Archives for category: Play

Dale C. Farran was one of the lead researchers in a study of the effects of an academic pre-kindergarten program in Tennessee. The study concluded that the children who participated in the program eventually fell behind those in the control group who were not in the program.

In an article on the blog of DEY (Defending the Early Years), Farran expressed her views about child development. She used the metaphor of an iceberg.

She wrote:

Years ago, few teachers believed that children should be taught to read in kindergarten; a more recent survey shows that 80% of kindergarten teachers now think children should know how to read before leaving the grade.

As recently as 1993 the great majority of kindergarten teachers did not believe an academic focus in preschool was important for children’s school success.

However, concern for the “fade out” of pre-kindergarten effects has led several researchers and policy makers to argue for a stronger academic focus in those classrooms, including the use of an intentional scripted, academically focused curriculum.

Not only do effects from pre-k classrooms fade, but also results from one study of the longitudinal effects of pre-k attendance conducted by my colleagues and me demonstrated that in the long run the effects turned negative.

A greater focus on academics for three- and four- year-olds is not the solution.

As an author of the recent paper on long term effects and as a primary investigator on the only randomized control trial of a statewide pre-k program with longitudinal data, and, finally, as a developmental psychologist whose career focused on young children’s development, I have thought extensively about what the causes of these unexpected effects might be.

I AM PROPOSING AN “ICEBERG MODEL OF EARLY DEVELOPMENTAL COMPETENCIES.”


The tip of the iceberg, the section floating above the surface, is composed of things that are easily measured.

These types of skills have recently been characterized as “constrained” skills meaning they are finite and definable.

All standard school readiness assessments focus on these types of skills.

But they do so because assessors believe that the skills represent deeper competencies.

They measure these skills somewhat like taking a finger-prick for evidence of the information the assessments provide into other more important characteristics of children.

BOTH THE FOCUS OF CURRENT PRE-K PROGRAMS AND THE PEDAGOGICAL STRATEGIES EMPLOYED FOCUS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY ON THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG SKILLS.

Many who have been in early childhood for a long time testify to the changes in classrooms.

I believe these changes are accelerated by the process of subsuming preschool into the K-12 system.

In many states the department of education administers the pre-kindergarten program, and the program behaves like an additional grade level below kindergarten – the classrooms are open for the school day (5-6 hours a day) and the school calendar (9 months a year).

The classrooms are most often in elementary schools, where the push down from the K- 12 system is almost impossible to avoid.

Many of the elementary schools are older and unsuitable for younger children – no bathroom connected to the classroom, the requirement to have meals in the large cafeteria, and no appropriate playground.

These physical features mean that children spend a lot of time transitioning from the classroom, necessitating a high level of teacher control as children walk through the halls and endure long wait times.

Descriptions from a number of large studies of the instructional strategies used in current pre-k classrooms show them to be dominated by whole group instruction focused on basic skills (the tip of the iceberg).

TEACHERS TALK AT CHILDREN A MAJORITY OF THE TIME, SELDOM LISTENING TO CHILDREN, AND MULTI-TURN CONVERSATIONS ARE A RARE OCCURRENCE.

Learning opportunities that involve other than right-answer questions are almost never observed, and a high level of negative control from teachers characterizes many classrooms.

This content focus and the teaching strategies, I argue result in a detachment of the tip of the iceberg from the deeper skills under the surface.

Thus, children can score well on school readiness skills at the end of pre-k – especially on those related to literacy – but not maintain any advantage by the end of kindergarten when all children attain these skills with or without pre-k experience.

The tip of the iceberg skills no longer symbolizes those under the surface.

They are no longer the visible and measurable aspects of more important competencies.

Only when the deeper skills are enhanced should we expect continued progress based on early experiences.

A very different set of experiences likely facilitates the development of those deeper skills.

We have known for many years that the developmental period between four and six years is a critical one.

Neuroscience confirmed the importance of this period for the development of the pre-frontal cortex.

The pre-frontal cortex is involved in many of the skills described in the model as being below the surface.

Research does not provide good evidence for which experiences facilitate the development of important skills like curiosity, persistence, or working memory.

