Ms. Meyers is a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who holds a master's degree in special education and writes about early childhood.
Which Preschool Activities Are a Waste of Time?
We’re facing a critical teacher shortage in the U.S. and our preschools are being especially hard hit.
Because early childhood educators typically receive minimum wage, get little respect from society, and are now expected to prepare kids academically for kindergarten, many have understandably bailed.
Even before the pandemic, there was a huge turnover rate but it’s only gotten worse. As such, more inexperienced teachers are filling these roles—some with little background in early childhood development.
Some have little knowledge about the critical importance of playing, pretending, and exploring to the long term emotional well-being of a youngster.
I taught both preschool and kindergarten for many years and now write about issues in early learning. Today, I educate parents about common preschool activities that are simply a waste of time and can even be detrimental to their kiddos.
Too Many Structured Activities
- Memorizing the calendar
- Uninspired copycat craft projects
- Teacher-directed lessons
- The "letter of the week"
As inexperienced teachers fill vacant spots, they often make the mistake of giving kids less time to play while spending more time on structured activities such as the ones listed above.
It takes a knowledgeable and highly confident teacher to take a stand and say playing and pretending are what matter most for preschoolers and how they learn best.
While some parents are overly impressed by teacher-led activities (viewing them as “real learning”), those in the know see them for what they are: largely a waste of time that could be better spent with child-centered endeavors.
Without a doubt, the best teachers are the ones who boldly advocate for a child’s right to play and stubbornly refuse to see preschool as a time to prepare kids academically for kindergarten.
They are the fearless warriors in early childhood education today.
They’re the ones backed up by decades of research that show teacher-directed activities are developmentally inappropriate and have the potential to crush a youngster's innate curiosity and love of learning.
1. The Calendar
Most preschool classrooms have a cozy spot where the teacher sits in a chair and the students gather on the rug for circle time. The focal point is a gigantic calendar, intended to help the children learn the days of the week, the months of the year, and concepts of time (yesterday, today, and tomorrow).
The teacher says with over-the-top enthusiasm: “Okay, class, yesterday was Monday. Today is Tuesday. What will tomorrow be?”
Although they've been doing this same routine for months, the kids look at her blankly as if she's asked them how to solve climate change. Someone calls out Sunday. Another guesses Friday. A third timidly suggests Saturday.
Running out of options, someone finally announces Wednesday. The teacher then delightfully proclaims, “Correct!” as if that kid were some kind of genius.
Unsuitable for Young Students
Like many other preschool activities, calendar time is developmentally inappropriate. It's an idea co-opted from elementary schools and forced upon children too young to handle it.
According to the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children), there is little evidence to suggest calendar activities are meaningful for youngsters below the first grade. That's because kids need to mature before they truly understand the concept of time.
Think of young children on a long road trip, constantly asking, "Are we there yet?" Their parents reply, "two hours" or "20 more minutes" or "less than an hour," but no answer satisfies. That's because those measures of time are utterly insignificant to little kids.
Other Ways to Teach Kids Math Concepts
Furthermore, while calendar time introduces early math concepts (counting, patterning, sequencing), experts in early childhood education argue that kids learn these concepts more efficiently while they are handling concrete materials.
In their article "Calendar Time for Young Children: Good Intentions Gone Awry," the authors agree that math is better taught in small groups so children can handle manipulatives such as Unifix cubes, geoboards, and pattern blocks.
When a skilled teacher guides them, asking questions and prompting exploration, students get far more from the experience than when they do group calendar time without hands-on elements.
You can teach your Pre-K class to recite the days of the week and months of the year, but they don't really understand what it means.
— Karen Cox, Pre-K teacher and early childhood blogger
2. Craft Projects
Pinterest, the online site of images, has influenced preschool education in a wholly negative way with its multitude of eye-catching craft projects for kids. Teachers— most without backgrounds in art education—look at the site to find flashy ideas that will impress parents.
Unfortunately, these projects do nothing to foster children's creativity, independence, or decision-making. Kids follow their teacher's instructions in a robotic, step-by-step way, trying to duplicate her perfect sample. In the end, everybody's project looks the same: neat, tidy, and uninspired.
At an early age, preschool children get the wrong ideas about art, thinking the finished product is more important than the process of getting there. Uniformity gets celebrated above originality.
While young children with limited vocabularies once expressed themselves through paintings and drawings, they now have fewer opportunities to do so. They miss out on one of the greatest joys of art: self-expression.
As they grow older, they're likely to proclaim, “I hate art. I'm no good at it!” They compare their work to others' and think it comes up short. They never learned how magical art is—a fun, relaxing, and expressive pursuit to enjoy for themselves.
Choose Open-Ended Art Projects Instead
An experienced preschool teacher knows how important open-ended art is to unleashing children's creativity. This includes painting at an easel, drawing, coloring, molding with clay, and printmaking.
These activities not only stimulate a child's imagination, but they also promote fine motor skills. They build strong hand and finger muscles so the youngsters are ready to hold pencils and scissors correctly when starting elementary school.
Unrestricted exploration helps children form connections in their brain.... The freedom to manipulate different materials in an organic and unstructured way allows for exploration and experimentation.
— Kylie Rymanowicz, child development expert and parent educator
3. Teacher-Directed Lessons
Preschools were once the place for playing, socializing, creating, exploring, and discovering. Teachers acted as facilitators, making sure everyone was safe, happy, and busy.
Now, though, the push for academic rigor has infiltrated this once sacred domain, corrupting it with practices that are unsuitable for 4 and 5-year-olds.
Teachers no longer ask the relevant question, “Is this developmentally appropriate?”
Instead, they borrow what's en vogue at elementary schools and twist it into something they can use with little kids—no matter how ridiculous. Teacher-directed lessons have become more prevalent than child-centered activities.
Kids must sit quietly and listen at circle time while the teacher offers up instruction on famous artists, foreign countries, the solar system, engineering, endangered species, and so on.
At a young age, children are given the message that knowledge comes from outside themselves.
They're not given opportunities to see something that intrigues them and find out more about it on their own. This is the kind of learning that's most empowering, not the kind that makes them totally dependent upon an adult.
Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige is the co-founder of Defending the Early Years, an organization that advocates for the use of developmentally appropriate practices with preschoolers.
She's also the author of a wonderful book entitled Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids, which I recommend to all parents of preschoolers but especially those who are overly impressed by early academics.
Carlsson-Paige and her colleagues are deeply concerned about the steep rise in teacher-directed lessons and the steady decline in time for play and exploration. In a recent speech about this topic, she concluded with the following words:
"I hope we early childhood educators in the United States can strengthen our advocacy for children so they can have a more child-centered education. And I hope that we can advocate for a schooling where reading, writing, and math are connected to what children care about and experience. This is the way to help children learn optimally and learn to love school. And it's the path we have to be on if we want to educate not just children but future citizens who will contribute to making a better world."
In this video by Dr. Lilian Katz, we find out why promoting broad intellectual goals (curiosity, exploration, initiative, wonder) at preschool is far more important than relying on narrow academic ones (the alphabet, counting, handwriting).
Nothing seems to impress uninformed parents more than workbooks.They have it in their heads that paper-pencil tasks are real learning.
