Archives for category: Play

The standards and testing cabal wants to preserve the status quo ante and double down on accountability and NCLB-style measures after the pandemic. The choice crowd wants to push their agendas subsidizing anything and everything while slashing public schools.

William Doyle and Pasi Sahlberg have a different vision. They want learning to be creative and joyful. They describe their ideas on Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog:

William Doyle and Pasi Sahlberg, public school fathers in New York City and Sydney, respectively, are co-authors of “Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save our Schools and Help Children Thrive.”

The coronavirus crisis has shattered one of the most dysfunctional pillars of childhood education. On March 20, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos suspended the federal requirement for the mass standardized testing of children, announcing “Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time.” Other countries, including England and Australia, are doing the same. These decisions should be made permanent, and the job of assessing learning should be returned to classroom teachers, not politicians and for-profit testing companies.

More than 1.5 billion young people around the world have been affected by school closures due to the covid-19 pandemic. Our own young children are among them. Like countless other parents, we now have to home-school, remotely work, and keep our families safe in an atmosphere of uncertainty about the future.

Some day, hopefully in the not-too distant future, our schools will open their doors again. When they do, we should give our children a much better education system. To do this, we should build our schools upon a foundation of what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls “the ideal educational and developmental milieu for children”: play, in all of its forms.

The evidence is clear. A wide range of research indicates that intellectual and physical play confers a host of cognitive, social, emotional and health benefits. Play is the learning language of children, and pediatricians know it has the power to supercharge more conventional, and equally necessary, forms of academic instruction.

Over the last 20 years, politicians in the United States and elsewhere and have tried to improve public schools with policies based on the high-pressure standardized testing of children. Instead of improving learning, these policies have demoralized teachers and students, pushed out the arts, recess and learning through play, and wasted billions of dollars for marginal gains, by doing little to relieve the inequities, segregation and student disengagement that plague many of our schools.

In the United States, for example, recess in public schools is widely restricted, and even denied as a punishment for wiggling in class or late homework — despite the scientific evidence that physical activity improves behavior and academic performance. Before the school shutdowns, millions of American children were already spending their days in cruel, unnatural conditions of forced physical restraint in our public schools. According to one report, 30 percent of American kindergartners have no recess anymore, due to academic pressure on 4-, 5- and 6 -year-olds.

Now, well over a billion children will be almost totally cooped up indoors at home, perhaps for months to come.
“We have to assume that the incidence of PTSD and anxiety disorders as a function of what we are as a society going through, for both parents and children, is going to be huge,” pediatrician Michael Yogman told us. “ … We need to think about how are we going to help children recover from the trauma of this experience.”

According to Yogman, principal author of the American Academy of Pediatrics 2018 landmark report “The Power of Play,” a worst-case scenario would be for schools to say, “We missed four months of academic subjects and tests, so we’re going to compress it all into a month and catch up.” He considers this kind of thinking a terrible idea, since “it would just accentuate the stress children are already experiencing and undermine their capacity for productive learning.”

Representing the nation’s 67,000 children’s doctors, the American Academy of Pediatrics has declared that “the importance of playful learning for children cannot be overemphasized.” In fact, the doctors assert, “It could be argued that active play is so central to child development that it should be included in the very definition of childhood. Play offers more than cherished memories of growing up, it allows children to develop creativity and imagination while developing physical, cognitive and emotional strengths.”

In direct opposition to the prevailing wisdom of some American self-styled “education reformers” who have slashed recess and play in inner-city schools, the AAP has noted that for children in poverty, “play should be an integral component of school engagement.” According to the pediatricians, “the lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.”

Play is urgently relevant to the new education world that will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. “Play can mitigate stress,” Dr. Yogman tells us. “The executive function skills that kids develop through play can promote resilience, and play can restore safe and nurturing relationships with parents, teachers and other children, which also promotes resilience. That’s got to be our goal when kids get back to school. At every level, in our schools, homes, and communities, our social structures have to acknowledge the magnitude of stress all families, especially those with young children will experience, and design programs that mitigate that, including lots of physical activity and play.”

In these times of uncertainty, pain and fear, play can be a big part of the cure. During this crisis, parents should resist the temptation to overstress their children with excessive, often screen-based “remote at-home learning” in an attempt to “not fall behind.” In this bizarre, tragic chapter in world history, children need parental attention and love, comfort, safety, nondigital play, healthy routines, songs, books, blocks, basic art supplies, and, whenever possible, physical activity, much more than they need academic pressure, graded assignments and excessive screen time. We recently asked our own children, age 8 and 12, what they think their own weekday study schedule at home should look like during the crisis. They sketched out time for learning, practice and rest, and also blocked out slots of time through the day for recess, play and physical activity breaks — just as pediatricians recommend. We should listen carefully to both children and their doctors, who together represent qualified experts on childhood.

