Parents who prefer traditional classroom-style learning to playtime in preschool and kindergarten may actually be stunting the overall development of their children, says a University of Illinois professor.
Anne Haas Dyson, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the University of Illinois College of Education, says that playtime for children is a "fundamental avenue" for learning, and limiting it to accelerate learning may ultimately prove counterproductive.
"That approach doesn't appreciate the role of play and imagination in a child's intellectual development," Dyson said.
"Play is where children discover ideas, experiences and concepts and think about them and their consequences. This is where literacy and learning really begins.
"Children learn the way we all learn: through engagement, and through construction. They have to make sense of the world, and that's what play or any other symbolic activity does for children," she added.
Although Dyson is not opposed to literacy in the early grades, she insists that kindergarten and preschool should be a place for children to experience play as intellectual inquiry, before they get taken over by the tyranny of high-stakes testing.
"I'm certainly not opposed to literacy in the early grades but the idea that we can eliminate play from the curriculum doesn't make sense. Kids don't respond well to sitting still in their desks and listening at that age. They need stimulation," she said.
Dyson said that having an early-childhood curriculum reduced to isolated test scores or other measurable pieces of information doesn't take into account a child's interests or an ability to imagine, problem solve or negotiate with other children, all of which are important social and intellectual qualities.
"We have to intellectually engage kids," she said.
"We have to give them a sense of their own agency, their own capacity, and an ability to ask questions and solve problems. So we have to give them more open-ended activities that allow them the space they need to make sense of things," she added.