Parents ask for more play time

Some kindergarten parents want more play time at Public School 101 in Forest Hills, Queens, reports the New York Times.

Gone were the play kitchens, sand and water tables, and dress-up areas; half-days were now full days. Instead, there were whiteboards, and the kindergartners, in classes of up to 27, practiced reading and math on work sheets on desks at P.S. 101, also known as the School in the Gardens.

Play came in the form of “choice time,” a roughly 30-minute afternoon period during which each child chose what blocks or toys in the classroom to work with, and at recess, which was often truncated by the time it took for every child to calm down and form an orderly line back to class.

Half the parents signed a letter to the principal asking for “more unstructured time in the school day, an extra recess period” and better line-up procedures.

Principal Valerie Capitulo-Saide agreed to an extra 30 minutes of P.E. a week and decided students don’t need to form perfect lines at recess.

Via Early Stories.

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  1. Play may seem like wasted time, but it’s not. I see this need in my 6th grade students. When we start working with a new concept, unless they’ve had time to “play” around with it and just explore…it’s very hard for them to come up with questions to investigate through experimentation. They need concrete experiences that are usually derived from an unstructured time to formulate questions…what if I did then, what would happen?

    Coincidentally I just wrote about this need for play in my own blog where I explained how students needed play time with stream tables before they could discuss what variables could be used to experiment with erosion factors. Checkout my example

  2. I think one of the reasons there’s MORE playtime in the upper grades now (and collaging, and posters, and playacting and what have you) is because we’ve denied it to the younger kids. So the upper grades have to make up for lost time and concrete experience.

    It’s very inefficient. It takes much more time and effort to teach a 4 year old to read than it does to teach a 6 year old. Yet both kids will end up in the same place. Meanwhile, all that wasted seat time COULD be spent on sand and water tables and container play and make believe and social skills so that, when the sixth grade teacher wants to talk about erosion, she can just say “It’s like when you pour water over a sand castle” and move on.

    Back when our public schools were ‘Working’ most kids didn’t even GO to kindergarten–or Kindergarten was ‘play school’ – a half day to let kids get used to the idea of school so that first grade wouldn’t be as big a shock.

    Now, we have academic kindergarten (except when they’re watching cartoons!) and less achievement.

    What a waste.

  3. I’m fairly sure that research shows that for anyone (including adults), physical and creative activity help the brain assimilate new knowledge so it can be used more easily later. Plus, young kids need to explore their world and “play” with it in order to understand it. Being able to work in a group is a hard thing to learn, and I see older kids who never really learned it when I’m working in upper elementary and high school classrooms. Unstructured time in lower grades lets kids work out their social dynamic before it starts to damage academic progress in later ones.

    It’s not really a surprise that when my daughter was in Kindergarten and she asked what the word meant, she responded to my answer with, “Oh, so I’m really in grade 0 and not in Kindergarten, right?” I have to say that I agree with her, unfortunately.

  4. My son’s kindergarten teacher felt forced to eliminate “Show and Tell” from their week. The requirements were increasing every year. My older son only had to know all his math facts up through 5, while 3 years later the requirement had increased to 6. Her ability to teach 20 kindergarteners relied on having 4 aides and parents in the room for half of the day to help kids one on one or she would have never gotten through all of the material.

  5. Marsha — I get the fact that your main intent is to advertise your blog, but I will nonetheless point out that you are missing the point of the request for more play time. These parents aren’t asking for time for their kids to “play” with academic concepts, but to run around outside, build with blocks, and so on.

  6. It’s a full-day program and they’re only allowing 30 minutes free play? I could see a half-hour block out of a regular 2 1/2-3 hour K day but a full-day program should have at LEAST an hour total.

  7. Also, 10-12 worksheets assigned as homework for the week to kindergartners? I think I’d send those back undone with a nice little note detailing that my child spent 30 minutes per night either practicing reading or being read aloud to (depending on whether or not he/she was an independent reader).

  8. I’m a public school teacher and parent of a toddler. Like many parents, I am scared, but not for the usual (and bogus) reasons like bad teachers, low standards, lack of accountability, greedy unions, or a system broken beyond repair. What I fear is that the fun and innocence of childhood is being traded in for the false promises of rigor and accountability. Many kindergartens have replaced story-time, recess and unstructured play with rote test-taking drills. Elementary schools are eliminating science to make room for more test prep. Middle schools have eliminated shop classes because they aren’t academically rigorous.

    We’re training our children to be automatons, stifling their curiosity and creativity and for what—an impossible goal of 100% proficiency by 2014? Keep in mind that increasing numbers of schools are failing, not improving. In many states, like California, experts are predicting that ALL schools will be failing within a few years, not because the schools or teachers are bad, but because of NCLB’s accounting methods, which deem schools failing if only one small subset of their population fails to make sufficient progress.