In this health emergency, government leaders around the world are urgently seeking the advice of medical and scientific experts. They should do the same when it comes to education. When the covid-19 pandemic passes and the world opens up again, we should redesign our schools using the best expert evidence, just as we are doing in response to the global health pandemic. We should give our children schools that follow doctor’s orders, by giving them lots of physical activity and play to energize learning and boost health and happiness.
The mission of childhood education can no longer be the generation of standardized test data, but learning powered by the physical, mental and emotional health and well being of every child and every teacher.
Schools should be the favorite place of every child. It’s time we made them so.

Joel Westheimer has advice for parents who are at home organizing their children’s days.


I am really struck by the variety of media inquiries I’ve been getting about the impacts of Covid-19 on education, what parents should be doing at home, and so on. The interest doesn’t surprise me (I am an education columnist on public radio), but the preoccupation with whether kids will “fall behind” or with how they will “catch up” has. I see hundreds of stories, websites, and YouTube videos that aim to help parents create miniature classrooms at home. Maybe some parents have folding chairs they can bring up from the basement and put in rows. Where’s that big blackboard we used to have? Is there a run on chalk at Costco?

Stop worrying about the vague and evidence-less idea of children “falling behind” or “catching up.” This is a world-wide pause in life-as-usual. We’ve spent the last 25 years over-scheduling kids, over-testing kids, putting undue pressure on them to achieve more and more and play less and less. The result? Several generations of children and young adults who are stressed-out, medicated, alienated, and depressed.

This is not a time for worksheets. This is an opportunity (for those of us lucky enough to be at home and not in hospitals or driving buses or keeping our grocery store shelves stocked) to spend meaningful time with our children to the extent it is possible in any given family. Parents shouldn’t be thinking about how to keep their kids caught up with the curriculum or about how they can recreate school at home or how many worksheets they should have their children complete. They should bake a cake together. Make soup. Grow something in the garden. Take up family music playing. And neither school personnel nor parents should be focusing on how quickly or slowly children will return to school because none of us know We should be focusing on ensuring that teachers are afforded the conditions they need to best support their students — now when school is out and later when school is back in.

Remember that ditty about the two Chinese brush-strokes that comprise the word ‘crisis’? One is the character for ‘danger’ and the other the character for ‘opportunity.’ We are more and more aware of the danger. But we’re missing out on the opportunity: to spend time as families (in whatever form that family takes in your household).

This brings me back to the questions I keep getting. What are my recommendations for what to do with your children at home when they are missing so much school? Stop the homework (unless you and your children are enjoying it).Stop the worksheets. Stop trying to turn your kitchen into Jaime Escalante’s A.P. math class. But do help your children structure their day. Help them process what is going on around them. Help them engage in activities that do not take place on a screen. Help them maintain physical activities whether that means running around the block, running up and down the stairs, or running around the kitchen.Help them be creative. Give them — to the extent possible in your household — the gift of time and attention.

And when brick-and-mortar school (hopefully) returns next Fall, let’s give teachers a great deal of latitude in what, how, and when to teach any particular subject matter. Their primary job should be to restore a sense of safety, nurture a sense of possibility, and rebuild the community lost through extended social isolation.

Joel Westheimer is University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa and an education columnist for CBC’s Ottawa Morning and Ontario Today shows. His most recent book is “What Kind of Citizen: Educating Our Children for the Common Good.” You can follow him on Twitter: @joelwestheimer.

Nancy Bailey writes here about the idea–promoted by NCLB, Race to the Top, and Common Core– that kindergarten children should know how to read. She says this is wrong.

Young children should be encouraged to speak and listen, she writes, which is something they do while playing and interacting with other children.

She writes:

With No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core State Standards, some adults have been led to believe that four- and five-year-old children should read by the end of kindergarten. Preschoolers are pushed to be ready for formal reading instruction by the time they enter kindergarten.

This is a dangerous idea rooted in corporate school reform. Children who struggle to read might inaccurately believe they have a problem, or reading could become a chore they hate.

Pushing children to focus on reading means they miss listening and speaking skills, precursors to reading. These skills are developed through play, which leads to interest in words and a reason to want to read.

