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In Finland, Young Learners Still Play

In Finland, Young Learners Still Play


"Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?" asks a working paper from University of Virginia that analyzes the heightened focus on academic skills reaching the earliest grade levels. 

The paper- last updated in May- has found that modern Kindergarten teachers are forced to spend less time on art, music, science and child-selected activities in favor of focusing on advanced literacy and math content correlated to assessments.

Tim Walker, contributor for The Atlantic and educator himself, recalls a conversation had with a fellow educator who is a veteran Kindergarten teacher in Arkansas.

This particular educator has had to fight for the right for play time in her classroom of 20 students, having to meet with administration to OK 30 minutes of time dedicated to activities such as storytelling and using letter stamps.

"But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the 'house station with dolls and toy food'—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore," Walker said.

Walker has been a teacher of fifth and sixth grade students in Finland for the past two years. What occurs in the Finland kindergarten classroom amazes him- because it represents a classroom for young learners that has not yet succumbed to the pressures of advanced academic learning.

When Walker began to investigate how Finland educates its earliest learners, he discovered a fluid schedule that still emphasized the things that have been pushed out of America's classrooms.

"Instead of a daily itinerary, two of them showed me a weekly schedule with no more than several major activities per day: Mondays, for example, are dedicated to field trips, ballgames, and running, while Fridays—the day I visited—are for songs and stations," he said.

"Throughout the morning I noticed that the kindergartners played in two different ways: One was spontaneous and free form, while the other was more guided and pedagogical."

Certainly, teachers in Finland describe teaching students as emphasizing the "joy" of learning- Finland teachers not only allow for young learners to play, they encourage it as part of instruction.

It's a well-known fact that Finland fosters happy teachers and students, and that its students routinely perform exceptionally high on national assessments. While there are a reportedly a number of things that Finland does well that could help contribute to this, an emphasis on play is definitely one of them. 

Read the full article here.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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