The Building Blocks of a Good Pre-K

For 4-year-olds in school for the first time, play is serious work.
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What about reading great books aloud to children?

Once upon a time, children's days would be filled with nursery rhymes, fairy tales and fables. Much wisdom and learning was transferred this way.

I have a four-year-old (currently asleep) who is just spellbound by great books. His block and lego play as well as his lunchtime chit-chat with his brother are inspired by books, books and more books.

Freedom to play with toys is wonderful, but a child's imagination without a live human voice reading great books is like a sailboat without wind.

With books... that sailboat... well, you will just have to read chapter VII of E.B. White's classic "Stuart Little" to catch my drift.

Please make reading great books to children a deep and meaningful part of preK in NYC.

42 2018-06-10 01:12:49 - CT

I administrate a childcare center/preschool. We are watching the tides change in our nation regarding education, but in our center, children begin licensed preschool at 22 months of age. Learning can be playful and fun but it can and is structured and consistent. Kindergarten is not what it used to be and for some of the children in our nation, 1st grade is truly a challenge. So, we begin early and we purposely and playfully push young children forward to be successful students. They know and understand with the support of their parents that together, as a community, with the future of social education or not, they will be successful!

4 2017-07-14 18:41:24 - TVWallace

I think Kate has it almost exactly wrong when she says: "We need to get into the mechanics of play and actually drive it somehow and push our children like technology pushes adults to new levels of understanding the world." What we need is to free young children (and everyone) from such pressures and allow our own humanity to rise to the fore. The constant pressure to 'perform,' even when such performance is close to meaningless, robs us of the humanizing play experiences the article's authors write about.

4 2017-02-06 09:22:13 - Bob Anderson

This is lovely. And it reads like an advertisement for Waldorf education. Play as the work of childhood.

5 2016-11-10 08:09:51 - Sarah

One of the most important findings of "Crisis in the Kindergarten," the report that Joan Almon and I wrote for the Alliance for Childhood in 2009 and is cited in this op-ed piece, is that what many classroom teachers and school administrators call "play" is not in fact playful at all. That's why I object to Polakow-Suransky's and Nager's use of the terms "purposeful play" and "meaningful play." I have been in many early childhood classrooms where the teachers proudly point to the children's "purposeful play"--but what is actually going on is carefully controlled and scripted by the teacher, and the "choices" that children are allowed are pitifully narrow and joyless. Let children be children! Let their play be play--even when adults see no particular purpose to it!

137 2016-11-05 01:41:17 - Ed Miller

Worksheets for 4 year olds? I find that hard to believe. You don't "teach" 4 year olds, you nudge them into exploration, cooperative play, and problem solving, you help them understand how to behave in a group with other children, you do it in an environment that is caring, supportive, and safe, and most importantly, you make it fun to be in school.

They're voraciously curious enough for learning to take care of itself.

30 2016-10-31 07:44:11 - Matt Kelly

In America, we have substituted assessment for education at all levels, crippling the effectiveness of instruction.
Self-teaching by students and student motivation are everything in education, so allow children and older students to own some of their own education. In America, the problem is always owned by the assessors.
This was a lovely article. I agree wholeheartedly with the author.

3 2016-09-18 22:40:42 - Zachary Burton

Reading this column and the comments are so frustrating, they make me want to cry.

We have known that this is the way children become socialized and learn for 50 years or more, and we have yet to make the necessary applications to preschool education across the board.

I have a degree in early childhood education and taught in a wonderful school in Chicago in the early 70's. Our classrooms were set up as the authors describe, and activity choices were made by the children. Our children came from (mostly) poverty and every ethnic background you could imagine. Yet they loved school, cooperated, thrived, and soaked up every experience we exposed them to. I think of these kids often, and I honestly don't know whether they went on to great success in school and life. I can't help but think though that our school found them at an early vulnerable age and made a difference.

It was a federally funded project and about as far from "babysitting" as you can get. Parents paid on a sliding scale. When Nixon vetoed universal preschool for 4-year-olds in '74(?) because it would take children away from their mothers (or some nonsense that I can't remember), it was a setback of enormous proportions.

27 2016-08-09 16:36:36 - jerseylady

The Building Blocks of a Good Pre-K are two good PARENTS!

7 2016-08-06 18:32:41 - bern

Why do third graders need to be tested by the state?

16 2016-07-29 16:34:14 - Citizen

My son and daughter both when to "play" type pre-school/kindergartens. My son was reading at age 4. My daughter was not, no interest. We worried and asked the teacher why she was so "behind." The teacher said (the obvious now) that the kids were different and reading was what he was drawn to and interested in. She was not, and if we noticed, she was farther "ahead" than our son in other categories, and she was certainly gaining all the "pre-reading" tools necessary for reading -- she would read soon enough. And of course all that was true, and she was at reading level mid-way through first grade. I am so glad we didn't push anything and let the natural learning process of "play" work its wonders

5 2016-07-24 03:59:12 - Royal oak

This is not an either-or situation. Many studies do show that preschool for low income kids does make a difference even if it does not erase all disadvantages. The research into the earliest head start programs, especially ones with good developmental programs like High Scope, had long term benefits.