Some children might learn to read in kindergarten, and others might show up to kindergarten already reading, but many children are not ready to read when they are four or five years old. And just because a child knows how to read in kindergarten, doesn’t mean they won’t have other difficulties with speech and listening.

When children come to schools from poor home environments, much of what they’ve missed involves a variety of language skills like speech and learning how to listen. When children have disabilities, speaking and listening skills are critical.

Forcing children to focus on reading early denies children opportunities to work on those other missing skills.

Also, there’s no research, no evidence that a child’s brain has evolved to indicate children can and should read earlier. Our culture has changed, but children have not. Even if new reading methods are developed that assist children to be better readers, there’s no reason to push children to read before they are ready.

In the drive for higher test scores, play has been minimized or eliminated. This is a crime against children.

This is a good time to recommend some reading: Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle, Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive. 




Michael Moore visited Finland with a camera crew to learn about its education system.

How could a nation post high test scores on international tests when its schools emphasize creativity, play, physical activity, and the arts and ignores standardized testing?

Watch his video and see what you think.


Reader Jack Covey, a teacher in Los Angeles, sent the following comment to me:


First, watch this clip from Michael Moore about
schools in Finland:
Now, read Education Next on the same topic, in
the context of a book review by Cherker Finn.
Here’s the ending of Chester Finn’s “Stick with GERM” 
review of Past Sahsberg’s new book, and his
argument that “play” hurts poor kids, but it’s fine
for middle class kids (and presumably upper class
kids as well).  
He says we’re “bizarrely and cruelly” damaging 
those poor kids when U.S. schools “model themselves 
on a charming small country in northern Europe 
(it’s Finn vs. Finns, I guess)


Nancy Bailey describes here the determined effort by policymakers to stamp out play and childhood, all in the name of teaching reading long before children are ready to learn to read.

Because kindergarten has become more advanced, preschool is seen as the time children must have prereading skills for kindergarten. If they don’t, it’s seen as a red flag. This makes teachers and parents push children to learn to read early.

Children are expected to know letters and numbers, even basic sight words. They’re supposed to be able to sit and focus on tasks for longer periods. But preschool wasn’t always about teaching prereading skills, and we should question if children that young are being pushed to read too soon.

In 2002, Newsweek published an article entitled “The Right Way to Read.” The title was conjecture. Reporters visited the Roseville Cooperative Preschool in northern California. Children there were called “masters of the universe” because they oversaw play. Children played most of the time. The school based everything on play.

Children played at a science table. They used magnifying glasses to explore flowers, cacti, and shells. They donned smocks to do art, lots of art. They were able to climb and stay active. They had access to books and a dollhouse.

There were no letters or numbers on the wall.

Director and founder Bev Bos told teachers, “Forget about kindergarten, first grade, second grade. We should be focusing on where children are right now.”

But Newsweek didn’t praise the preschool. They were there to show the controversy surrounding it.

The Bush administration had claimed research indicated that 50,000 Head Start teachers were going to have to learn how to provide explicit instruction on how to teach the alphabet, letter sounds, and writing to young children.

Not only that. Preschool teachers were to use a detailed literacy-screening test. Forty-five million was being earmarked for preschool-reading research.

Children were no longer masters of their world. Adults were in control.

Yes, the adults were in control but they made horrible decision that stole childhood and play from children.

For all the hundreds of millions and billions poured into the Great Crusade to Teach Preschoolers to Read, there has been minimal change in NAEP scores for reading, in fourth or eighth grades. Despite the pressure to raise test scores in reading, scores remained stagnant, and no academic progress was made at all for the lowest performing students since the implementation of NCLB almost two decades ago.

Citizens for Public Schools needs you now to stand up for public schools in Massachusetts.


Three ways you can stand up and speak out for public education today!

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Take a few minutes today to raise your voice about these three important issues for our schools.