The rest of it—painting at the easel, digging in the sandbox, riding tricycles—all seems frivolous and hardly worth the cost of tuition. When watching children play, they ask impatiently, “Why isn't the teacher teaching them anything?”
Preschool owners must keep the parents satisfied. Therefore, too many of them give in to parental demands for worksheets.
It doesn't matter if they're for handwriting, math, reading, or phonics. If kids are sitting quietly at tables and writing on paper, these parents believe real learning is taking place and that kids are getting ready for kindergarten.
The preschool owners know research doesn't support this. They know workbooks aren't developmentally appropriate. But they want to stay in business so they go with the flow, even though the children suffer.
Strong, knowledgeable, and passionate preschool owners articulate to moms and dads how young children learn best.
They know that research supports active learning: playing, exploring, and doing. The narrow, isolated skills taught in workbooks is nothing compared to all that is learned in a stimulating classroom filled with curious peers and an encouraging teacher.
Angela Pyle, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Erick Jackman Institute of Child Study, argues that young children learn more effectively with hands-on materials than paper-pencil tasks. As the mother of a 4-year-old herself, she writes:
"I know that the research says my daughter will actually learn more from playing than completing a workbook, and she will actually be better able to learn the skills required for literacy and numeracy. It sounds counter-intuitive that preschoolers learn more, and better, from play than they do from worksheets and seat-work, but it's true."
5. Letter of the Week
Celebrating one letter per week is the traditional way preschool teachers present the alphabet.
During the first week of school, “A” gets all the attention. The students bring items from home that start with the letter, such as an apron or an apple. The class makes an art project of an alligator or an ape. They practice writing “A” in their workbooks.
The process is slow, methodical, and tedious and not the best way for young children to learn.
Research shows the Letter of the Week approach is ineffective because, when children reach “Z,” 26 long weeks have passed and the first letters have long been forgotten.
Experts say the learning of letters should be integrated into the day, not taught in isolation.
Programs such as Zoo-Phonics have youngsters interacting with sounds and letters by dancing, singing, and playing games. Kids do A-Z every day in a fun and developmentally appropriate way.
Benjamin Franklin said, "Tell me and I forget. Teach me, and I may remember. Involve me and I learn!"
This philosophy is at the root of Zoo-Phonics where children use their bodies to move like animals and make each letter's sound. It's a sensory experience of hearing, seeing, saying, and doing. What the children learn is retained and will not be forgotten.
Great Hands-On Alphabet Lessons for Preschoolers
In this video, a teacher demonstrates the signals and sounds for Zoo-Phonics. Instead of the tedious letter of the week approach, Zoo-Phonics gets kids moving, singing, dancing, and playing games.
Let the child be the scriptwriter, the director and the actor in his own play.
— Magda Gerber
Questions & Answers
Question: My daughter was so bored during calendar time at preschool and just zoned out. Then I was shocked to see that she had to endure pretty much the same calendar routine in kindergarten and first grade. What's with all the focus on the calendar?
Answer: I noticed the same phenomenon as you with both my sons—teachers doing basically the same calendar routine in preschool, kindergarten, first grade, and second. This occurs because preschool and kindergarten teachers co-opt the elementary school curriculum and twist, pound, and mold it to use with their young students. Taking lessons that are designed for older kids and thrusting them upon those who aren't ready is not only a waste of precious time in preschool, but is potentially harmful and definitely outside the realm of what's considered developmentally appropriate. Too many parents get easily impressed by calendar activities in preschool (thinking their kids are getting “advanced” instruction) when, in reality, time could be much better spent on playing, exploring, and interacting.
Decades of research shows that little children learn differently than older ones, and that's why we have the field of early childhood education. Their brains are wired for sensory experiences, hands-on exploration, and kinesthetic learning. Sitting at circle time as the teacher drones on about numerals and patterns on the calendar is no benefit to them. Trying to make sense of time concepts such as yesterday, today, and tomorrow causes them unnecessary confusion, stress, and frustration.
I recently visited a top-notch preschool where an astute teacher did an amazing thing. After years of dutifully doing the calendar every morning with her class, she looked at the little faces before her and saw zombies. She had always loved doing the calendar (in fact, it was her favorite part of being a preschool teacher) but at that moment she saw how boring it was for the kids. After school that day she took down her gigantic calendar and gathered up all her calendar supplies.
The next week when her students came to school there was, much to their delight, a new dramatic play area in the corner—a classroom! It included a desk, chairs, writing materials, a chalkboard and, yes, that enormous calendar and all the calendar supplies. From that day forward, the children would pretend to be teachers. Instead of watching her go through the days of the week, the numerals, and the patterns, they got to do it by interacting with the materials themselves, not just sitting there and watching. It was preschool education at its very best!
Question: When I pick up my son from preschool, he always wants to invite friends to our house to play. Shouldn't he be worn out from playing at preschool?
Answer: Yes, he definitely should be! Unfortunately, many preschools in the United States are academically based, not play based, since parents are now fixated on getting their youngsters prepared for kindergarten. Kids, therefore, are now spending an unhealthy amount of time indoors, sitting at long circle times, and listening to teacher-directed lessons. They don't spend nearly enough time playing with each other, running, climbing, building, creating, talking, and pretending.
When my older son attended a cooperative parent preschool that followed the guidelines of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), he'd be wiped out at the end of class. That's because he had been riding tricycles, making canals in the sandbox, climbing on the jungle gym, hammering, building with blocks, and dressing up in the dramatic play corner. The entire three hours was him moving and doing. The only time he sat was while eating a snack and doing the 10-minute end-of-the-day sing-along. He was always ready for a nap after preschool because he was thoroughly exhausted—that wonderful kind of fatigue that comes from having so much fun and using so much creative energy.
Unfortunately, our family relocated so my younger son couldn't attend the same play-based preschool. Based on a neighbor's recommendation, I sent him to an academic based preschool and quickly discovered it was a huge mistake. Just like your boy, my son would beg me to invite friends over to our house to play after each class. These youngsters had spent the morning working in handwriting books, doing teacher-directed crafts at tables, listening to long circle times about the calendar and weather, sitting for two or three stories, and doing math-related learning stations. They were only given 15 minutes each day to spend outside. They were starving for more time to interact with one another and do activities of their choosing.
These contrasting experiences—one with a play based preschool and the other with an academic based one--motivated me to write an article on the topic. You might find it helpful in deciding whether to keep your son at this preschool or look for another. It's called “33 Reasons Why a Play Based Preschool Is Better Than an Academic One.” Here's the link: https://hubpages.com/education/Preschoolers-Learn-...
Question: What can I do as a teacher required to follow a curriculum that includes developmentally inappropriate and wasteful lessons?
Answer: You're certainly not alone as many preschool teachers today feel pressured to instruct in ways that go against what they learned in early childhood education classes. Some have walked away from their jobs because they strongly believe that preschool shouldn't be a preparation year for kindergarten but something separate, unique, and magical. Others like you are willing to stay and fight but aren't sure the best way to do it. I applaud you for wanting to make a difference.
