Standardized testing has hit kindergarten big-time, as principals and superintendents push reading and math curricula into earlier grades to improve the odds that students will later pass standardized tests that gauge school performance. But kindergarten tests are almost certainly counterproductive, according to a new report from the Alliance for Childhood, an advocacy group in College Park, Md., called "Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School." Pushing children to perform at a level they aren't old enough to handle increases behavior problems and failure rates and takes away from a focus on the importance of play, which is what 5-year-olds really should be doing. Playing is the best way to learn social skills and self-control—which just might result in kids deciding that they really like going to school. Plus academic testing of children under age 8 is not a reliable indicator of future achievement in school, according to the nine new studies in the Alliance report.
[Find out how outdoor play can head off "nature deficit disorder" in kids.]
Parents have more power to help a child cope with the downside of academic kindergarten than they may realize, up to the ultimate reaction-opting out. You can ask that your child not be required to take kindergarten tests, for instance. There will be plenty of time to be tested in the years to come. Four positive ways to deal with kindergarten testing:
Parents can influence the system, too. I was surprised how receptive my kindergartner's teacher was to my fears that full-day academic kindergarten was too much too soon, even for a kid like mine, who is excited about reading and writing. It never hurts to ask-or to push for recognition of the importance of play. Strategies suggested by the Alliance for Childhood include:
I'm on a tear about the lack of play in early-childhood education; can you tell that my daughter's kindergarten grants just one 30-minute recess in a whole day? Play is essential for learning, and the importance of play holds for older kids, too. Even grown-ups need to play to be their creative, productive, and healthy best.
Need more convincing about the importance of play? Here are 5 ways to get more play in your child's day, as well as my conversation with psychiatrist and author Stuart Brown on what interviewing serial killers taught him about the importance of play.