But research has demonstrated the importance of these kinds of skills for long term development.

For instance, some argue that early attention skills are more important than early academic skills as predictors of long-term school success including the likelihood of attending college.

In a large longitudinal study, researchers identified the importance of the development of internal self-control during the ages of four to six.

Some children with initially low self- control developed self-control during early childhood and had subsequent better outcomes via what the researchers called a “natural history change.”

Whether an intervention-induced change would yield the same positive outcomes is an open question.

So far, no early childhood curriculum has been able to bring about sustained changes in self-control or any of the below- the-surface skills listed above.

WHAT IS CLEAR IS THAT CHILDREN FROM MORE AFFLUENT HOMES ENTER KINDERGARTEN SCORING HIGHER ON SCHOOL READINESS SKILLS.

Moreover, they maintain that advantage across the school years.

But they did not learn those “readiness” skills from a didactic pre-k experience.

While these children may have had magnetic alphabet letters to play with, for example, parents did not sit them down in front of the refrigerator and force them to learn the letters.

Most of those tip-of-the-iceberg skills were learned through a variety of experiences and the opportunity to learn through interactions with adults and friends.

For these children, measuring the tip does provide information about the beneath the surface competencies that are so important.

Guidance may come from comparing the developmental contexts of families who are economically secure to the pre-k classroom context.

Children of economically secure families are more likely to succeed in school, more likely to matriculate in a two or four year college and more likely to graduate when they enter….

GOVERNMENTS IN MOST HIGHLY DEVELOPED COUNTRIES HEAVILY SUBSIDIZE THE CARE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN PRIOR TO SCHOOL AGE.

Nordic countries all provide a child supplement to parents, which most parents use to offset the modest cost of the government-subsidized group care, care that looks nothing like U.S. pre-k programs.

These programs stress different sorts of competencies in young children, capabilities like “participation” or the ability to be a functioning member of a group (not sitting “criss-cross applesauce” for 20-40 minutes during large group instruction).

The programs stress self-reliance and independence, the ability to make good decisions and to be responsible for one’s actions.

Most of these countries delay formal instruction in academic skills until children are six or seven. Their children do quite well in international comparisons in the later grades.

Concerns about the accelerating academic focus in early childcare education are being voiced by many.

I hope this “iceberg” model will provide a useful visual depiction of the danger of concentrating on basic skills instruction in pre-k.

I hope also that it will help people understand why getting early childhood right is so important and the imperative need to fix the childcare situation in the U.S. for families of poor children – in fact for all our children.

Pre-k is not the magic bullet policy makers hoped it would be. Quite the contrary. The reason it is not may lie with the unavoidable focus of the program when it becomes part of the K-12 system.

Writing in Psychology Today, Peter Gray reviewed the longitudinal study by Vanderbilt researchers of the effects of pre-kindergarten classes on low-income children.

He noted that the long-term effects were negative.

He usefully points out that the German government conducted a similar study in the 1970s:

The German government was trying to decide whether it would be a good idea, or not, to start teaching academic skills in kindergarten rather than maintain kindergarten as purely a place for play, stories, singing, and the like, as it had always been before. So, they conducted a controlled experiment involving 100 kindergarten classrooms. They introduced some academic training into 50 of them and not into the other 50.

The graduates of academic kindergartens performed better on academic tests in first grade than the others, but the difference subsequently faded, and by fourth grade they were performing worse than the others on every measure in the study. Specifically, they scored more poorly on tests of reading and arithmetic and were less well-adjusted socially and emotionally than the controls.

The Germans, unlike we Americans, paid attention to the science. They followed the data and abandoned plans for academic training in kindergarten. They have stuck with that decision ever since.

The newly reported Tennessee study of pre-K was carefully designed and focused on academic skills.

Yet the students in the academic-intensive pre-K program fell behind the control group in later years.

The major findings of the study are that this expensive, carefully planned pre-K program caused, by 6th grade, reduced performance on all academic achievement tests, a sharp increase in learning disorders, and much more rule violation and behavioral offenses than occurred in the control group….