Fortunately, preschool teachers who champion developmentally appropriate practices, play, exploration, hands-on learning, open-ended art, and child-centered experiences have the backing of developmental psychologists, pediatricians, early childhood scholars, and decades of research. The organization “Defending the Early Years” has a fantastic website with many powerful articles to read and share with parents and your employer. Posting articles in your classroom or your school newsletter will get them thinking about issues in a new light based on research, not emotion.
When it comes to education, some moms and dads today are governed by just one overwhelming feeling: anxiety. They're fearful that their youngsters won't be academically prepared for kindergarten. Preschool teachers need to help them see the bigger picture—that preschool is about preparing kids for life, not elementary school. A preschool teacher who can articulate these ideas and change the minds of parents has accomplished something profound.
When my son attended a co-op preschool, we had parent meetings once a month that included guest speakers. These individuals were psychologists, pediatricians, teachers, social workers, and community leaders. They talked about early childhood education in a broader sense and confirmed everything that we were doing at the preschool. They helped us parents see that a good preschool encourages play, socialization, and self-directed learning and turns out well-adjusted individuals who could handle challenges, live wholeheartedly, and be kind, contributing members of society.
I have an article called “33 Reasons Why a Play Based Preschool Is Better Than an Academic One.” The link is https://wehavekids.com/education/Preschoolers-Lear... It includes a TED Talk video by Dr. Peter Gray who discusses the decline of play and the rise of depression, anxiety, suicide, and narcissism among children and teens. It's something all parents should see, especially moms and dads of preschool-aged kids.
Question: Don't kids need time also to develop fine motor skills and writing skills, and that's why we should slow down and give only one letter per week?
Answer: If I were to add a sixth item to my list of developmentally inappropriate practices at preschool, it would be handwriting. Children should be playing, pretending, exploring, and socializing, not sitting at tables learning how to make symbols that have no meaning to them. This is only happening at preschools today because owners and teachers are under pressure from parents, politicians, and elementary schools to prepare youngsters for kindergarten. Common Core and other legislation have turned preschools into adult-centered environments that now serve an adult-centered agenda.
Preschoolers are the ones who get hurt by this. They should be doing activities that prepare them for the rest of their lives, not for kindergarten. They should be discovering how to get along with others, how to follow their interests to learn new things, how to enjoy time in nature and develop a respect for all living things, and how to use their imaginations to pretend their doctors, veterinarians, chefs, shopkeepers, and engineers. They should be doing things that make them happy, creative, curious, and healthier in body, mind, and soul. There's no benefit for them to do paper-pencil work at preschool.
For youngsters who are intrigued by letters and words, every preschool should have a writing center and dramatic play centers: an area with paper, markers, crayons, and pencils so they can make cards and create stories, a classroom library so they can look at books, and a dress-up corner so they can play school. The classroom should be a place where early literacy is celebrated with nursery rhymes, fairy tales, poems, songs, finger plays, and rhyming games. Kids shouldn't be forced to stop play, sit down, and do their abc's because that is the surest way to turn them off to writing.
Some kindergarten teachers lament that students now start school with weak fine motor skills and poor pincer grasps. That's because the activities that enhanced them (using play dough, stringing beads, doing puzzles, painting at the easel, creating with stickers, and playing games such as “Don't Break the Ice” and “Don't Spill the Beans”) have been replaced by screen time at home and long circle times and teacher-directed lessons at preschool.
Child-centered preschools were the norm a short while ago, backed by decades of research in early childhood education. Now, organizations such as DEY (Defending the Early Years) need to sound the alarm about academic preschools and the developmentally inappropriate practices they employ, especially in poor urban areas.
You may like to read my article entitled, “33 Reasons Why Parents Should Choose a Play-Based Preschool, Not an Academic One.”
Question: There was a time when kindergarten was part of early years. There has been a hard drive for kindergarten students to now do first grade work. I think kindergarten children should still be deeply involved in play. What do you think?
Answer: I agree wholeheartedly with you and so do most scholars in early childhood education and developmental psychology. As the US government pushed for better results in education (meaning higher standardized test scores), we got legislation such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core. Sadly, no group has been more negatively impacted by this than our youngest learners.
Shockingly, no K-3 classroom teachers and no early childhood professionals sat on the committee that wrote the Common Core standards for kindergarten through third grade. That’s why we wound up with such misguided goals that don’t address the unique needs of little ones. That’s why play was left out of the equation.
As a result, kindergarten classrooms turned from joyful places filled with play, creativity, movement, and social interaction into serious academic environments. Now, little kids must sit still in reading groups, are expected to acquire a long laundry list of skills, and must endure endless assessments of their abilities. When I visit kindergartens today, easels are hidden away in storage closets, puppet theaters have been donated to Goodwill, and play kitchens are a thing of the past.
Scholars in early childhood education say there is little evidence that suggests early reading and other academic skills have any long term benefits. However, there is a lot of proof that a lack of play results in higher rates of depression, anxiety, narcissism, obesity, and poor social skills.
You may want to read my article entitled: “What’s Wrong With Kindergarten in America and How We Can Fix It.”
Thanks for your question!
Question: The 4s teacher in a 3 hour a day preschool pairs children up and tells them where to play and rotates them through centers until the whole playtime is up. Is there any research that supports this rotational method for preschool play? The centers are play-based but the kids have no choice. I believe I know the answer but I wanted to hear your thoughts.
Answer: Dr. Peter Gray, a professor of research psychology who's studied the role of play in human evolution, is my favorite expert on this matter. He's the author of "Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life." In his work, he makes the crucial distinction between “guided play” and “free play.” He argues that kids today get plenty of guided play from parents, teachers, and coaches but not nearly enough free play by themselves and with their peers.
Guided play is what you're describing in this particular situation as the teacher controls the parameters and has learning goals in mind. I imagine that she has aims for each center, whether it's exploring math manipulatives, building with blocks, or creating with art materials. While guided play is certainly a developmentally appropriate practice for preschool, it shouldn't be a substitute for free play according to Dr. Gray.
Free play is his passion and he champions it in his speeches, books, and articles. With free play, children are in control and are led by their own unique curiosities. Unlike guided play, there's no adult interference. As such, it builds a youngster's independence, initiative, and self-confidence.
Dr. Gray's research explores how free play has decreased significantly in the past 50-70 years with a corresponding increase in depression, anxiety, stress, narcissism, and suicide among children and teens (I would also include obesity). The decline of free play has also been marked by the decline of social skills, empathy, and creativity.
You may be interested in my article entitled: “33 Reasons to Choose a Play-Based Preschool, Not an Academic One.” https://wehavekids.com/education/Preschoolers-Lear... It includes a fantastic video of Dr. Gray doing a TED Talk about the importance of free play.
