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Having raised two energetic sons, I am more and more distressed over how "academic" and serious kindergarten and first grade has become. It seems that recess and creative play times have basically ended, with young children having to sit still in their seats for hours and hours on end doing mindlessly boring worksheets. Numerous standardized tests. And this is when they're only 5 and 6 years old. Where is the joy of learning? Where is the time for creativity, intellectual curiosity, imagination, invention, and "learning and working things out by oneself"? Much of this occurs during play - yes, play.

There is research showing that children, especially active boys, need time to run around and blow off energy, as well as that movement and fidgeting helps active children learn. Instead more and more children are given a diagnosis of ADHD when they have trouble sitting still for hours in today's American schools, and may be given medications for years. Thus I really liked this article about kindergarten in Finland, where play and joy of learning are considered very important for healthy development and eventual academic success. From The Atlantic:

The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland

“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”....the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.

A working paper, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” confirms what many experts have suspected for years: The American kindergarten experience has become much more academic—and at the expense of play.... Researchers at the University of Virginia, led by the education-policy researcher Daphna Bassok, analyzed survey responses from American kindergarten teachers between 1998 and 2010....major shifts over this period towards a heightened focus on academics, and particularly a heightened focus on literacy, and within literacy, a focus on more advanced skills than what had been taught before.”   ...continue reading "More Play, Joy, and Activity is Needed in Early School Years"