The most striking finding in the study, to me, is the large increase in diagnosed learning disorders in the pre-K group. It seems possible that this increase is the central finding, though the authors of the report don’t make that claim. Previously I’ve discussed evidence that learning disorders can be produced by early academic pressure (here) and evidence that being labeled with a learning disorder can, through various means, become a self-fulfilling prophesy and result in poorer academic performance than would have occurred without the diagnosis (here). It would be interesting to know if the deficit in achievement test scores was entirely the result of poor performance by those diagnosed with a learning disorder.

A related possibility is that the early academic training resulted in shallow learning of the skills, sufficient to pass the pre-K and kindergarten tests but which interfered with subsequent deeper learning (an idea I discussed here). That could account for the finding that the deficit produced by pre-K grew over the years. As years go on, success on tests may depend increasingly on real understanding, so anything that blocks such understanding might show up more in later grades than earlier ones.

Another possibility is that the pre-K academic grind and pressure caused children to develop a hatred and rebellious attitude toward school. This might account for the increased rule-breaking and offensive behavior of the pre-K group as they went through elementary school. The same rebelliousness might also have caused the children to take their lessons less seriously, which could, over the years, result in an ever-greater gap between them and the controls in test scores.

Still another possibility is that the deficit shown by the pre-K group was caused not so much by what was done in pre-K as by what did not happen there. Four-year-olds need lots of time to play, create, socialize, take initiative, figure things out on their own, and learn to manage themselves. The time spent in academic training is time that they cannot spend on learning the much more important skills that come from self-directed activities. Perhaps the pre-K children were less prepared for school, especially the later grades of school, because they had not had the usual opportunities to learn how to manage themselves before starting school. This suggestion is consistent with previous research showing better long-term outcomes for play-based preschools and kindergartens than for those that have an academic component (here).

I suspect that all these hypotheses have some validity…Regardless of the mechanism, it is now abundantly clear that we should stop even thinking about teaching academics to tots. We should finally make the decision that the Germans made half a century ago and stop formal academic training for children below age 6.

How likely is it that our policymakers will learn from the science?

I received this request, which looked as though it might be fun.

Please consider sharing this nation-wide challenge for middle school students with your audience. There are images and a video link below. Please let me know if you have questions or would like to talk with leaders at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. Thank you! 


Indianapolis, IN …The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site has just announced the launch of Project POTUS, an opportunity for students in grades 6-8 across the nation to put their research, writing and video editing skills to the test.

Since the founding of our nation, there have been nearly half a billion American citizens. Of those, over 12,000 of us have served in Congress. Just 115 have become Supreme Court Justices. Only 46 citizens have become President of the United States. There’s something exceptional about each POTUS – good, bad, or otherwise. And the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site wants students’ help to tell the world why … in one minute or less.

Project POTUS calls on students to research an American President and create a one-minute video representing the president selected. Student videos are then submitted for review by a citizen jury, who will select a winning video project for each American president. The results from the inaugural Project POTUS initiative will be featured in the first ever ’46 Presidents in 45 Minutes,’ a compilation of students’ winning projects to be released following the closing of the contest in May 2022.

“The value of Project POTUS comes not only from the potential for it to be fun and original, but also from how closely it matches up to standards teachers use in the classroom,” said Molly Beausir, Russell and Penny Fortune Project POTUS Presidential Fellow with the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. “The project emphasizes civics, history, research and communication skill building. And with the shift of project-based classroom learning to include virtual and hybrid options during the pandemic, the timing couldn’t be better to put those school laptops to good use.”

“It’s a fun and unique initiative for students, individually or in groups, to get creative and participate in a national video project with their peers,” said Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site President and CEO Charles Hyde. “The program is an interactive way for students across the country to share what they’ve learned about our country’s presidents firsthand, drawing from their knowledge of history, civics, and leadership. Ultimately, we’re excited to help facilitate peer to peer learning, which Project POTUS plans to do in a nationally significant way.”

It’s also an opportunity for students, caregivers and educators to take part in an educational project that could possibly win students and classrooms scholarships. For the inaugural Project POTUS in 2022, the citizen jury will award over $5,000 in prizes to students, with one grand prize winner for the best video overall winning a $500 award and a VIP prize package. There’s plenty of time to pick a president and work on the project – video submissions begin on Presidents’ Day, February 21, 2022 and will be accepted through Tax Day, April 15, 2022.


