Play rather than memorize

Thanks to Elizabeth over at bleakonomy for linking to this article in the Washington Post about the importance of playtime over scheduled, formal instruction.

The quote Elizabeth pulled for her blog post is jaw-dropping:

Research has shown that by 23, people who attended play-based preschools were eight times less likely to need treatment for emotional disturbances than those who went to preschools where direct instruction prevailed. Graduates of the play-based preschools were three times less likely to be arrested for committing a felony.

Of course academic preschool doesn’t make people felons. That isn’t the argument in the article or in my ramblings. The argument is that formal, didactic learning for young children is counter productive. They need imaginative play with other children, supervised to make sure play is a safe and rewarding experience, but not scheduled and formalized to the point that the play becomes work. Or quote-educational-unquote. (Especially major corporation educational-for-profit type play. That means you, LeapPressure, Baby Neurotic, and Fisher for Dollars.)

Because seriously? Eight times less likely to need therapy is pretty significant. Especially given the other things we’re doing to screw our kids up.

13 thoughts on “Play rather than memorize

  1. I’m not sure how I feel about this because I am a strong believer in the Montessori method and children there are never told they are playing, they are told they are “working.” However, the Montessori model is “follow the child,” which means if a child does not want to participate he/she does not have to. I don’t know how Montessori plays into the theory you mentioned but from what I have seen in my daughters (and other older children who graduated from the same preschool), my bet will always be on Montessori all the way.

    • Kitch, I know, right?
      Reluctant, it seems in my limited knowledge that Montessori is project based, and children identify and exhaust the things they want to do. They’re not lectured to or quizzed or flashcarded. From what I’ve read. that seems more like play than sitting still for lessons, as the article discusses. I think (really not an expert) from that perspective that Montessori is based in play not academics. And that’s what the article rails against…teaching reading to preschoolers and drilling kindergardners. Let me know if I’m wrong.
      JC, there’s more money in telling parents to teach their kids early than to let them play. There’s more money in Disney than in plain wooden blocks. And there’s way more money in flash cards than in playing with your kids.
      Undine, from the looks of the waiting lists at play-based schools, at least some of the neurotic NYTimes parents have figured this out. ;-)

  2. “why aren’t we seeing this ALL over the media?”


    I’ll add another jaw drop for the stats.

  3. This needs to be front-page news, especially in the neurosis-inducing pages of the NY Times. Want to help your kid? Let her play.

  4. wow. 8 times. yeah that is a lot. it seems public schools in texas at least are all about passing those stupid tests. when did we make it so all we care about is the lowest standard?

  5. Adding another wow. That is such a significant number.

    And really: not headlines because headlines these days are whack.

  6. Jaw-dropping indeed. Wondering how much these numbers are further skewed because parents who would *want* to put pre-schoolers in such rigorous “educational” environments might also be parents already apt to push their kids in other stressful ways for their “long term good.”

    • Court, the tests are really less about lowest common denominator than about how far behind the U.S. is in education. We’re doing something very wrong for some kids, and instead of teaching to a test, we should figure out the issue.
      Sindy, I’m guessing pushing parents aren’t the issue. Parents in Japan push very hard, and their children succeed beyond all expectations. They also commit suicide in rates higher than anywhere else in the world. So felonies aren’t probably part of pushiness but other factors.

  7. Excellent post. Thanks for the article. The husband and I debated over preschools and settled for one with play but a little scholarship. It’s so sad that we’re pushing play out of schools. They’re children for goodness sake.

  8. Interesting article. It is important to note that the numbers highlighted in the article are the result of two studies that focused specifically on at-risk 3-5 year-olds. Clearly, there are other factors in this instance, such as poverty, that contributed to such disturbing outcomes. And that just makes the availability of affordable, child-centered, loving, safe, play-based preschools for everyone all the more important from a public policy standpoint (or from every other standpoint, for that matter…)

    • Pushing everything, fae, out for test scores. Glad your boys are happy in their school.
      Great point, S.I.L. There is clearly no way an 8x result jumps out of every scenario, and I’m glad you pointed out the beginning of a long discussion on what happens when poverty, parents who may have to work several jobs, may have social issues themselves, and who may not be able to or know how to interact with their children all can affect outcomes.
      Deanna! Great to hear from you. I’m still marveling at infinite tasks, and will hit your site later today.
      To marry both your points, though, D and S, it would be wonderful if play-based social interactions were prized over test scores, espeically in early intervention programs and universal preschool.

  9. Thanks for bringing my attention to this article. This is supported by pretty much every child development book that I have read. Kids will want to learn academics when they are ready. Some kids learn to read at 5, but for others it is perfect normal for them to wait until they are 7. I see the Montessouri (what I know if it) fits right into this.

    The early testing that is happening in schools is so sad. We are dragging our kids down with expectations and self-esteem problem challenges from the time they are so young now. Kids that are exposed to fun learning environments (like science museums and zoos) and have good modeling around learning, like parents and siblings that like to read will be excited to learn and therefore likely to perform better in school…and this is where class comes in.

    It completely makes sense that self-esteem and anxiety are such big problems in our culture with such a gap between what our school system is doing and what is good for our kids.

    BTW, I have been following your blog since this summer. My husband was also blogging on Infinite Summer ( Mine is

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