1) Less Testing, More Learning
Citizens for Public Schools members will testify at a public hearing before the Joint Education Committee Monday in favor of a moratorium on the high-stakes uses of standardized testing and other crucial reforms to improve assessment in the Commonwealth.
You can make a difference by asking your legislators to support five bills to reform and improve state assessment practices. Collectively, they would: stop the high stakes uses of standardized test results, establish a grant program to develop alternatives to high-stakes standardized testing, inform parents about their rights vis a vis state testing, allow local districts to determine graduation requirements, and make other improvements.
Read more about CPS’s priority education legislation here.
ACT TODAY! #StandUpForPublicEducation and ask your legislators to testify in support of these bills at Monday’s Joint Education Committee hearing, 10am, Room A-1. And then, spread the word. Thank you. (Email us if you would like to testify or submit written testimony to the committee.)
2) Fund Our Future
Thanks to all of you, our message about the urgent need to update the state school funding formula is getting through and resonating! A recent poll found 60% of voters believe our schools are not adequately funded, and nearly 60% are willing to pay more in taxes to fix funding disparities.
And today, parents are filing a lawsuit naming four state education officials for “violating the civil rights of low-income, black, and Latino students by failing to provide them with the same quality of education as their mostly white affluent peers.” (CPS is a member of the Council for Fair School Finance, backing the lawsuit.)
Now’s the time to keep up the pressure on legislators to pass urgently needed education funding legislation!
Contact your state senator and representative to support the PROMISE and CHERISH public education funding bills. Click below to find out if your legislators support the bills, then call to thank them or urge them to take a stand. Urge them to contact the appropriate committee chairs and express their support of these two crucial bills!
3) Keep Play in our Kindergarten Classrooms
A courageous group of Brookline kindergarten teachers are speaking out about program and curriculum practices, implemented without meaningful educator input, causing “everlasting negative impact” on their young students’ social-emotional well-being. In their letter, they say kids need play-based learning, not only stressful academic blocks that aren’t developmentally appropriate, create anxiety and hamper the joy of learning. Watch a video of their public comment here. Click the button below to sign a letter from a group of Brookline parents supporting the kindergarten teachers, and don’t forget to mention that you’re a CPS member in the comments! (You don’t have to be from Brookline to sign.)


David Gamberg is superintendent of two adjacent small school districts on Long Island in New York: Southold and Greenport. Gamberg is devoted to a philosophy of whole-child learning, in which play and a healthy body are as important as academics. He is constantly coming up with new ways to engage children’s imagination and creativity. His schools are alive with music, art, gardening, play, and, now, chess.

The Southold elementary school recently conducted a chess tournament with life-size chess pieces and a chess board. 

According to David Gamberg, superintendent of both the Southold and Greenport school districts, the idea for bringing chess to students was born after the “simple, kind gesture offered to the students at Greenport Schools.”

With no strings attached, Wesley Wang, a 9th grade student at Jericho High School affiliated with CHESSanity, an organization devoted to promote the playing of chess among school-aged children, reached out to Gamberg at Greenport Schools, the superintendent said.

After an exchange of emails, a donation of 24 chess sets and some guidebooks were sent to both Greenport and Southold Elementary Schools.

Since then, two chess clubs were formed, one in each school, and over the past few months, second and third graders in both districts have met for an hour each week to learn the game and hone their skills.

“The skills and dispositions learned by playing this game are invaluable as children start to think strategically and carefully,” Gamberg said.

Wang, of CHESSanity, said the goal was to provide the games to students at no cost to introduce chess to young minds, and to maintain the supply regularly. The organization has donated
chess sets to 20 schools in four school districts in Long Island so far.

“I hope that our little help can have some positive impact upon these children, improve their academic performance, and build their self-esteem,” he said.

Wang said since he and his brother, a college freshman, kicked of the non-profit organization CHESSanity, they have raised more than $35,000 by conducting chess classes every Friday night during the school years and organizing monthly competitive tournaments.

The funds raised have allowed them to give away the free chess sets to districts including Wyandanch, Roosevelt, and Hempstead, benefiting thousands of students.

There are many ways to inspire a love of learning and a desire to achieve one’s personal best. Chess is one of them.

I am reminded of I.S. 318, the New York City public school that has a championship chess team. It was featured in a wonderful film called Brooklyn Castle. You can find it and rent it online. Watch it if you can. It is an inspiring movie about the power of chess to change lives.



As the tentacles of Ed Reform reachdown into the earliest years, forcing standardized tests on young children, Defending the Early Years is there to block the monster from strangling the children’s loveof learning.

In this short video, early childhood educator Kisha Reid explains what young children need most to thrive.

Play. When children play together, they collaborate. They solve problems. No one fails. They work and play together, as equals. Good practice for the real world.

In this short video, veteran kindergarten teacher Jim St. Clair explains why play-based learning is important for young children and illustrates with examples from exemplary practice.

The video was produced by DEY (Defending the Early Years), a consortium of early childhood education practitioners and academics.