Have a video-savvy student or budding history buff in mind? For more information, and for project guidelines, please visit projectpotus.org.

View a quick video explaining the project: here.


Downloadable graphics/images available here.  
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About the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

Recognized as one of the top 5 things to do in Indianapolis by Tripadvisor, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site celebrates the remarkable legacy of America’s Hoosier President. The museum is a national historic landmark situated within easy walking distance of downtown Indianapolis and the bustling 16th Street corridor. The 1875 Italianate mansion is exquisitely restored and has an exceptional collection of more than 10,000 artifacts. Daily tours of the property include a 75-minute guided tour through the Harrison house and private quarters. Highlights include an awe-inspiring collection of Gilded Age finery, paintings, furniture and personal presidential gifts and mementos. The privately operated, non-profit organization receives no direct tax support and is dedicated to sharing the life stories, arts and culture of an American President to increase public participation in the American system of self-government. Find out more at PresidentBenjaminHarrison.org.
Media Contact: Angela Tuell | angela@commredefined.com | 317.567.9126

Angela Tuell, APR | PrincipalCommunications Redefined317.567.9126 office 410.430.9518 mobileangela@commredefined.com

The title of this post may sound absurd. Of course, children should play; it need not be a “right,” as defined in law, but it should be common sense. Play is an essential part of childhood. Most of us remember the games we made up, the pots and pans that we turned into playthings, the music we created on our own. But children today have been denied the fundamental time needed for unstructured play at school. The enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002 prioritized academic skills and caused many schools to eliminate recess as a “frill.”

Today, happily, there is a movement to bring back recess. Whereas schools used to provide recess once, or twice, or three times a day, it is now legislatures that are mandating recess. Crazy, no? When I attended Montrose Elementary School in Houston, we had recess twice a day, without benefit of a state law.

Today there are several states that mandate recess, which seems to be the only way to guarantee that it is provided.

Parent activists in Illinois just won a victory in the Illinois legislature, with the passage of a bill that requires 30 minutes of recess daily and guarantees that children cannot be punished by withholding recess.

In Texas, where the state legislature spends most of its time figuring out how to increase the number of charters and how to pass vouchers, some districts have taken the initiative to make play available.

Others have decided to rethink recess at the school or district level. A program called LiiNK—Let’s Inspire Innovation ’N Kids—in several Texas school districts sends kids outside for four 15-minute recess periods daily.

Debbie Rhea, a professor and associate dean at Texas Christian University, launched the initiative after seeing a similar practice in Finland. It reminded her of her own elementary school years.

“We have forgotten what childhood should be,” said Rhea, who was a physical education teacher before going into academia. “And if we remember back to before testing—which would be back in the ’60s, ’70s, early ’80s—if we remember back to that, children were allowed to be children.”

LiiNK was a big change for the Eagle Mountain Saginaw Independent School District, where schools saw their recess time quadruple after implementing the program four years ago.

“We’ve seen some amazing changes in our students,” said district LiiNK coordinator Candice Williams-Martin. “Their creative writing has improved. Their fine motor skills have improved, their [body mass index] has improved. Attention in the classroom has improved.”

Some educators claim that play increases test scores, but that’s a shaky foundation for supporting one of the most important building blocks of childhood. Everyone needs time to play, even adults.

Nicholas Tampio, a professor of political science at Fordham University, wrote recently in the Washington Post that children need a break, not academic pressure, this summer. But the federal government seems to have swallowed whole the claims that children are suffering from “learning loss.” He disagrees. Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle have repeatedly urged policymakers to acknowledge the importance of play in child development; they wrote a wonderful, research-based book about it called Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive. What Tampio and others argue is that the children have had a horrible year and need time to be children. We don’t need to press their little noses to the academic grindstone.


The global pandemic has taken its toll on families and children. Children have not been able to engage in their normal routines, sit in a classroom with friends and teachers, visit extended family or participate in social activities without a mask. Most parents are more concerned about their children’s emotional well-being than they were before the pandemic, a Pew Research Center survey in the fall found. And that situation may have grown more dire, as children have spent much of the school year online and maintaining social distance from other people.