© 2016 McKenna Meyers
McKenna Meyers (author) on August 16, 2019:
Marietrue, your son is so lucky to have you. I wrote this article for you, me, and all the parents and teachers who know preschool has gone way off course. Today, many school districts have pre-K programs or “transitional kindergartens.” Instead of hiring teachers with degrees in early childhood education, they hire within—only educators with K-12 degrees. They do this because their focus is extremely narrow; they want to prepare kids academically for kindergarten. My sons went to a play-based parent co-op preschool. Today, one is in college and one is in high school. They both have 4.0 grade point averages. Missing out on the rote learning in preschool didn't hold them back one bit but made them self-motivated learners. You may be interested in reading my article about circle time entitled, “Why Circle Time at Preschool Is a Waste of Time and Small Group Activities Are Better.”
marietrue on August 16, 2019:
My four-year-old has entered voluntary preschool this year. I was a little hesitant but thought that he would benefit from going away for 3 hours and socializing. During orientation one of the first things I noticed was that the room did not look like a preschool it was set up to look more like a 3rd grade classroom. At that point I wasn't too convinced . It just didn't have a kid fun feel to it. But I thought maybe I was overreacting. Turns out I wasn't. At pick up I found him sitting on the floor in tears, visibly shaken and red in the face. The reason behind it was that he wouldnt sit during circle time so he couldn't participate. Since he was born I've stayed-at-.home with him and his learning experience has beeen more traditional and consist of outings, scavenger hunts, dance play, Play-Doh, cooking, visits to the library... and it works. He knows numbers, letters sounds...lifeskills dressing, his phone number...I was hurt to have had to experience this. I should have known better. My 9 year old didnt go preschool or kindergarden and is a 4th grade straight A honor roll student. This article is amazing. It has helped me put in words what I already knew and believed but couldn't express. I want my 4 year old to develope his character, to find his talent not become a robot repeating and reciting. So glad I found this. Ty.
Faten Abu Qias on March 23, 2019:
Thanks a lot,,, apparently it seems that you don't believe in academics even in kindergartens not only in preschools and this is what I wanted to know (and even thought we expose them to academics should be in a fun and hands on activities ) i can tell that from the way you explained about common core disadvantages on kids which i have already read many articles about the frustration that kids get when they don't meet the expectations and which i also believe in as an educator,, by the way am asking and interested because i have been in the field for 23 years as a KG 2 teacher and as a principal in my country and i know exactly what you are talking about . so before reading all the articles you post, i know and believe in it ,it is my philosophy , vision and mission , but i wanted to know more details about the standards and expectations ,levels and limits that distinguish between kindergartens and preschools cause it is easy to convince people of this when it comes to preschool but the main problem is kindergartens and their expectations worldwide except for( the countries with outstanding education systems (Japan, Germany, Finland),as you mentioned most of them believe in academics in kindergarten to prepare them for primary and grade one !,,,and here is the real conflict between what kids really need and the expectations around them , if you ask me my opinion i would tell you that i believe in the Finland experiment in education that kids are not ready to read and write before age 7 although we find others can do it earlier cause there are abilities at the end but in my opinion if we had to give them literacy and numeracy we should give in a light and playful way, yes kids can be exposed to this but not obliged to master them .
So since i don't own a kindergarten I discovered that i have to pick and choose a kindergarten that has and applies this ideology like Montessori, Reggie Emilia , Wardrolf system and centered approached system otherwise i would be a victim of the parents and owners force and pressure .
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 22, 2019:
Faten, students at public kindergartens in the United States are subjected to the Common Core standards for writing. They include: printing many upper and lowercase letters, writing a letter/letters for most consonant and short-vowel sounds, and using a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces, informative texts, and narratives.
An experienced and knowledgeable kindergarten teacher can work toward these goals in a light and playful way, knowing some students will achieve them and some won't. However, anxious, fledgling teachers may force these expectations onto children who aren't ready, causing them undue stress and turning them off to writing. This can have long-term negative consequences.
Many concerned parents have told me that their kindergartens are now required to write complete paragraphs by the end of the school year. This represents a distortion of the Common Core standards and can hurt kids. Many youngsters have vivid imaginations, are fantastic storytellers, and delight in dictating tales to adults. Forcing them to write them down, rather than dictate them, can make something fun and creative become misery.
In many countries with outstanding education systems (Japan, Germany, Finland), kids in kindergarten are allowed to be kids and writing is not taught until later. Early childhood educators in these places appreciate that children need more time to develop their fine motor skills through play, rather than paper-pencil tasks.
You may want to read my article entitled, “How We Killed Kindergarten in America and How We Can Revive It.”
Faten Abu Qias on March 22, 2019:
my question was about kindergarten not preschools cause am totally agreed with you about the whole concept but i was asking about kindergarten when when kids are exposed to letters at once i thought this way they wont be able to practice fine motor skills cause i believe also that kids in preschools and kindergartens need to practice all activities of fine motor skills before using pencils ,,so i do know know and believe with all you have said but i wanted to know if there is a difference in standards and expectations between preschools and kindergartens cause i do know and do all what you have said
McKenna Meyers (author) on October 15, 2018:
Yes, Sandhya, you definitely have a point. There are fewer teachers today who understand what a child-centered classroom is. Many inexperienced teachers think they must be center-stage, filling their students with knowledge. I watched a circle time last week conducted by a new, enthusiastic teacher. It went on for at least 45 minutes with calendar, weather, yesterday-today-tomorrow, counting to 100, counting in Spanish, counting by 2's, 5's, and 10's, saying the days of the week, etc.
The children had memorized how to respond but didn't have any grasp of these concepts. This time would have been better spent by letting them play: learning to communicate their thoughts, working together on a common goal, sharing and compromising, solving problems, thinking in creative ways, and manipulating real materials.
Sandhya on October 14, 2018:
I totally agree with points raised but sad part is there is little else teachers know .
McKenna Meyers (author) on October 14, 2018:
Welcome, Sandy! You're certainly not alone as many preschool (and kindergarten) teachers feel pressured to instruct in ways that aren't developmentally appropriate. Some preschools now hire former elementary school teachers who have no background in early childhood education but know what academic preparation is necessary for kindergarten. The big picture of preschool--developing a love of learning, encouraging curiosity and wonder, and promoting cooperation and team work--is minimized in order to make time for counting, making letter sounds, and practicing handwriting. Hopefully, we can get back to when preschool was a magical year of play and socialization and not merely preparation for elementary school.
Sandy Juergens on October 14, 2018:
Oh , thank you to my baby room teacher for sending me this link! Thank the Heavens above that there are other teachers out there like us! We just thought we had more common sense than certainly any parent or other teachers that are TOO MUCH BY THE BOOK and dont consider that yes we too were young once and i still have memories of kindergarten ie: " color the stop light" my top was brown, middle was purple, n bottom was orange" (1974) my teacher put it on the board, i was SO excited! THIS IS EXACTLY NOT HOW TO COLOR A STOPLIGHT!"
McKenna Meyers (author) on October 14, 2018:
Danny, I'm so glad forest schools are catching on in the United States. I so admire teachers and parents who swim against the tide and do what's right by kids. I imagine moms and dads who send their youngsters to your school are strong, independent thinkers who've read up on the importance of unstructured play, outdoor experiences, and child-centered learning. They're not going to compromise what they know is best just so their children are academically prepared for kindergarten. They know when they pick up their dirty, exhausted, and excited kids that it was a wonderful day. I wish you continued success at your school. Thanks for sharing!