1 2016-07-10 13:35:26 - theodora30

Did NY city begin a program without a curriculum and goals that would clearly indicate teacher qualifications for job placement? The authors are on the right track and they have a strong foot hold in decades, if not centuries, of the best of the brightest asking the question, "What kind of milieu should an under 5 yr old child have in a school setting?" HeadStart failed to more seriously address this question. As a result the program become more of a cultural-political one rather than an educational one. I've been in scores of HeadStart classrooms and too many teachers are more like nagging nannies, to be blunt, than well trained teachers. Teachers should first be trained, then be evaluated for minimum competency and potential to develop, and only then hired or not hired. The mayor will have to decide if he is going to be a classical idealistic do-gooder or a serious planner, one who wants to accomplish the goals of liberal minded educators while not repeating failures of the past.Like HeadStart, once a program becomes "institutionalized" it can go on infinitum without an honest regard for effectiveness. This is a great opportunity to forge a collaboration between academic resources and front line application. No ivory tower thinkers allowed;and, no political-cultural driven agenda allowed. There are some great resources in academia that understand practical application. Is the mayor's office curious enough to tap into them?

1 2016-07-03 04:54:34 - william phillips

Dr Maria Montessori used her training as a physician and her close observation of the stages of childhood development -- their learning capacity and their needs at each stage -- to design what we call The Montessori Method. It now has over 100 years of a very successful track record. It succeeds in all respects: the children learn very well, love learning, are inquisitive, and will tell you that 'school is not work'. Its teachers are especially trained in the method.
This essay seems to describe a very similar approach, but why do educators keep reinventing the wheel?

9 2016-06-29 13:38:39 - B

'must include..."

Why and says who? This kind of adult anxiety about the children not being early enough at doing work foreign to their development - and which is not formally introduced till age 6 in Finland, the country with the best educated children - is just what the young explorers and inventors DO NOT NEED.

11 2016-06-29 06:45:23 - Sandra Needham

Babies and young children seem to make no real distinction between play and learning. In other words, learning is a joyous experience for them. They should be teaching us about this vital insight!

18 2016-06-27 12:03:53 - Richard M. Waugaman, M.D.

As it should be! I will gladly pay taxes to help socialize children who's parents don't have the tools to do so! These kids and their parents aren't going away. We should help the situation and in turn help ourselves, these kids will be future tax payers. Truly great societies provide for the young, the old and the weak. I will proudly pay my tax dollars and gladly vote for the politician who supports any and all educational efforts.

0 2016-06-14 07:20:40 - Michelle Hernandez

As a Bank Street grad teaching pre-K many years ago, I found unexpected support from the New York City curriculum guide. After I started the children on indoor sand play, both the early childhood cuuriculum coordinator and the principal asked me what in the world I was doing. Teaching them math, I said, concepts of full and empty, half-full and hall enpty, 1/2 cup etc. Teaching them vocabulary, words like gritty, grainy, smooth, and rough. "I think you could do that with a rexograph" (prehistoric copier), said the coordinator. BUT ITS RIGHT HERE IN THE CURRICULUM GUIDE, I answered innocently, knowing she could not overrule that. If those curriculum guides are still of that quality, you are safe when you use play. If not, get those guidelines back--they were consistent with what I learned at Bank Street. It is heartbreaking that years later this issue still appears controversial. Good luck and don't give up!.

49 2016-06-05 15:39:58 - Meryl G.

This piece affirms simply and basically the principles of early childhood education. As a former early childhood teacher, administrator, writer and consultant, I fully agree with the long-held beliefs expressed by Shael Polakow-Suransky and Nancy Nager. Learning to listen, to think, to express oneself and to test one's abilities in a variety of safe and open-ended situations is a young child's entry into learning to learn for the rest of his or her life.

I hope that New York City will allow its early childhood educators wide latitude in developing age-appropriate environments for the 4-year olds who are entering this new public program for experiential learning. Beyond this critical stage of a young child's life, there will always be too many years of tests, stress and required curricula waiting on the next rungs of the learning ladder.

Jane G Epstein
Retired Early Childhood Educator and Consultant

3 2016-05-19 08:46:25 - Jane G. Epstein

The phantasy of young children is endless.

My children never went to bed without being allowed to read several pages of their newest book. TV was quite restricted.

When a book was turned into a movie, such as The Canterville Ghost and Anne Frank, and I asked had they rather seen the movie before reading the book, the answer was always a big NO. No matter how much they enjoyed the respective movies, their explanation was it would have destroyed all of what they were feeing, and the imaginary pictures they saw in their mind while reading the books first.

4 2016-05-18 05:29:45 - Sarah

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