The argument I am so tired of and never finished with…

Often I am asked or hear:
But when do they learn?
What about academics?
At what point do you do Kindergarten readiness?

It makes me scream inside!  I want to explode.  But I smile and politely defend play.  They are learning!  We are getting them ready!  This is academic!

You see – I think there are three schools of thought on this:  There are the passion driven players, there are the people who don’t believe in the value of play but they fully support skill and academic development, and then there is this third group that has one foot in each glass.  Can you guess which glass I float in?  Yeah that is right – I fully drink the PLAY kool-aid.  And why?  Because PLAY is LEARNING!  You can not separate the learning from play when authentic play is happening!  Nope!  If it was a jar full of sand and you sifted through it – the grains would be the same.  You couldn’t sort it out and say “oh please don’t learn while you play”.  But the unfortunate part is you can divide play and academics.  You can sit a child down and train them to perform academically – sans play.  The ironic part is when we choose to do this we are robbing children of the opportunity of quality brain development, meaningful learning, and choice.

glass play

Brain Development –

If you don’t buy that PLAY has cognitive value then do your own research on how PLAY effects the brain.  Research shows that learning in a meaningful and hands-on path of exploration sticks with us.  When we are a part of internalizing learning through play we make connections in our brains and activate/forge synapses.  This is compared to learning information for performance.  Children learn to spit out the ABCs and are praised for their success.  It has no meaning to them besides “Mommy claps” for me or “Teacher says good job” and so I will keep doing it.  The meaning is not in truly knowing the letters and what they symbolize but instead in memorizing and performing.!po=21.1538

Meaningful Learning –

Children are pressured to learn their ABCs and count to 100 for Kindergarten.  We sit children down for a screening for K and we test to see if they can count or identify numbers 1 -100.  But many of the children that can do this have no meaning to the skill.  The value is lacking.  While a child may count to 100 he really may not have mastered the concept or the meaning for how many 55 or 92 actually is; I work with children that gain a deep meaning of numeracy through play.  One little boy loves trucks!  He plays in the sand with them, rolls them down the slide, brings books to my lap for reading about them, and creates them with art materials.  Every time, without skipping a beat he knows that he needs 4 wheels for his big “Monster” truck.  He will count them out and has a deep connection with the concept of 4 wheels – pink wheels, circle wheels, big wheels, etc.  But he always truly knows how to count out 4 wheels for his projects.  While at the grocery store he knows that Mama told him there are 6 muffins in the container – enough for him, Daddy, and Mama – with extras to spare.  He understands this concept.  While he may not count with rote memory to 100 he has a much more meaningful connection to numbers and numeracy.  All of this gained through play and social engagements!  He owns these concepts!  He has made meaning of his world around him and is not wrapped up in just another skill of the day.  When skills are gained during real experiences explored through play the learning becomes meaningful and rich vs. just another “splinter skill”.

But somewhere we have learned that a worksheet and skills driven tasks provide meaning and evidence for skills.  We have learned as a society to value that rote memory and recall is more important than deep and connected understanding.  Even educated practitioners in the Early Childhood field feel as if they need to provide play for children but then supplement academic readiness with structured lessons- these are the people with one foot in each glass, PLAY as an addictive :(!  The truth is 20 minutes of play is not enough and learning is stifled when we shorten play time to tutor children in small groups or individualized academic skill lessons.  So why do educators bend to the pressures?  Do they not know what glass of kool-aid they drink or do they have one foot in each glass?  I am excited for young children when they are given the opportunity to become a part of a school community.  I am heart broken when they are made to attend programs that don’t understand that play is learning and that these two are not separate occurrences in preschool.  I don’t want to hear:  They get a 20 minute PLAY time and 20 minutes on learning activities or I will let them play now but next year I need to send them somewhere that they can gain their foundation in academics.  I want the world to see that PLAY is the fiber to our being and the key to learning.

Choice –

When my Dad wants to learn how to assemble something he does not refer to written directions.  He uses diagrams and pictorials to study the composition, tests it out with his hands, and listens to a fellow expert explain the steps of the process.  He selects the avenue that best suits him as a learner and for his own personal success.  We all do this as learners.  We decide if we want to lean on National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, Time Magazine, YouTube, Google, Mentor-ship with fellow professionals, etc.  for information.  As adults we are a part of that choice.  So why do we not wish the same for our children?  Why wouldn’t we give them ownership over their learning!

