Play-In fun for everyone!

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Parents, teachers, children at Play-In call for less testing, more playing for young children in CPS

Today, dozens of Chicago parents, children and educators attended a “Play-In” organized by More Than a Score to highlight their concern that testing has taken over the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) classrooms of our youngest children, pushing play-based learning out.

The group set up play areas at CPS headquarters to demonstrate the power of play. Adults played side-by-side with children using blocks, bubbles, fingerpaints, musical instruments, trucks, dolls, Play-doh, crayons and paper, and puzzles.

More Than a Score is concerned that the youngest learners in Chicago Public Schools are facing multiple standardized tests—as many as 14 in some kindergarten classrooms – inappropriate amounts of seatwork and homework, and a lack of opportunities for play, exploration, and creativity. The combination of the longer school day, an overly academic curriculum for the youngest learners, and high-stakes testing is turning our children’s first learning experiences into an ordeal. Opportunities for true free play are becoming increasingly rare in Chicago Public Schools.

 Cassie Creswell, parent of a CPS 1st grader at Goethe and a two year-old potential CPS preschooler, said, “Last year, when our school was planning for the longer day, I read a report that a full-day, six-hour kindergarten class should probably have at least three daily play periods of an hour or longer, with at least one being outdoors. The days of CPS kindergarteners are now seven hours long, and they typically only have 20 minutes to play each day.”

 Cassie added, “The lack of play is only made worse by the narrow academic focus. There’s an overemphasis on reading and math skills and little else starting very rigorously in kindergarten and even Pre-K. This year, my daughter’s class will have seven standardized tests administered to them in total 20 times during this school year. It is simply insanity.”

Kirstin Roberts, a pre-K teacher at Belmont Cragin Early Childhood Center as well as the parent of a CPS preschool student, says, “I agree with the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Children, as well as leading early childhood experts around the world, that play is a fundamental right of children. Play is how young children explore their world, build relationships, experiment with their environment, test theories, and construct knowledge. In short, play is how young children learn and grow. But the right to play in our early childhood classrooms is under threat in the Chicago Public Schools.”

Kirstin warned, “Kindergarten classrooms are losing their block sets and finger paints, to make room for more and more direct instruction of developmentally inappropriate subject matter, more seat-work, and more testing and test prep. We call on CPS to listen to the experts of early childhood and return play to our classrooms, end standardized testing for our youngest learners, and allow the joy of teaching and learning back into our schools.”

According to Concordia University Associate Professor Isabel Nunez, a member of Chicagoland Researchers and Educators for Transformative Education (CReATE), “One of the most destructive consequences of having non-educators running our districts and schools is that we have forgotten the fundamental principles of human development. Any developmental psychologist will tell you that young children learn through play. There is no debate on this within the discipline. Maria Montessori, Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel were scientists. Their vision for education is based on research, not a touchy-feely desire to let the children play just because they enjoy it. A play-based curriculum for early childhood classrooms is developmentally appropriate, because play is the way children learn.”

In a statement of support for this event, Penn State education professor Dr. Timothy D. Slekar wrote, “What a breath of fresh air to hear of a 'play in.' Instead of rigorous academic preparation why not vigorous activities that celebrate the work of children? Why not celebrate play? There is nothing more stimulating to the mind of children. At a time when policy makers have decided that children need to be ready for 'college and careers' this 'play in' will help remind all of us that nothing prepares a child for life more than vigorous play.”

More Than a Score members also passed petitions against the misuse and overuse of testing in CPS at the event and later in the day during report card pick up at local CPS schools.

See more at www.morethanascorechicago.org.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.