McKenna Meyers (author) on October 14, 2018:
Linda, you were the kind of preschool teacher every parent should want for their child. I think many do, but they're too fearful that their youngsters won't be prepared for kindergarten and will be placed in the low reading group. The joy of learning and the excitement of discovery is what you provided and that will stay with a child forever.
Danny Burr on October 13, 2018:
After 20 years teaching preschool around the SF Bay Area, my vo-facilitator and I opened a forest school in Alameda, CA. with the intent to eliminate all the things we saw as developmentally inapproriate, and at times counter-productive, to the children's growth and well being. This list is spot-on and along with our belief that children are capable of knowing their limits and able to navigate social situations with very little interference from we big folks, the results are healthy, curious, happy, well-adjusted kids who rarely get sick despite the lack of hand-washing every five minutes, rarely injure themselves, despite traversing the rusty-metal and slippery-bouldered shoreline of an abandoned naval base daily.
And oddly enough, the ones we've sent on to kindergarten and beyond are adjusting to classroom routine and learning along side their peers just fine.
Seems letting kids be kids really has payed off after ten thousand years of practice... Go figure!
Linda on October 13, 2018:
After 40 years in state preschool and Head start I learned a lot from the children. You see, I was the messy teacher.
I also was assigned children that other teachers couldn’t handle.
We experienced in my classroom.
Buckets of mud to swather your hands in, red worms to watch and feel, being careful not to hurt, always easles up with tons of paint and paper, play dough that had “bumps” added for texture so one could feel differences and describe that feeling, talking time where we talked about a subject the children chose and then we wrote out story about it, acting out stories we read several times and made props to use( the three pigs, Billy Goat Gruff), pasting and glueing miles of child designed papers... the custodian hated me. But the kids loved me! There were rules, yes, Be kind! Share! Take turns, trade toys. What a wonderful 40 years and I sometimes meet my old students and they still talk about Tomato worm races and snail races!
McKenna Meyers (author) on October 13, 2018:
Thanks for sharing your experience, Susan. It's good we're letting the cat out of the bag regarding calendar in preschool and kindergarten. Young, inexperienced teachers need to know the truth and not wonder to themselves: Why aren't the kids getting this? Why am I failing? Maybe, I just need to drill it in longer and harder!
Calendar has become such a staple of early childhood education but, as you said, is largely a waste of time and deserves our scrutiny. I love how some teachers have turned over the calendar to the kids so they can use it during dramatic play. They have such fun using their imaginations and making sense of it in their own unique way. It makes a powerful statement about the value of moving from an adult-centered classroom to a child-centered one.
Susan Snell on October 12, 2018:
Through my experience in teaching Pre-K and K, I have found that calendar is both overwhelming and a waste of time for my young students. I teach three-year-olds and only do calendar time to talk about what today is (because they actually ask), the weather, and our daily schedule (we have different specials classes everyday). Our calendar time is no more than five minutes.
McKenna Meyers (author) on October 12, 2018:
You're so right, Christine. Preschool teachers know how young children learn best but must adapt their strategies to less than ideal conditions: a student-teacher ratio that's too high, a classroom that's too small, not enough age-appropriate materials, and not enough early intervention services for youngsters with emotional and behavioral issues. The pay is low and the conditions are often poor so the turnover rate among early childhood educators is high. Things are made even worse when parents, owners, and politicians want students prepared academically for kindergarten. This forces teachers to instruct in ways that are developmentally inappropriate, not fun, and turn off kids to learning.
Christine Mills on October 11, 2018:
I'm going to try this again. It erased my last coment. I don't know where you all get off on telling teachers the things that are a waste of time teaching children. What i suggust all you all to pay us more, provide us with ALL the materials that suit these children to learn the " right way" and lower the ratio so they get more of the one on one attention they deserve.
McKenna Meyers (author) on October 11, 2018:
You're welcome, Mirian. I think many of us preschool teachers (myself included) have gone down the wrong road when teaching art. It's so easy to get enticed by the multitude of Pinterest projects that get raves from parents. However, we really need to stop and ask ourselves: How are the children benefiting from doing this project? What are they learning from it? How is it stimulating their creativity? How is it promoting a love for the artistic process?
If we answer truthfully, we'll realize that it doesn't benefit the youngsters in any way but actually hurts them. Teacher-directed craft projects inhibit their originality and ingenuity, robbing them of the joy that comes from artistic expression. If preschool teachers articulate why creating art is more valuable to kids than doing craft projects, they'll find that parents will get on board and be supportive.
Mirian on October 11, 2018:
Wow your article brought light to what I am struggle with and also the art thing hit me strate on thank you because I was In the wrong rode
McKenna Meyers (author) on May 22, 2018:
Oh, Divya, I wish you and I could join our voices on the highest mountaintop and shout to all parents of preschoolers: "Worksheets are not developmentally appropriate!" Yet, even if we did that, there would still be moms and dads who see paper-pencil tasks as "true learning" and insist on it for their kids (the same can be said for any so-called "educational" program on the computer).
My 4-year-old neighbor attends a big-name tutoring club once a week, and I recently took a peek at her homework. It was page after page of tedious phonics work (e.g. Circle the pictures that begin with B). She absolutely hates doing it so her mom bribes her. They would get a much better result by just cuddling and reading Dr. Seuss books, but Mom is too afraid that her daughter won't be ready for kindergarten and will be placed in the low reading group like her older sister was. It's a sad state of affairs for little kids!
McKenna Meyers (author) on May 22, 2018:
Thanks for your comments, Shreya. Calendar has become such a staple in preschool (and kindergarten) so it's necessary to question it. I visit dozens of preschools each year and watch kids zoning out during calendar time as teachers go through the paces: the days of the week, yesterday/today/tomorrow, the patterns, the numerals, and the counting (by 1's, 2's, and 5's). It seems to get longer and longer!
Clued-in teachers know that many kids get nothing from calendar because they're not developmentally ready to understand those concepts. Instead these clever educators have a calendar available for kids to explore during play time. The children love doing this, pretending to be teachers or office workers. This kind of hands-on experience is developmentally appropriate, stimulates the imagination, and is lots of fun. Kids who are ready still learn about numerals, patterns, and counting. It's hard for some teachers to let go of their calendar routine because they love doing it so, but this approach serves the children so much more!
Divya on May 22, 2018:
It's an insightful read. The part about the calendar is quite surprising. It's time to unlearn and relearn certain things. At the same time, it's important for parents (especially those who send their children to language and math classes) to know and understand worksheets aren't developmentally appropriate.
Shreya Pandya on May 22, 2018:
This article is an eye-opener (calendar). I totally agree that experiential learning and authentic investigation advances intellectual capabilities of the students.
McKenna Meyers (author) on April 11, 2018:
Christine, you sound like a fabulous teacher and your students are lucky to have you. Your enthusiasm for your job flies off the page as I read your words. I love what you said about providing opportunities for children but not forcing them (that's a recipe for making them dislike that particular activity). I think so many parents today worry there's something wrong with their child if she can't sit still and listen at circle time. Parents are hyper-focused on "preparing" kids for kindergarten. Experienced teachers like you ease their minds and help them see that this behavior is normal. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and your love for teaching preschool!
