Have you noticed that things happen in threes? Well, the other day I saw three articles – one in the news, one on Facebook, and another on Twitter – all talking about the same thing! Naturally, I took that as a sign….there’s a there there. What’s more, I need to write about it.

Pop Quiz!

What skill set did researchers find to be most important in predicting whether a kindergarten student would eventually obtain a college degree?

  1. Reading and Listening Skills
  2. Computer Literacy and Math Skill
  3. Social and Emotional Competency

If you said C, you are exactly right! Although it seems counterintuitive, a recent study found that social and emotional skills are a stronger predictor of success – in academia and in life – than being an early reader, a math whiz, or a computer genius. Sharing, empathy, resolving conflict…those are the skills that really matter.

Policymakers are convinced, however, that in order to compete on the worldwide educational stage, our children need more – and earlier – academic intervention, along with lots of high-stakes tests to demonstrate proficiency and hold teachers accountable.

Most educators are familiar with Gerry Brooks, the principal-comedian whose hysterical YouTube videos help teachers relieve stress by laughing at the day-to-day craziness we experience. He rifts on things like lunch duty, parents, teacher stereotypes, and other hot topics. His video about kindergarten assessments is one of my favorites. (Yes, you read that right….kindergarten assessments!)

Unfortunately, although we poke fun at what’s happening in education, it’s really not funny.

It’s sad.

And scary.

And it’s our children who are paying the price.

In spite of the research about the importance of the Arts in education, we’ve eroded these programs in our schools. In spite of the evidence that children need to MOVE, we jettison PE and recess in the name of punishment or remediation.

Sure, our children have computer skills, but they can’t converse face-to-face. They can spell, but they don’t say please or thank you. They can pass a test, but they aren’t kind to one another. They (might) graduate with the content knowledge to secure a job, but they have no soft skills.

We pass laws, spend money, (claim to) increase rigor, start earlier, eliminate “fluff” like Art and Music, and yet, we don’t seem to be making any progress – the US still ranks 24th in literacy and 17th in educational performance, while simultaneously boasting the highest crime rate, according to this database.  Perhaps it’s time to try something new….radical even.

WHAT IF….wait for it….we let our preschoolers play?

Let them explore, run, imagine, climb, build, share, and laugh? What if, instead of flash cards and worksheets, we gave them a sandbox and shovel? Or, a tree and a stream?

Erika Christakis, author of The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups, writes, “Play is the foundational building block of human cognition, emotional health, and social behavior. Play improves memory and helps children learn mathematical problems in their heads, take turns, regulate their impulses, and speak with greater complexity.”

In other words, play not only prepares us to learn – playing IS learning, and it might be the most important type of learning we do! What could be more valuable than learning how to get along with others…solve problems…demonstrate kindness and empathy? One need only watch the evening news to understand that our society seems deficient in social/emotional skills.

I’ve written before about the power of play with regard to adults, but it’s even more critical in children, because it comes naturally to them. In other words, we need to allow our children to be children!

  • The Finnish educational model calls for a 15 minute break every hour, and guess what? Last year, Finland ranked #1 in education on the Global Competitiveness Report.
  • Singapore, ranked #4, pays special attention to PE, Art, and Music, according to Prime Minister Lee.
  • Dutch children, who were rankest happiest in the world, don’t get much homework until secondary school. Netherlands was ranked #5.

Do you see a pattern? I understand…it seems counterintuitive to reduce instructional time, but as the saying goes: If you keep doing the same thing, you will keep getting the same result. Perhaps it’s time to try something new!