Princess is entering her third week of kindergarten and we have had some mishaps along the way that were brought up at orientation night last Thursday. Like all parents, I received a booklet of the ABC’s of Kindergarten, examples of kindergarten homework, handwriting tips and a poem called “Just Playing.” I quickly flipped through it there, and then spoke with the teacher of how we can help ease the Princess’ adjustment to kindergarten. After all was said and done, we went home and I read the booklet more thoroughly. After everything, all I can say is that I feel bad for the generation in which my daughter was born, for it is the generation that could be easily labelled “The Death of Play.”
This is the first year of all-day kindergarten in Toronto and it is clear that most teachers, parents and students are having some trouble adjusting. The teacher openly admitted that come 2:30, it becomes “The Twilight Hour” with a portion of the children in full on meltdown mode. Princess even fell asleep on her desk last week. The children are tired and from 12 pm to 3:22, they are inside a classroom for “play based learning.” Granted I’m not a teacher or an Early Childhood Educator, but perhaps it would be good for the children to have a short outside break in the afternoon. Most children have the attention span of a gnat and being cooped up may be the cause of the “Twilight Hour”.
But the main point of my argument is that in this booklet, the poem that was included to represent the “play based learning” curriculum. In it, when a child is at the kitchen centre, we’re not supposed to say “they are just playing” but instead say “they are learning to be mother’s and father’s someday.” When a child is painting, we’re not supposed to say “they are just playing” but instead say “they are learning to be an artist.” While I am in complete agreement that children certainly excel developmentally and socially through play, let’s leave it at that, play. I feel that if play no longer is just play, and it becomes muddled and adds more stress and pressure onto children. Instead of correcting children and saying “No you aren’t playing, you are learning” maybe just say “go enjoy yourself.” Maybe the Princess doesn’t want to be a Mother when she’s older, maybe she doesn’t want to be an artist. She just enjoys playing.
I remember what play felt like as a child. I didn’t have special toys that encouraged learning, I found a million different uses for a skipping rope. I wasn’t “learning” how to use my muscles, I was playing cow girl, or the skipping rope turned into a circular force field against the alien menace that was after us. When I climbed trees, I wasn’t “learning” about ecology, I was building a fort or hiding from my friends. I enjoyed being a kid for the sheer fact that play was simple, pure and innocent. I didn’t feel pressure to “learn” and I think I turned out ok. I am a confident, well spoken, contributing member of society. I don’t think it is unreasonable to wish that for my daughter too.
Children today are more medicated, have higher stress levels, are more likely to become depressed and suicide rates are getting higher for younger children, some as young as the age of 9. I believe the insane amount of pressure that is put on children to be the very best is leading to this. Honestly, at the age of nine, what stresses should you really have? Whether to play tag or hide and seek? I want my daughter to do well in school academically and apply herself and develop a great work ethic, but I also want her to be able to say “well now that school and homework are done, I am going to go have fun and not worry what I should be learning while running away from the big bad Monster Poo Poo Pants.” Children and childhood are pure and innocent and should be left that way.