  9. Genevieve says:

    My daughter was in a full day Kindergarten that was one of the last in the city to have a rest time and a kitchen area (three years ago). They really only used the kitchen area and other toys during recess.
    I would have preferred a shorter day, but there are no longer those options where I live. There are also few Kindergartens that have center time. We recently instituted state funded pre-k for most 4-year-olds. It looks a lot like Kindergarten used to be (in the 1980’s) though is probably more academically minded that the Kindergarten of my mother. It would have made more sense to keep Kindergarten more play based and skipped the pre-k.

  10. Roger Sweeny says:

    “It would have made more sense to keep Kindergarten more play based and skipped the pre-k.”

    But then parents wouldn’t have a free daycare. In order to have the public schools do it, you have to act like it’s academic.

    The irony is that too much academics too soon probably makes kids do worse later.

  11. Mike in Texas says:

    This is what you get when you have “reforms” who have never taught a day in their life; “reforms” that are actually detrimental to the children they are supposed to be helping.

    But I’m sure McGraw-Hill and Pearson are making lots of money on their Kindergarten curriculum and test prep materials

  12. Roger Sweeny says:

    “But I’m sure McGraw-Hill and Pearson are making lots of money on their Kindergarten curriculum and test prep materials”

    Not to mention all the teachers who are getting paid teachers’ salaries instead of day care provider wages.

  13. Just in case anyone’s ever on Jeopardy!, I’m pretty sure “PS” stands for “Primary School,” not “Public School.” I’m emailing the Times and DOE and will confirm.

    And I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss kindergarten teachers as mere babysitters. Has the peer review come in on the study that suggested a top kindergarten teacher was worth as much as $320,000/year?

  14. Cranberry says:

    I don’t think encouraging 4 and 5 year olds to be unnaturally sedentary is wise policy. See:

    Finland does wonderfully in international tests, and they don’t begin formal schooling until 7!

    Early childhood homework is another issue. Each Monday, the kindergartners get a packet of worksheets they are supposed to complete by Friday. There are generally 10 to 12 reading, writing and math worksheets each week. Parents are also asked to read to their children.

    Victoria Zunitch, who recently withdrew her daughter from P.S. 101 to send her to a private school, said kindergarten homework ended up being parent homework because the children had trouble working independently.

    Even if a few children are compliant enough to accept this system, many other children who are developing in a perfectly normal fashion will be miserable. If parents are doing the worksheets, it’s all a show.

    I can see why the school may have panicked about performance. I would love to know if the “academic overload” was instituted to deal with the steep decline in performance documented in the test scores. Or, did they institute the academic overload last year, and the decline in test scores show what happens when you don’t let young children move or play?

    I’d be interested if such an approach would improve academic performance. I suspect not. Even if these students had a momentary bump in letter recognition, I suspect there would be more children unable to behave in a classroom. I also predict any differences would wash out by fifth grade or so, except for the behavior problems. I also think that allowing children to play in an age-appropriate manner would be healthier than plunking them down before cartoons!

    I think that the Montessori curriculum or the Tools of the Mind curriculum would lead to greater academic gains than this school’s current approach. Both of those curricula also don’t try to treat 4 and 5 year old children like 8 year olds!

  15. Cranberry says:

    Tim, I’m not sure what you mean by “primary school” vs. “public school.” In New York, P.S. stands for public school. See the Great Schools link in my previous post. “P.S. 101 School in the Gardens.”

  16. cranberry, the giant bronze commemorative plaque on the wall of the classic CB Synder-designed elementary school one of my children attends says that it’s a “Primary School.” If you search the NYC DOE site, you’ll see multiple references to “Primary School,” but nothing definitive. I’ve emailed someone I know at the DOE and I’ll post the answer once I get it.

    And the decline in test scores at PS 101 had nothing to do with play or no-play; it’s because the state redefined cut scores to better reflect reality. The overwhelming majority of schools in the city and state saw a similar drop.

  17. The public middle schools in NYC are called I.S. ### for “intermediate school”. The “P” in PS 101 is for “primary”.

  18. Cranberry says:

    Someone should tell Public School 97, in Brooklyn:

    And Public School 32, in Queens:

    They may be primary schools, but the people running the schools seem to think P.S. refers to Public School.

  19. cranberry is right: PS does in fact stand for Public School. The DOE admits to preferring “primary school” in many internal documents, and a helpful person there said that at one time early in the last century, some schools may have been officially/unofficially titled Primary School XX or Free School XX, but “Public School” has been the standard for many moons now. It doesn’t seem rational to me, particularly in the PS/MS configuration (Public School/Middle School???), but there it is.

    I am now much better prepared for a potential appearance on Jeopardy. Thank you.