Christine on April 11, 2018:
I work in a pre-K class. I have worked/played with children for over twenty years and oh my are children smart these days. I have children who love circle time and project time. They love to learn new things and I provide that for them. I would never want to be in a class that had no sort of introduction to learning about our world and how we live day to day. The majority of the kids understand calendar by mid year in my class. And it’s interesting that you then start to see them connecting the calendar to when they have their stay home days or when they are going on vacation or when a friend is coming back to school, and when their swim lesson is. There is endless opportunities to learn with the calendar. It represents the passage of time. It sparks up conversations about so many topics. I will never underestimate a child’s ability to comprehend calendar. Of course you may have children not quite understand but that’s ok they are involved in other parts of the calendar and conversation. Calendar will never be a waste of time in my classroom unless the children show me otherwise. With art, children at 4-5 LOVE producing product as well as open ended. They are provided with the materials and then create on their own. It’s amazing to see what they create and their confidence is so boosted. No ones art is the same ever. But they always want to make something whether it’s product or not. No ones judged because they are always reminded it’s their own vision, their own creativity. And getting children involved in experiments with science is never too much. They thrive on cause and effect and LOVE to find out The WHY of everything. Children need more these days they crave it and I see it everyday. Play is a huge part of the day, but the small part of instruction is soooo beneficial. It also teaches children self regulation when you have some structure within the day, especially circle time where there is some sitting involved as well as movement. Out of twenty kids their may be one or two who just can’t handle it at times and they are never made to stay. Children should be offered opportunities but never FORCED to do anything. That would be considered INAPPROPRIATE and not developmental. I love my job! I love children!
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 28, 2018:
Thanks, Jessica! It's very sad that DAP, which is basically common sense and respecting and celebrating kids at their stage of development, needs a public awareness campaign. We have really gone far adrift from what our children deserve. I'll have to give some consideration to your suggestions!
Jessica on March 28, 2018:
Hi McKenna! Man, you hit the big ones and put it really well! Have you thought about somehow turning this into an info-graphic or a series of memes? I would love to have some things mocking these elements as ridiculous to share across social media, which seems to be the way ideas spread these days. I feel like DAP needs a Public Awareness campaign to change the tide - make me some cartoons I can share! ;)
Nicole Stone on March 21, 2018:
Thanks for the very well stated comment McKenna! All of my 5 year olds that move onto Kindergarten are ready. They know their letters and sounds and pass the entrance exams with flying colors. I have worked in different programs for over 30 years, and I LOVE my job. Watching the children "experience" new things is amazing, but hearing them giggle when they are getting the subject all together is the very best!
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 20, 2018:
Beautifully said, Sandra! I'm not going to argue with an early childhood educator of 42 years. That's truly amazing.
Sandra Brown Turner on March 20, 2018:
I have read all of this article three times. As an early educator for 42 years, I mostly agree with the author's premises. I would like to weigh in on the concept of circle time.
Long, drawn out circle times are indeed not DAP. However, from a social development perspective, children need to feel they are part of the whole, to offer up ideas and thoughts that their peers can hear, to pose questions for consideration. It is during circle time that projects emerge for further development.
From a cognitive development perspective, circle time offers children a beginning of the day, a time to work, and closure to process about the day - what was explored, what was discovered, what may we do tomorrow. REggio Emilia inspired teachers call this 'provocione.'
So let's not throw circle time away, let's bring it back into perspective by making it a child-centered, interest peeking, planning time.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 20, 2018:
I can certainly understand your frustration, Nicole. But, I also see the parents' point of view as they hear from friends and family how kindergarten has changed, is academically rigorous, and children must be prepared. The Common Core standards in kindergarten have taken away so much play and creativity and have added a long checklist of skills, on-going assessments, and less hands-on learning. It takes a strong and well-informed parent to choose a play-based preschool and resist societal pressures for something academic.
I would stick to your guns and present your school as an alternative to those that have long circle times, teacher-directed lessons, and workbooks. Tell parents that you do not see preschool as a time to get youngsters ready for kindergarten. Instead, you see it as a unique time when kids' brains are wired to learn from experiences, not paper-pencil tasks. It's your philosophy that learning through play is best that makes the difference. While other preschools try to offer whatever they think parents want (Chinese, yoga, STEM), your program is backed up by developmental psychologists, early childhood experts, and experienced teachers. Hold firm and good luck!
Nicole Stone on March 20, 2018:
I am a director of a "play-based" preschool and totally and completely stand behind how we do things. The strange part for me is that the parents are constantly pulling their kids for something more "academic" program. We introduce all subjects during our day and our kids love being here. It is the PARENTS that want us to change. Educating them about play seems to move right past them. It is so frustrating. I do bulletin boards on why scissor skills are important and other informational boards to help people realize, but nothing seems to work! Any Ideas to stop losing business to this topic?
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 13, 2018:
Yes, Jay, adjusting to people and activities away from home is a goal of preschool and a good one. We once focused on the affective realm in early childhood education: getting kids to feel confident in different situations, excited about learning, and happy to discover new things. But, with today's attention on preparing kids academically for kindergarten, the affective realm has been marginalized and we're pushing cognitive development with longer circle times, more teacher-directed lessons, more assessments, and less play and creativity. The repercussions of this are devastating.
Young children are actually getting stressed out at preschool and that impairs their learning far into the future. A stressed out learner is not an efficient learner. About 10-15 years ago, there was a movement in many parts of the country (mostly poor inner-city schools) to reduce or even eliminate recess because more "academic minutes" were needed. Well, a lot of misguided people (not teachers) thought that was a great solution, but it wasn't. We wound up with childhood obesity issues, anxious and depressed kids, and restless students who needed outdoor breaks for their mental and emotional well-being.
Jay Knight on March 13, 2018:
Since I don't have any letters before or after my name, this will probably go unnoticed. I thought that the main objective for pre school was not in it's self to teach but more so the kids could adjust being away from their parents and away from home. The idea of teaching them days of week, or crafts is secondary to the child adjusting to being with other kids he/she don't know or have met before and adjusting them to the element of time, when you do certain things. All of that will be held on to by the child, but the necessarily will not correlate it with the proper instant. It will afford the child the opportunity to learn different things that have not a real bearing on them being there, but something they can recall later on in grade school, while all the time the crafts , days of week, are teaching them they can function being away from home and parents, and being surrounded by strangers, which in reality becomes new friends. When they enter grade school the fear of being away from home or parents has greatly decreased. You have to accept what is being done in pre school for the real reason it is there.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 13, 2018:
Perfectly said, Susan, from the voice of experience. On the bright side, there is a movement toward "outdoor schools" in the U.S. with the children spending the majority of their time in nature -- playing, exploring, and building. Finland has wonderful schools, the envy of the world, and they do not emphasize academics in the early years. Their focus is on the overall well-being of the child and spending time outside is a big part of that.