Why play?

Play is for everyone!  Everywhere!  Why do we need play and the importance of PLAY for children and adults?  Find out more:

So i beg you!  Do your research!  Compare PLAY to academic based lessons.  See how rich learning is during PLAY!  You may find yourself drinking from a new glass!


This blog was inspired by a great blog- that is a must read:

Childhood Joy and Preservation, The How To Dos, What is progressive?

Not because I said so…

classroom 148Standards, checkpoints, milestones, learning objectives, etc…  Our education system is framed around goals and expectations that children are pushed to meet at certain age/grade levels.  As educators we are told to scaffold development and differentiate instruction to meet children’s needs.  However, there is also a push to ensure a child meets a set of standards by the end of a school year – despite the fact that meeting a learner on his or her level is important.  When asking No Pro followers what is challenging in the teaching arena – the response is clear “fighting the urge to do xyz because kids who are six are supposed to do xyz”.  But, who defines XYZ?  As educators we need to find resources that guide us to accurately define what XYZ should be.  This is difficult because our surrounding teaching peers, traditional teaching arenas, and state/federal recommendations may send the message that a child should be able to perform at a certain level along a certain timeline.  The first step to feeling comfortable about allowing children to grow at their own pace (no matter what XYZ states) is to back yourself up with research.  Research allows educators to feel confident about the decisions they already know are the right ones – and back these decisions up with powerful evidence.  Decisions made based on Developmentally Appropriate Practice and educator based research is more solid than following XYZ because the standards and cookie cutter assessment tools said so.

What research is out there that supports children growing at their own pace?

Developmentally Appropriate Practice

In the 3rd Edition of “Developmentally Appropriate Practice” Carol Copple and Sue Bredekamp define excellent teachers as educators whom recognize that “learning goals are usually identified for groups of children within a given age span.  But, teachers must determine where each child is in relation to a goal and
adjust their teaching accordingly” (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009).  As educators, we know our children best.  We can gauge what experiences a child is ready for, asking for, and interested in.  A manual or checklist of standards can not tell us what capabilities each individual child is ready to achieve or not.  Cookie cutter checklist leave out critical contextual factors such as environment, culture, and emotional development.  Developmentally appropriate practice is having a knowledge of how typical whole child development progresses and combining it with the ability of individualizing it to each child and classroom.

Language of the Wolves

Lisa Murphy the Ooey Gooey Lady provides educators with a document “What to Say When the Wolves Come Knocking” ( that empowers teachers with vocabulary that helps defend play practices.  This document will provide a tool box for sharing how play is learning.  Sometimes meeting a child where they are is about taking what they choose to work on – documenting it and translating that documentation into what benefits, developmental stages, and standards are being met during their explorations.

Children Know What they Need

Alfie Kohn shares the importance of considering what children know and want to know:

Taking kids seriously: In traditional schooling, as John Dewey once remarked, “the center of gravity is outside the child”:  he or she is expected to adjust to the school’s rules and curriculum. Progressive educators take their cue from the children — and are particularly attentive to differences among them. (Each student is unique, so a single set of policies, expectations, or assignments would be as counterproductive as it was disrespectful.) The curriculum isn’t just based on interest, but on these children’s interests. Naturally, teachers will have broadly conceived themes and objectives in mind, but they don’t just design a course of study for their students; they design it with them, and they welcome unexpected detours. One fourth-grade teacher’s curriculum, therefore, won’t be the same as that of the teacher next door, nor will her curriculum be the same this year as it was for the children she taught last year. It’s not enough to offer elaborate thematic units prefabricated by the adults. And progressive educators realize that the students must help to formulate not only the course of study but also the outcomes or standards that inform those lessons -(Kohn, 2008).

The following link provides more information from Kohn about how progressive education caters to learning with children and not pushing them to be a part of a system that does not fit them individually:

When the Time is Right

Take a page from Waldorf.  Waldorf education waits until about third grade to introduce academics in a structured format.  It is not to say that the children are not intellectually challenged but their childhood is preserved in their younger years.  Concepts are introduced through rich play, story telling, and artistically expressive experiences.  Whether you adopt the entire Waldorf premise it is important to consider that Waldorf has a large following and history.  If Waldorf’s school of thought supports children being children and allowing children to be introduced to concepts “when the time is right” and these children have grown successfully as a whole child ( including academically) in society then why are public schools removing play from the early years?  Why is the focus of elementary education (and now pushing into early childhood) on XYZ by a certain age?

