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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

More work, less play makes Jack a smarter boy

Ashley Rzonca, a preschool teacher at Woodside Community School in Queens, with students. Photo: Edu Bayer/New York Times

Preschools where teachers teach about phonics, numbers and shapes  produce cognitive gains for students — especially blacks — concludes a Berkley study. “By the end of kindergarten, children who had attended one year of “academic-oriented preschool” outperformed peers who had attended less academic-focused preschools by, on average, the equivalent of two and a half months of learning in literacy and math, reports Dana Goldstein in the New York Times.

Progressive educators — and many middle-class parents — “believe that children of that age should be playing with blocks, not sitting still as a teacher explains a shape’s geometric characteristics,” writes Goldstein.

“Simply dressing up like a firefighter or building an exquisite Lego edifice may not be enough,” said Bruce Fuller, the lead author of the study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. “If you can combine creative play with rich language, formal conversations and math concepts, that’s more likely to yield the cognitive gains we observed.”

Taxpayer-funded preschool are expanding in New York City and elsewhere, often with the goal of preparing children for kindergarten, the “new first grade.”

Many who are college-educated are wary of academic preschool, worrying it will quash the love of learning before their children make it past their holding-hands years.

After interviewing parents, the Berkeley researchers concluded children “did not seem to be hurt socially or emotionally by attending the more academic programs,” writes Goldstein.

However, the study followed children only through kindergarten, she writes. “Previous research has demonstrated a disappointing ‘fade-out’ effect, in which early academic gains are lost over time, making it harder to fulfill one of the main objectives of publicly funded preschool, closing the achievement gap between poor and middle-class students.”

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