Susan Mccarroll on March 13, 2018:
I was a preschool for 35 years
Take the children outside
Learning about nature ,climbing a tree and catching some bugs is so much more important than circle time ,calendars etc
Let them get some fresh air! Let then scream and run
Lay them down and have them imagine things that.clouds can be
They are 3 and 4
There is plenty of time to learn what will be required of them later
Rosy M on March 12, 2018:
I should’ve stop reading as soon as I saw NAEYC. Come and spend sometime in an actual classroom. You’ll learn the reasons why we do certain activities. :)
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 12, 2018:
Cheryl, your voice of reason and experience speaks loudly. I so agree with you. My son attended a fantastic co-op preschool and his teacher spent most of the day walking around and helping the children solve conflicts with the all-powerful "how." How can everyone help to build that sand castle? How can you two share the blocks and make that tower higher? How can you all work together and clean up that area?
She was not the source of all knowledge; she was a facilitator who got the kids thinking, solving problems, and acting cooperatively. She wasn't at a table drilling kids on the alphabet or listening to them count to 100. She was constantly moving, guiding, and keeping things running smoothly. She was amazing.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 12, 2018:
Greg, we have more information about neuroscience and how young children learn best than ever before so it's maddening when we do the opposite. Students in early childhood education are learning about cognitive development (emotional and social, too) at college and then are made to do other in the real world. We know the brains of young learners are highly receptive to experiences (more so than older kids and adults) and that's why hands-on learning, play, and exploration are key. We also know that stress on young children hinders their learning and may have long-term negative consequences. Kids don't need stress-inducing experiences such as long circle times, assessments, little play, and a lack of outdoor time.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 12, 2018:
I'm so glad you can use this, Carey. Teachers who took early childhood education classes become so disillusioned when they start working at a preschool and are told to do things in direct opposition to what they learned at college. I worked for an owner who had no background in early childhood education. She was a former first grade teacher who just adapted the elementary school curriculum for preschool. Doesn't work! My fellow teachers and I knew more than she did about early learners, but she was the boss so we had workbooks, calendar, circle time, and all the other expected activities that do little to benefit the kids. The parents were impressed, though!
Cheryl on March 12, 2018:
As a 40 year nursery school teacher veteran,I agree with this article.
What we need to focus on is social emotional development and conflict resolution.
There is more of a focus on the cognitive development than everyday getting along with each other .I have seen recurring aggression via biting,hitting,spitting and kicking among 3,4,5 year olds.These are the issues which need to be addressed.The cognitive development is easy and can be integrated into the day while intervening in conflictvresolution and possibly family dynamics is much more difficult.
Greg on March 11, 2018:
I recall something called Cognative Development taught in our Education Psychology classes at college. It didn't mean much to me until I saw it (or a lack of it) in a real classroom of children.
Did they quit teaching it?
Carey on March 11, 2018:
This is SO timely for me! I’m an early childhood teacher coach, and working so hard to get my childcare teachers - and (both more importantly and MORE difficult) the directors to understand why they need to give up the worksheets. I cannot wait to send this to all of my teachers and directors. Thank you!
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 11, 2018:
Rharha, thanks so much for sharing. It's good to know you folks in Canada saw the folly of academic rigor in preschool and moved back to a common sense research-based approach. We in the United States are insisting on going against all the evidence that shows play, pretend, hands-on learning, and exploration is best. When will we ever learn? Finland's schools are a model of excellence and they don't have structured lessons until age 7.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 11, 2018:
Thanks, Ann, for your comments. Preschool and kindergarten teachers should ban together and say, "Early education is unique. We're about giving kids a developmentally appropriate experience with play, pretend, hands-on learning, exploration, and socialization. We are not about getting kids ready for the following years. We are not just the first step on the assembly line of education."
Unfortunately, this is not happening, but the opposite occurs. First grade teachers blame kindergarten teachers for not getting the students ready. Kindergarten teachers blame preschool teachers and so on. Talented and experienced teachers are thought to be old-fashioned because they don't want to go along with the push-down curriculum and want to adhere to what experts in early childhood education recommend.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 11, 2018:
Kittay, thanks for sharing your experiences with your students. You are so right about politicians/administrators taking away autonomy from teachers and trying to make learning one-size-fits-all. That's why so many talented teachers have left the profession.
There are huge differences in children; they don't all learn the same things at the same time, and good, experienced educators know this. Parents get needlessly worried when their child is behind, thinking there's something wrong with her when she's just reflecting individual differences among kids. Best of everything to you and your class!
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 11, 2018:
I'm glad this will come in handy when parents ask you about worksheets. Believe me, I feel your pain! I also feel the anxiety that many preschool parents have, knowing so much is expected of their kids in kindergarten.
There's a kindergarten in our town where the kids come in knowing how to read. Parents who want to send their kids to it realize this is the expectation and they better get them reading. There's no research that shows early reading has any long-term benefits and the emphasis on it takes away opportunities for hands-on learning, exploration, socializing, and play.
Rharha74 on March 11, 2018:
This is all true I am a RECE (Registered Early Childhood Educator.) and where I am from we haven't beem doing this for years (almost two decades). I don't lnow where this is from, but in Ontario Canada the Kindergartens are moving away from these approached because they do noy effectivly educate young children.Open ended materials, loose parts, time and space to be creative, problem solve, test theories, learn and use life skills, be independent, etc, etc. are much more effective and allow the child to learn at his/her own pace and developmental stage. Not all children of one age are at the same place in their development. I think we should research and embrace this style of learning in order to offer our xhildren the best start they can have!
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 11, 2018:
Nancy, I love the "dead man test" and it's more appropriate now than ever before. Our children are facing a job market full of challenges, and they need to be both critical and creative thinkers. Automation is eliminating so many positions, and the worker of tomorrow needs to have a thirst for knowledge, be flexible, and adapt. All the things we once emphasized in preschool -- working together, solving problems, and coming up with new ideas -- are what workers of the future need the most.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 11, 2018:
I salute you, NrsM. You are my hero and I wish I could give parents of preschoolers your name and number! Unfortunately, so many conscientious and knowledgeable teachers like you have left the profession, unwilling to compromise what they know is best for kids. Bravo to you for opening your own preschool. Now you have like-minded parents who believe in the power of play. That's rare these days.
Ann on March 11, 2018:
Well that is fine and good,however,it’s not reality. So instead of picking out the preschool classroom let’s look at kindergarten. Also,it’s exposure to the children . If done correctly circle time can be appropriatel
kittay on March 11, 2018:
I would like to agree with all of this but as someone stated already. Some good does come from showing these things you're talking about. What if you have a class of kids who LIKE doing worksheets? I have 5 kids going to Kinder. this year that are already reading from doing worksheets. Sight words on worksheets to learn sounding out and reading that I've used for months now.
Also My kids use to learn through Dramatic play but state came in and told us " NO MORE DRESS UP " because kids can't put on the same clothes a friend just had on... Someone is always trying to tell teachers what they need to do or how to teach. I have 13 kids and not every kid is the same or class. Do what works for you and your class. How about we write things about what state is taking away from hard working under paid preschools. You don't have be a "well-educated preschool teacher" to inspire young souls and teach.