What are you trading?

Finally consider – If you are pushing your child or student to achieve XYZ what ABC are you sacrificing.  In other words consider that some children are great readers at 4.  A rare find.  But, most fluent readers at this age are lacking something else.  Often they are not internalizing the story and lack comprehension skills.  But, even more prominent in young prodigy readers we see a need for social skills to be more developed (cooperation, empathy, socialization).  So these young readers can translate the text into speech but they fail to be able to work in a reading group.  This is only one example.  But, stop and think if XYZ is pushed before its time what ABC is being sacrificed – what part of childhood are we asking children to give up so that they can be academic superstars.

Childhood Joy and Preservation

Take off that dress!

2012-09-17 08.05.44

Boys – wearing the dresses! in the dollhouse area! carrying a purse!  rocking a baby!  This is not where they belong!

You have heard in once, twice, a million times!  Why is my child (boy) playing in the dress up area?  Sometimes it is a worried Dad.  Sometimes it is a concerned Mama.  This article is an exploration of gender development and why we should not ask a boy who loves the dresses to hide in the closet or discourage him if he loves to play in the areas that are “not traditionally” the boy areas.

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If a girl plays in the block area with cars we seem to feel comfortable with that but as a society boys in areas that are stereotyped as “girl” interests seem to create an alarming reaction.  Parents and sometimes teachers often send the message (or directly tell) boys to take off that dress!  But, why?  Is there some reason why boys should be excluded from certain avenues of play?

Every year of teaching there is at least one boy that is in love with playing in the “girl” areas (whether it be the dolls, dress-up clothes, the housekeeping area, or the doll house).  Which means every year I am looking for fuel to back me up when I am asked about why the boys are wearing dresses or holding baby dolls.  Every year I need to collect more evidence about how the benefits are endless and that the risks are simply unlikely fears.  My most recent fuel finds include:

  • Boys and Girls: Superheros in the Doll Corner by Vivian Paley (I recently stumbled upon this and now plan to read this cover to cover)
  • Why Kids Should Play with Baby Dolls (YES, even BOYS!) (a blog entry from a trio of Mommies and professionals an OT, pediatric speech-language pathologist, and a clinical psychologist.
  • My Princess Boy by C. Kilodavis (a children’s book written by a Mom with a little boy that loves playing princess)

Dressing up, whether in fireman hats or dresses (boys or girls) gives children a chance to explore roles and the attributes associated with these roles.  Yes, sometimes playing a role is testing it out.  But, just because a boy plays Mommy doesn’t mean he desires to become a Mommy (or a girl).  Just as every pretend Hulk does not produce a future green monster, every little police officer does not end up a crime fighter, every “bad guy” does not grow up to be a criminal, or every pretend doctor does not aspire to work in the medical field.  Sometimes a child chooses a role because the others are taken.  Sometimes he chooses it because it is the character who is in charge (so he may end up the Mommy so he can control the play scenario).  Sometimes he just loves that dress because it is green and green is his favorite color.  At preschool age children are defining their personalities and expressing their preferences.  The are exploring all the places and experiences offered to them.  Play allows children to explore the world safely and will full ambition.  Even if a child chooses to dress up because he likes to be pretty – who are we to say he shouldn’t?  Do we want to send the message to our children at a young age that we have already found ways to exclude them or judge them?  I think not.


A boy playing Daddy (or Mommy) in the housekeeping area provides practice for care taking and kind behaviors.  Any child whom engages in baby doll play, housekeeping roles, and dress up is given the opportunity to expand socially, emotionally, and cognitively.

Would you object to a child learning how to:

  • be gentle
  • care for others
  • be independent
  • complete daily tasks
  • excel in the role of parenthood or family member
  • organize
  • negotiate, cooperate, and communicate with a group
  • plan and direct an activity
  • appreciate the design of materials and environments

I wouldn’t and I am sure that nobody else would either.  These are all skills that happen in the dramatic play area (the place where dresses hang, dolls sleep, houses filled with mini families exist, and where Moms and Dads cook in the pretend kitchen).

