Tons of research has been done on the importance of play. Nothing new here. I just feel like we as a county and as a school have been speeding away from the concept. Test performance is taking over.
I also work for a county who is driven by data. The only way to get hard data is to test. The only way to test successfully is to prep. The only way to prep is to refocus free play on learning centers and tests with measurable outcomes.
I work for a school who looks at testing through a realistic lens: our kids struggle with tests. We must learn how to teach them to be life long learners AND good test takers. It's just reality. State tests start in 3rd grade so we cycle all the way back to kindergarten to begin the prep.
Kinders need to know how to read 25 high frequency words and a level 3 (DRA) text by the end of kindergarten. They need to know how to add and subtract numbers up to 10, count to 100, and identify fractions (0, 1/4, 1/2, 1). This is big deal stuff for kids who haven't ever been to school.
I was talking to one of our Head Start teachers and she mentioned that the gap between HS and K seems to widen every year. Head Start is still focused on early childhood and school readiness, but then WHAMMO, welcome to kindergarten.
I'm beginning to babble...
I'm leaving in a few days to have my second baby. I'll be home until the 2012-2013 school year and then I plan to come back with a fresh new idea on how to structure my day.
I want to take all of our required elements (Reading Workshop, Math Workshop, Writing Workshop, etc) and break them up into small chunks through the day. I want to make free play the bigger chunks in between. FREE play meaning children will be allowed to interact with each other and their environment free of specific instructions. During free play we will focus on dialog, friendships, working together, and problem solving. I also want to get back to my 1/2 hour of Quiet Story Time where I would read chapter books to my kids while they relaxed on the carpet. If a tired cherub fell asleep, so be it. It's a long day!
I will take data - because you can get great data by observation. I will use this data to hopefully convince others that it's okay... my kids are still learning, they're still meeting the academic benchmarks, but we are all happier. It will be less structured than I am used to (and honestly than I am comfortable with), but if we continue to speed away from the idea that 5 years olds are still just little kids who need to play, to explore, to be curious, then we are going to create a generation of angry maladjusted adults.
Oh, and let's hope I'm allowed to try this.