Facing this year of loss, Democrats in Congress have framed the problem as primarily one of lower projected test scores; their solution is to make kids in high-poverty schools spend the summer inside preparing for standardized tests. This is exactly the wrong approach to the sadness and loss of the covid era: This summer, children need to do self-initiated activities that are rewarding for their own sake. This will create happier children now and, as research has shown, lead to improved physical, cognitive, social, emotional and creative outcomes later in life.

At the end of 2020, Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, explained how he wanted to address the learning loss caused by the pandemic: “You can’t just tell cash-strapped states and localities that they’ve got to cancel summer vacation. For the federal government, if we’re going to suggest that, we’ve got to help pay for it.”

So early this year, Scott introduced the Learning Recovery Act of 2021 to establish a grant program; the bill could become law by mid-March. It would authorize $75 billion over the next two years to address learning loss in Title I schools with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students by funding school extension programs — including longer school days, an extended school year and summer school. It’s a lot of money: Congress allocated about $16 billion for Title I schools in 2019.

The money has strings attached. The bill stipulates that state educational agencies shall support school districts “to effectively use data and evidence-based strategies to address learning recovery needs for students.” To collect this data, a school district may administer “high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable to accurately assess students’ academic progress.” The bill also authorizes funding for the Institute of Education Sciences to study what interventions and strategies best address learning recovery, that is, raise test scores. The supporters of the bill are not interested in paying for kids to play this summer.

That’s a shame — because pediatricians have been making a powerful case for the immediate and long-term benefits of play.

2018 article in the journal Pediatrics called “The Power of Play” defines play as “an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery.”

Childhood play develops foundational motor skills, leads to an active lifestyle and prevents obesity. Climbing rocks gives children a chance to build confidence that will serve them well later in life. Rough-and-tumble play teaches children verbal skills, as they have to negotiate when things threaten to get out of hand. Taking risks on the playground hones executive functioning skills such as concentrating, problem solving and regulating one’s emotions. Recess gives children of different backgrounds an opportunity to become friends.

“Play is part of our evolutionary heritage,” the authors explain, “and gives us opportunities to practice and hone the skills needed to live in a complex world.”

And what happens when children do not have a chance to play? They don’t have a safe way to release toxic stress and may lash out with antisocial behavior. By focusing on academic achievement rather than play, young people often develop anxiety, depression and a lack of creativity. “Play may be an effective antidote to the changes in amygdala size, impulsivity, aggression, and uncontrolled emotion that result from significant childhood adversity and toxic stress,” the article argues.

Even more than usual, it would seem, children in the pandemic era need a chance to play before they resume their formal education in the fall. In England, experts in childhood development have called for a “summer filled with play” to recover from the pandemic. According to Helen Dodd, a professor of child psychology at the University of Reading, “children need time to reconnect and play with their friends, they need to be reminded how good it feels to be outdoors after so long inside and they need to get physically active again…”

Think of all the rewarding things that children could do this summer. Day camps with arts and crafts, sports, theater, and activities like podcasting and three-dimensional printing. Visiting family in other parts of the country. Swimming at the pool. Riding bikes with friends. Performing in a band. As scholars such as Yong Zhao and Christopher Tienken have been arguing for years, these kinds of unstructured activities give young people a chance to invent new things, create works of art, start businesses and develop their own talents.

Kids would be better off if Congress votes down legislation that would keep children in high-poverty schools inside this summer. Those kids — including ones living in shelters, with food insecurity or in dangerous neighborhoods — deserve to play just as surely as do those children whose parents send them to sleep-away camp. And governments, civil society and families should look for ways to give children a chance to do activities that are voluntary, joyful and imaginative: that is, to play.

Nancy Bailey is hopeful that 2021 will bring a new agenda for public schools and their students and teachers.

All are worried about the pandemic and whether there will be the resources to protect students and staff.

There will surely be a teacher shortage due to the numbers of teachers who felt threatened by returning to school when it was not safe, as well as the necessity to reduce class sizes to make social distancing a reality.