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The fact is that in general society sends the message that non-traditional activities should be discouraged.  We feel that if we let a boy dress up in a dress or carry a purse when he is 3 then he will want to do so later.  When really this is not factual evidence.  There will be boys that dress up in dresses at 3 and that never will again.  There will be boys who did not like to dress-up at 3 and may like wearing dresses later in life.  As adults we should be more concerned about what we can do for our child’s present being than worry about how every current play experience will shape their lives 20 years from now.  It is not to say that we should not provide quality experiences that will shape the future of our children.  However, we should consider the possibilities side by side.  As adults we need to realize the benefits out weigh the chances of these behaviors carrying on in adulthood.  We also need to reevaluate why we fear these possibilities.  The love for our children should be priority and not our intolerance.  Is it worth saying that a child should miss out on all of the benefits (including: extended vocabulary, social just behaviors, compassion for others, daily life skills, leadership skills) of dramatic play, dress-up, and doll play because there is a slight chance that he may like pink robes and purple flowers when he is a grown man.  It is more likely that those amazing housekeeping and dress-up skills will lead to impeccable architectural designs, award winning chef creations, creative artistic results, well spoken project leaders, and men with gentle fathering skills.

It is time to focus on letting children explore who they want to be in this moment rather than who they want to be as an adult.  By providing love, support, and quality experiences we are letting children build a healthy foundation for the future.  Boys will be boys – and everything else their heart desires.


Childhood Joy and Preservation

Freeing Childhood

Preserving childhood and the joys of it are critical.  This next posting is actually a September 2012 archive from my prior blog.  However, I feel the message is so important I am carrying it over to this new blog and re-sharing it.  A familiar child advocate, Fred Rogers, once said:

 “Life isn’t about what you’ve done, but what you can do”.

There is always something to do for children because they need someone to be their voice in times when they can not speak or speak loudly.  Protecting children from the trickle down of today’s pressure driven education system is crucial.  This posting reminds us that children are young people that have the right of free choice just as much as any one of us.

Freeing Childhood

When we provide children with open ended opportunities and space to explore they uncover the most amazing discoveries.  Discoveries rooted in free thought are hard to come by these days.  In today’s society we often box our children in by scripting their days for them – the wheres, whens, and whys of their daily happenings.  We often decide what they will have for dinner each night, that dance is at 7 on Tuesdays, soccer on Fridays at 5, or that they can or can not bring their princess crown or batman in the car.  Reflecting upon this is very important because do we also want to put our children in boxes when we send them to school?

Traditional child care programs, preschools, and public schools often script a child’s day as well.  They decide when they will they sit at the table for snack, what time the children will do music, if the puzzle can go to the writing table, and even what the daily writing  topic will be about.  Could you imagine someone telling you that you have to wait until 11 to eat breakfast no matter how hungry you are, that you can’t listen to your i-pod while you clean the house, that your flower arrangement can’t be put into the green water pitcher because that pitcher is for holding drinking water, that your sneakers must be tied this way on not that way because that is the way we do it, etc.

The reality is that the future is demanding innovative thinkers and inventors but we are teaching children to only think and do what we wish and what we know.  By not providing them with opportunities to explore their environment and test their own ideas we are saying become followers – become worker bees.  Instead we should be saying be free thinkers, be creative, be innovative – Invent something!  Solve problems!

How do we allow children to become problem solvers or inventors?  We let them have freedom to play, learn, and explore.  These three are interwoven concepts.  It is not that play is separate from learning or learning is separate from play – or exploration is something that is independent of either of these.  Play, learning, and exploration are like grains of sand – you can not sift out one grain from the other.  They coexist together – they are one in the same.  When a child is allowed to dig in the dirt and add water into the mix they are playing.  During this experience they can use containers to experiment with concepts of volume, measurement, and conservation.  They can discover texture, temperature, pressure, movement, colors, and cause and effect as they explore the properties of water and dirt and the relationship that emerges during mud play.

The discoveries children find on their own are more meaningful and last longer because they are owned by their own thinking and being – therefore, each self  discovery and learning experience becomes vitally important to the child.  What is interesting to one makes a greater impression.  So we need to let children read by picking up a book when they are ready, let them come to the table with friends and set their own setting when they feel under undernourished, let them explore math and science with water and blocks, let them climb hills barefoot, paint what they desire and not fill in a coloring page, emerge in the joys of nature, let them play to learn, and learn to play.