On Thursday’s New York Times website, an article I wrote for the Motherlode blog, “Should Preschoolers Have Homework?” generated over 100 comments from parents! While I was so excited and appreciative to see so many parents weigh in on the topic, I was also a little surprised by how few parents responded to the main tenet of the article: that while nearly all parents agree that homework for the ‘barely potty-trained’ is silly, and while experts continue to weigh in that play-based education is most developmentally appropriate for the youngest children, why don’t more parents speak up? I admit many of the parents who commented said that they would speak up if their child did bring home the dreaded worksheets, but that doesn’t completely explain how preschool homework is allowed to exist in the first place. By speaking up, I guess I don’t mean just talking to a child’s teacher, but I was thinking more of parents banding together and going to all the preschools and having them come up with a policy that says “we will not give homework – at the very least the kind that requires a deadline and ‘turning in’ and receives some kind of reward for doing so.”
I wonder if this has to do with not knowing about all the research available on the value and immense benefits to preschool children of a play-based curriculum – I thought I’d include some of that info here, in the links below. Along with not wanting to rock the boat, as expert Alfie Kohn suggests, and the pressure of preschool testing to get access to coveted magnet/gifted and talented programs, another good reason preschool homework exists and persists is because parents don’t know that homework may not only not help their child, but may actually hurt the early-childhood learning process.
I didn’t know about play-based preschool education and how beneficial it was. I didn’t have any idea that play teaches young children skills they will need later on for academics, and that play nourishes their young, developing brains. As a matter of fact, as a college-educated mother of three, I thought exactly the opposite – get them into academics soon so they can learn the ropes and excel. Right? But, according to (all) the experts, young children a) don’t have the capacity to “work” at acquiring skills and b) need to learn important things about themselves and others, in essence about discovering the world, before they are ready for hard academics. This explains why many preschool children are frustrated and anxious about their homework – they are not ready for what it takes to complete it.
Yes, play is all well and good, I can hear you saying it right now, but play curriculum does not leave space for what today’s kindergarten has turned into – an almost entirely academic affair where children are involved in “work” for the majority of the day? My own son only had 15 minutes of recess all day in 7-hour kindergarten, and homework every single night. How will play-based “discovery” prepare them to enter a kindergarten where most the children have been vigorously prepped – from fine-motor skill development to the basics of math and reading? Will a child who is enveloped in play in preschool be able to catch up with those who haven’t been so enveloped?
According to psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld, in many cases, children are pushed into performing way too soon. “You can get incredible things out of them if you detach them from marks and rewards.” Dr. Neufeld recommends that preschool and kindergarten should be places with no emphasis on outcomes, just learning for the fun of it.
What do you think? Do you think we parents should speak up against the whole lot of it – academic preschool and academic kindergarten? And how to stem the tide?