The need for social justice should be high on the agenda, and it has nothing to do with vouchers and school choice.

Students with disabilities have been seriously affected by the pandemic and need extra instruction and resources.

The pandemic threw a harsh light on the condition of school infrastructure. Many states have not invested in school facilities. Will they?

The arts were dropped in many schools during the disastrous reign of NCLB and Race to the Top. Today they are needed more than ever.

What will become of assessment? Will the new Secretary follow those who think that testing produces equity? Or will he listen to teachers and parents? Twenty years of federally mandated testing produced a static status quo, locking the neediest students into their place in the social hierarchy and denying them equality of educational opportunity.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, followed the debate about what to do “after COVID,” and he shares his wisdom here.


I’ve been wrestling with two quandaries regarding post-COVID schools. Yes, in the short-run, the tactical use of digital technology has been prioritized, but the longer term priority must be human-to-human relationships. The last thing we want are 21th century schools driven by screen time. So, what can we do to recover from the pandemic which came on the heels of the corporate school reform disaster that was imposed on teachers and students?

Last spring, I timidly made suggestions but I knew that educators were overwhelmed, and it wasn’t time to be pushy about future visions of schooling. It’s unlikely that many of today’s teachers would be allowed to do so, but I used to start my inner city high school classes’ orientation week with music, poetry, and film clips like Amiri Baraka’s “The X is Black,” Bruce Springsteen’s “American Skin,” and Denzel Washington in Cry Freedom, playing Steve Biko, explaining colonialism.

So, if I were still teaching high school, I’d have used much of the spring semester for one-on-one digital and telephone conversations, discussing what each student loves and what each one would love, and get each kid hooked on a genre, artist, musician, or whatever. Surely, it would be easy to sell many kids on great Nature programs, such as the Smithsonian’s new David Attenborough series, or PBS documentaries about the race to the Moon. I’d then focus on each kid learning in depth about the things that enthralled them.

I’d have also started by showing and discussing, and borrowing from great musical and artistic events. I’ve been stunned, and often been left in tears by “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” which also featured President Barack Obama; Jason Alexander’s Passover Seder; One World: Together at Home; and 300 singers from 15 countries singing You’ll Never Walk Alone

We also should have learned from Jill Lepore’s history of education during the Great Depression in the New Yorker. Lepore’s “The Last Time Democracy Almost Died” described School Superintendent John Studebaker’s “ambitious plan to get Americans to show up in the same room and argue with one another in the nineteen-thirties.” Starting in Des Moines, Iowa, his idea spread to schools across the nation. We saw what works in our democracy; discussions where “the people of the community of every political affiliation, creed, and economic view have an opportunity to participate freely.”

I’ve also agreed with Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel about the need for outdoor learning. Moreover, we need a 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps where kids learn about global warming, and solutions and career options for battling it.

Similarly, early in the pandemic, John Merrow reminded us, “Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it will take the support of the village to open its public schools.” Merrow recommended two priorities that could not be compromised or negotiated: 1) Keep everyone safe, with frequent testing, social distancing, and adequate PPE; and 2) Create genuine learning opportunities, rather than simply replicating semesters, work sheets, 50-minute periods, and everything else that schools routinely do. He also urged innovation in terms of developing new, safer, and more educationally beneficial learning spaces. Sadly, those conversations, and the timely reopening of in-person instruction were undermined as the reopening of schools was politicized, first by Trumpism, and then by smart and sincere public health experts and journalists who knew little about actual schools. I must emphasize that the overwhelming harm was done by Trump, politicians like Oklahoma’s Gov. Kevin Stitt, and their COVID denialism, mixed with Social Darwinism. But the demand that in-person learning be quickly restored in urban schools also bore a sad resemblance to the corporate school reforms wars. Both were launched by rightwingers seeking to demonize unions and educators. And just as the attacks on public education worsened after Big Data scholars joined the fray, recently attacks on educators for being too cautious in reopening schools haven’t been helpful.

Researchers working for the Billionaires Boys Club often claimed that their statistical models showed that top-down mandates on teachers can improve student performance while, today, some public health experts argued that their data shows that schools can be reopened safely. The question, then and now, is what will likely happen if schools hurriedly follow their advice.

