Reforming childhood


By Freedom Kolb


Reform by nature is an improvement, a correction. Indeed, reform is almost the American way with constant pressure for faster, better, more. It is not surprising this approach has turned our achievement-oriented culture loose on early childhood education. After all, everyone wants what is best for their kids. But is it true improvement, and does it work? Many studies say no – or at least – not so fast.

In the relentless enthusiasm to advance the American education system, new policies often ignore what we know about child development. Children need to play. Children recharge through play. Children learn through play.

Approximately half of the states mandate standardized testing beginning in kindergarten, although research indicating students younger thanage 8 are typically unreliable test takers. In fact, fine motor skills needed to accurately wield a pencil are often just developing at that age. The high pressure, performance-based focus on math and reading can have a devastating effect on other areas of curriculum including science, social studies, recess, music and art – areas important to student engagement. Preliminary studies have also demonstrated a link between lack of free play and aggressive behavior and expulsion rates.

Most importantly, conclusive childhood development research also tells us young people acquire and process information through self-directed activities inspired by natural curiosity. Free play allows the brain an opportunity to roam and stimulates creative thinking. Self-directed play can also promote problem solving, social dynamics, independence and physical dexterity in a way prescriptive lessons cannot.

The Fishers community is fortunate Hamilton Southeastern teachers support the whole child. In conjunction with a robust academic curriculum, most kindergarten classrooms are outfitted with reading rugs and play kitchens. I was thrilled to volunteer last week and spy elementary students dripping paint on coffee filters and watching the colors bleed.

As parents, we can still do more. Stay informed. Websites like the Alliance for Childhood ( offer a wealth of research-based studies. Parents need to actively provide opportunity for free play. Replace the TV, Wii, Nintendo DS and the computer with art supplies, LEGOs, dolls and blocks. Most importantly, ask open-ended questions and try not to stifle children’s creativity. Adults are conditioned to think in terms of black and white or right and wrong. But really, what is the real harm in a purple Thanksgiving turkey? The child permitted to think outside the box today will grow into the scientists, inventors and reformers of tomorrow.

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