Dear Teacher: Where are the block buildings and the dress-up clothes? I’m only five years old!

blocksblock buildingTony Wagner, noted pundit on school transformation, writes: “Research shows that human beings are born with an innate desire to explore, experiment, and imagine new possibilities – in a word, to innovate.  How do children learn such skills? In a word – play.”

Why then when I enter kindergarten classrooms these days are there no building blocks, no dress-up clothes, no hobby horses, no silk scarves, no water tables?  Why do children have such little recess time to play outside? Why are we forcing small people no taller than my waist to spend their time trying to boost their scores on leveled reading tasks? We stifle the young child’s natural tendency to innovate – that 21st century skill we are trying so hard to teach – when we take away play time at school. Reading will come easier to most if we just wait for the appropriate developmental stage. There is a reason Russia and Finland don’t present formal reading lessons in kindergarten.

Parents need to speak out to their local school boards and administrators if they do not want their kindergartens to be watered-down second and third grades. Childhood is precious. It doesn’t come twice in a lifetime. The work of young children is play. There is an enormous amount of learning that takes place in the worlds of dress-up and block building and outside pretend play.

Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.