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 11, 2018:
Thanks, Rene. There's a huge turn-over rate in early childhood education because the pay is low and the conditions often aren't great. That's why owners/directors need to offer training/classes on a regular basis to their teachers. Unfortunately, too many of them are just responding to the "push-down" curriculum in elementary schools with children learning more at earlier ages. They take the elementary school lessons and try to make them work with the little ones. This is not what preschoolers need. That's why it's crucial to have strong owners/directors who won't cave to the pressure for academic rigor and can articulate the importance of play.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 11, 2018:
Thanks, Christa. The organization, "Defending the Early Years," has a website that's full of wonderful information, advocating for play-based learning. Two experts in the field, Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Diane Levin write blogs for it. Nancy has co-authored a terrific article entitled "Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose" that's there and is definitely worth reading.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 11, 2018:
Thanks, Holly. You are so right. Studies show that preschool children in wealthier areas are still largely getting the play, socialization, and hands-on experiences they need. It's children in poor urban areas that are not getting enough outside time, exploration, and play. They are getting too many structured lessons, assessments, and worksheets. They're getting turned off to school at an early age and may never recover from it. Some of these little ones even get suspended from preschool for bad behavior (bad behavior meaning they can't sit still and listen because they're normal kids)!
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 11, 2018:
Thanks, Rika, for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I chuckle (and then feel sad) when I see job listings for "infant teachers." Babies don't need teachers; they need loving and attentive parents and caregivers. They need to be held, fed, diapered, and given tummy time. Yes, they benefit from being read to, but they're not learning new vocabulary and getting any meaning from it. It's all in the affective realm as the love, communication, and physical contact creates a loving connection with books. Preschool is the same.
When we studied to become early childhood educators in college and grad school, our professors never told us young children need longer circle times, teacher-directed lessons, and craft projects. No, we read and heard from experts in the field about the value of play, the importance of hands-on learning, the need for creativity, exploration, and socialization. Then, in the real world of today, we're asked to do the opposite. Preschool teachers are now under so much pressure to prepare students for kindergarten, and I think that's insane. Preschool is a unique time and shouldn't be just another year of a youngster's academic journey. That's why I recommend preschools that have strong philosophies: Montessori, Waldorf, and play-based co-ops.
Nancy Hull on March 11, 2018:
I worked in special ed. I had a prof who use to say "Before you teach something give it the Dead Man test.If a dead man can do it don't waste your time teaching it." The best example was sitting still at circle time or at a desk.
NrsM on March 11, 2018:
I love everything about this article!!!! As a preschool teacher, I opened up my own preschool because I wanted to stop comforming to methodology I didn’t believe in! My preschool is play-based, child directed, and they are free to explore our materials and be kids! My kids have strong hand and fine motor skills, they are free-thinking and creative and :gasp!: They CAN sit for a story even with all that freedom
Rene Molelekoa on March 11, 2018:
Thank you for so much for eye opening of what we teach out children. Change is good. We need to teach them to be good listeners. Our practitioners must under go training at all times.
Christa on March 10, 2018:
Yes to all of your points!! Thank you for writing this! I work with Early Childhood teachers and have to address these exact issues daily. I'd love to share this with some, but I'd like to also back it with research. Do you happen to have links to any research to back these points? I know it's out there because that's why this is spot on! It's research proven!
Holly on March 10, 2018:
Very good article. I am of this same mindset that children need to learn through play and not through flashcards and worksheets.
Rika Whelan on March 10, 2018:
I am an Early Childhood Teacher and I completely disagree with you!
1. The Calendar: this is an introduction to everything you said they learn. They might not be ready to learn yet, but they still need an inteoduction to it! Schools rely on the fact that preschools introduce these topics to children so that when they go to big school it isn't all new to them.
2. Crafts, completely agree about product vs process, but when children go to school, they all have to draw the vase of flowers in the front of the class, so teacher directed crafts can (sometimes, not all the time) guide the child as to how to use certain craft materials. How will you know what it is really made for or used for if no one ever teaches you?
3. There should definitely be a balance between child-directed and teacher-led. Some activities during the day need to be led by the teacher and others child-led. Circle time is important as it prepares children for sitting on the mt and listening to their teacher. This is what they do at school. So should a child get free reign at preschool and then when they get to big school can't sit on the mat and listen to their friends because they were not prepared for that at preschool. The poor teacher has her hands full now doesn't she. She can't teach her curriculum because the child isn't school ready.
4. Yes a 2 and 3 year old should definitely not be doing worksheets, but a 4 and 5 year old who will be going to school the following year should atleast be introduced to them. Atleast once a month or so (not more, I agree there). They need to be introduced to working on these so that when they get to school it is not completely new.
5. Again, introduction is important!! When they get to school then it isn't all new.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 03, 2018:
Ms. Sarah, you sound like a caring and competent preschool teacher. My concern is that preschool and kindergarten have become just regular academic years in a long line of academic years; preschool is about getting ready for kindergarten, kindergarten is about getting ready for first grade, first grade is about getting ready for second grade and so on. The magic and uniqueness of early childhood education is eroding--the play, the friends, the cooking, the painting, the dressing up, and, most significantly, the imagination. I'm around preschool children all the time who don't know how to use their imaginations and pretend to be different people/ different animals in different situations. At such a young age, they can't pretend. They need adults (or, more typically, technology) to entertain them. As play decreases, we see more children struggle with depression and anxiety. Finland has an extremely successful school system and there they delay structured learning until 7. This push for "academic rigor" earlier and earlier is an American obsession. I love what Jean Piaget said, "When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself." Take care and thanks for leaving your thoughtful comments!
Ms. Sarah on March 03, 2018:
This is an interesting article. It popped up in my Pinterest Feed. Thank you for taking the time to write it. I agree and disagree with what you are proposing. Have you heard of Get Set For School? I chose this curriculum for my K4 class because it includes play-based learning as well as introduces children to what they will be learning in K5. I also incorporate sensory tables for Science activities and design developmentally appropriate art projects to fit my letter of the week. I also include review of letters throughout the week. My K3 teacher uses the play-based learning aspects of Get Set For School and develops the rest of her curriculum to be developmentally appropriate which includes a letter of the week and circle time. The reason we both choose to have a letter of the week is because the kids really enjoy it and get excited about it and so that each letter is intentionally taught. The reason we have calendar time incorporated into our first morning circle time is to introduce the concept of time to our students since that concept is greatly overlooked in schools today. It's merely to introduce them, not to force them to figure it all out.
McKenna Meyers (author) on July 14, 2016:
Jennifer, you are anything but lazy! Homeschooling takes a lot of energy, talent, and organization. Many parents know it's best but couldn't imagine making that kind of commitment.
Your son is lucky to be able to explore art without judgment. When I taught preschool, the parents were so thrilled with the teacher-directed projects where the kids copied the teacher's sample (the owner made us do these). They'd often make sour faces when their children had a "messy" painting to take home. They had no idea what real kids art looked like. It made me sad.
Jennifer Mugrage from Columbus, Ohio on July 14, 2016:
Amen and amen!
I home school my three kids. This explains why my 4-year-old still has no clue about the days of the week. He does enjoy circle time, because we're all together and we sing.
He has started doing drawings which are not recognizable to anyone but himself. But he takes great care over them, choosing a variety of colors. It's fun to watch.
Yet I know some people probably think I'm a lazy parent because I have not enrolled him in preschool.
Thanks for this well-informed article and the delightful pictures of preschoolers.