Below are just two examples. An October New York Times report by Apoorva Mandavilli may or may not have been tilted towards a less cautious approach to reopenings. It led with the fact that “so far there is little evidence” community transmission was high. But, the article distinguished between the evidence that in-person instruction of young students can be safe, and the greater possible dangers regarding high school, citing super-spreads in American and Israeli high schools. And the public health expert the Times quoted, Dr. David Rubin, advised, “Rather than closing schools where community transmission is high, businesses like restaurants, bars or other indoor spaces where adults congregate should be shuttered.” But he didn’t take a stand on the question of what schools could safely do in cities where that public health wisdom was ignored.

The real problem was with the article’s title and subtitle which went far beyond the evidence in it presented:

Schoolchildren Seem Unlikely to Fuel Coronavirus Surges, Scientists Say:

Researchers once feared that school reopenings might spread the virus through communities. But so far there is little evidence that it’s happening.

After those sorts of optimistic assertions before Thanksgiving, it would have been nice if experts and newspapers would have acknowledged how much the situations have changed as holidays dramatically increased the super-spread. I also believe educators deserved an apology for those over-simplified commentaries. If anything, however, many commentators have doubled down on their criticisms of urban educators’ caution.

For instance, I respect Nick Kristof, and I loved Tightrope, which he and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn recently published. And he no longer claims to be “infatuated” with Bill Gates, and to trust the teacher bashing “quick fixes” pushed by edu-philanthropists and their data-driven researchers. But Kristof went from his recommendation in May that we “cautiously open some schools” to arguing that we have been “too willing to close schools” in an article entitled, “When Trump Was Right and Many Democrats Wrong.”

So, now we may need to be more blunt in presenting the educators’ case, as Erika Christakes was in her Atlantic article, “School Wasn’t So Great Before COVID, Either.” (I must emphasize that she isn’t making the Nation at Risk or No Child Left Behind case that schools are broken; on the contrary, she wants to fix the damage done by those “Reforms.”)

Christakes begins with the truth that I haven’t wanted to bring up, “Yes, remote schooling has been a misery—but it’s offering a rare chance to rethink early education entirely.”

She writes:

All of the challenges of educating young children that we have minimized for years have suddenly appeared like flotsam on a beach at low tide, reeking and impossible to ignore.” But, she reminds us that beginning with No Child Left Behind, Schools have—quite irrationally—abandoned this breadth [holistic instruction] in favor of stripped-down programs focused on narrow testing metrics.

So, Christakes writes:

A good start would be to include a broader and deeper curriculum with more chances for children to explore, play, and build relationships with peers and teachers. Schools should also be in the business of fostering curiosity and a love of learning in all children, or at a minimum not impeding the development of those traits. This is a low educational bar but one that is too often not cleared, as the millions of American adults who are functionally illiterate might suggest.

Like Emanuel and Merrow implied, Christakes says, “The most obvious demand should be for more time outside.” She draws on the history of the early 20th century, when “tuberculosis outbreaks led many American schools to successfully adopt outdoor teaching.”

As we should have realized before winter, outdoor transmission of COVID‑19 is far less likely than indoor spread, and it offers an alternative to the drill-and-kill that corporate reforms revitalized. Moreover, “Years of accumulating evidence reveal concretely measurable benefits of nature-based learning and outdoor time for young children.” It can be more effective than instruction in the classroom, and it builds on what “we know about nature’s positive impact on mental health, attention span, academic outcomes, physical fitness, and self-regulation.

And that leads to Merrow’s recent advice to “please please please, do not try to ‘get back to normal.’” He suggests the making of “institution more democratic (small d),” and giving students “more agency over their own learning.” Since “social and emotional learning may matter more than book-learning for these first weeks and months,” we must “give kids time and space to get accustomed to being with peers, even socially distanced, for the first time in many months,” as well as “lots of free play.” Merrow would also move away from age segregation and group children instead according to the interests and their level of accomplishment, and “Finally, NO hand-wringing about ‘remediation’ or ‘learning loss,’ because that’s blaming the victim, big time.”

