten. I think providing preschool and full-day kindergarten could be of great benefit, if the curriculum and activities follow the model of this book. It's a legitimate fear, though, that "teaching to the test" could reach even to these early grades. This book identifies ways that playing provides a better foundation for the tests, skill development and later learning than any worksheets or drills ever could.

Especially applicable for me is the authors' mantra for parents: "Reflect, Resist, and Re-Center." We don't participate in a lot of classes and activities, mainly because it's an expense we can't afford right now. It's still a struggle, though, to remember the activities we do together (like reading every day) are providing the very experiences our children need to succeed so we don't have to feel guilty or even disappointed we can't participate in the myriad of classes available, even for four year old children.

I have been grappling with finding a preschool curriculum to follow next year. The more books like this I find, though, the more inclined I am to just make one up, combining good books, nature walks, playing with blocks and involving the kids in everyday tasks like measuring and pouring. I'm beginning to realize my search for a "curriculum" is more a search for a structure for me, a plan so I don't have to worry if I'm hitting all the right targets...but perhaps I should leave that for another post.

I'm encouraging Kansas Dad to read through the book and have high hopes he will because of the "Discovering Hidden Skills" sections. Here he can find all the little experiments he always wanted to do on our kids, like Piaget, but with greater assurance of avoiding any harm. Personally, I liked the end of each chapter, "Bringing the Lessons Home." I think you could get a good grasp of the material covered in the book with just those few pages for each chapter, though I do recommend reading it in its entirety.

Just read after your kids are in bed so you can play Pirates and Castles or help build a city before dinner.


  1. KM,
    I will definitely check that book out. I'm a big believer in play and boredom. I firmly believe that boredom is a gift of childhood and from it stems much creativity. That's one of the big reasons that I'm thankful that my mom will be watching Joe. I think that she'll protect his down time. Thanks for sharing the book!

    Also, Joe's blog got its first spam comment today. I almost locked the whole thing down. I felt quite invaded and better understand the steps that you have taken!

  2. I saw someone has posted a weird comment. I hate it when that happens to me, too!

  3. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll be sure to check it out. It sounds somewhat like an updated version of the "Better Late than Early" book I read. I've been grappling for the last six months or so with whether or not to start a systematic program to teach Amanda to read, which she's been begging for and seems quite ready for, or if I should wait. Since she'll start kindergarten in the fall, I'm just not sure if it's better to use the time at home now enjoying other things, or if it would even be beneficial for her to know how to read before the rest of her class, or just make her bored in school.

  4. Hi Tiffany,

    I read Better Late than Early, too, but if First Son were as interested in reading as your daughter seems, I might be inclined to start teaching her. The most important thing, it seems, is reaching kids where they are and pushing them just a tiny bit farther. It is a hard decision, though. My mom faced a similar one with me and opted to avoid the reading issue. Instead we played with lots of art supplies and outside (as much as possible in the Georgia summer heat). I think I turned out ok. It still didn't seem to take long before I got bored in school, anyway, though, because I picked up reading so much faster than my classmates.

    I think the school she attends might make a difference, too. I know a four year old that's already reading chapter books and his teachers are great at working on other things with him without holding him back on the reading even though most of his classmates aren't reading at all yet.

    Me, I'm more worried about pushing reading before First Son is ready. I think I'm going to have to hold myself back (and remind myself to do that on a daily basis).


Comments make me happy; thanks for speaking up!