The Changing Landscape of Childhood: Why Play Matters

Remember kindergarten: passing the days engrossed in play-centered learning, and then going home at 2:45 and playing some more? Well, if Eva Moskowitz, Charter School guru, has her way those days of going home when the sun is still up will be a thing of the past. Recently, Moskowitz announced her plans to open two K-8 charter schools in 2014 in District 30.  The proposal to the community of District 30 listed the aims of the school, which included reading, writing, math, sing-songs, and word problems to name a few; it also listed the hours: “The school day will run from 7:45 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. in Kindergarten and until 4:30 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. for all other grades.” Apparently Moskowitz with her educational and political credentials does not respect the importance of after-school play.

Moskowitz’s ruthless proposal to keep 5-year olds in one building from 7:45-4-4:30 and 6-year olds until 5:30 should be considered criminal—criminal because she is “stealing” their time to be children, eradicating their time to play outside with their friends or to spend it with their family or take an after-school activity of their choosing; in short, she and her throng of supporters are ensuring that these children will have no free choice and no free time—yes, they will argue that the after-school hours will have a “choice” of activities for the children, but what they keep missing is the concept of “free-play,” of being free from the constraints of school and teachers and activities that have been carefully selected by the school not the children.

In an article in The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg states that free-play is “essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” He continues by explaining how free, undirected play enables children to use their creativity to interact with others and the world around them; it allows them to work in groups of their choosing, to negotiate situations,  to solve problems, to learn advocacy skills, to grow and develop at their own pace and thereby build self-confidence and discover critical aspects of themselves, for instance their likes and dislikes. It’s harrowing to think that Ms. Moskowitz and her supporters are called educators when they deliberately want to eradicate play and harm the cognitive, mental and emotional component of a child’s life. Why?  We ask.

Much of the perception of play as something useless or rather something that could be removed from childhood reaches back to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which radically reduced time given to recess and the creative arts in the hope of boosting the nation’s pitiful math and reading scores. But that did not happen. In addition to taking away children’s free-play, the act, for the most part, has failed to produce any significant sustained results aside from narrowed curriculums, educator resentment, and teaching to the test. Perhaps Ms. Moskowitz believes that longer days will produce the results that No Child Left Behind failed to produce.

But they won’t. All longer days will produce are frustrated and tired children, because as Ginsberg point outs, decreasing time for free-play  has effects “on children’s ability to store new information, because children’s cognitive capacity is enhanced by a clear-cut and significant change in activity.” The “change in activity” that he is suggesting is not more academics or adult controlled play, rather it’s play free from the rules and concerns of adults. Sadly, it seems that the political power of Ms. Moskowtiz combined with the Department of Education’s obsession with test scores will prevail in lengthening school days and subsequently changing the landscape of childhood.

Maria Smilios

Articles on the Importance of Play:

Kids Discover Nature: 10 Reasons Why Kids Should Play Outside

Scientific American: The Serious Need for Play

HealthyChildren.org: Caution! Children at Play

Education.com: Why is Play Important

EarlyChildhood News: Take it Outside