As 2021 begins, I hope the Biden administration can foster the unity that our schools need. I hope we won’t see the revival of corporate reformers’ “blame game.” Regardless, we need a more humane vision of post-pandemic schools and, I’m afraid, we may need to fight for it once again.

William Doyle and Pasi Sahlberg have a proposal for what children should do after the pandemic: Play.

They write at CNN.com:

When the novel coronavirus is no longer as great a threat and schools finally reopen, we should give children the one thing they will need most after enduring months of isolation, stress, physical restraint and woefully inadequate, screen-based remote learning. We should give them playtime — and lots of it.William Doyle William Doyle Pasi SahlbergPasi SahlbergAs in-person classes begin, education administrators will presumably follow the safety guidelines of health authorities for smaller classes, staggered schedules, closing or regularly cleaning communal spaces with shared equipment, regular health checks and other precautions. But despite the limitations this may place on the students’ physical environment, schools should look for safe ways to supercharge children’s learning and well-being.We propose that schools adopt a 90-day “golden age of play,” our term for a transitional period when traditional academic education.

Play gives children a wide range of critical cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics, representing the nation’s 67,000 children’s doctors, stated in a 2012 clinical report that “play, in all its forms, needs to be considered as the ideal educational and developmental milieu for children,” including for children in poverty, and noted that “the lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also reported “substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement,” and “can have an impact on cognitive skills and attitudes and academic behavior,” including concentration and attention. Regular physical activity like recess and physical education, the CDC researchers noted, also “improves self-esteem, and reduces stress and anxiety.”

This is especially relevant for a student population that may face a tidal wave of mental health challenges in the wake of the pandemic. Data from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report detailed that, as of 2016, 1 in 6 children ages 2 to 8 years of age had a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. And a study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology revealed that from 2009 to 2017, depression surged 69% among 16- to 17-year-olds.

A 90-day “golden age of play” school re-entry period would help ease children back into the school setting, while providing physical and creative outlets to allow them to calm their stress and thrive with their peers and teachers. But what exactly would this program look like?It should look like a child’s dreams. A time of joy, movement, discovery and experimentation without fear of failure; a time when every student should enjoy comfort, safety, and socialization with peers and warm, caring adults.

Open the link and read the rest.

The first snow storm of the season raged up the Eastern seaboard! Students thought they might have a snow day, but in some districts, the leadership said “No!”

This will upset those “reformers” who think it is time to get tough on the kids, time to get ready for the next test, time to squelch any sign of happiness, but:

In West Virginia, a school superintendent said a loud “Yes!”

In a letter to the school community on Tuesday, Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson said she was canceling classes so that students and faculty could take a much-needed break during a very hard year.

“For generations, families have greeted the first snow day of the year with joy,” Gibson’s letter states. “It is a time of renewed wonder at all the beautiful things that each season holds. A reminder of how fleeting a childhood can be. An opportunity to make some memories with your family that you hold on to for life.”

“For all of these reasons and many more, Jefferson County Schools will be completely closed for tomorrow, Dec. 16, in honor of the 1st snow day of the year,” the letter continues. “Closed for students … closed for virtual … closed for staff.”

Gibson said she hoped the snow day would provide the kind of joy, rest, and celebration that has been so rare during the pandemic.

“It has been a year of seemingly endless loss and the stress of trying to make up for that loss,” she said. “For just a moment, we can all let go of the worry of making up for the many things we missed by making sure this is one thing our kids won’t lose this year.”

“So please, enjoy a day of sledding and hot chocolate and cozy fires,” she said. “Take pictures of your kids in snow hats they will outgrow by next year and read books that you have wanted to lose yourself in, but haven’t had the time.”

“We will return to the serious and urgent business of growing up on Thursday, but for tomorrow,” the letter concludes, “go build a snowman.”

Nancy Bailey writes here about the stress on children that is contributing to alarming rates of stress, anxiety and depression.

Certainly the anxiety caused by the pandemic causes stress. And many children have experienced deaths among those in their family or among friends.

But there are longer term causes of the mental health problems among children, such as the absurd pressure to get ever higher test scores and the withdrawal of time for recess and play.