The original kindergarten—the children’s garden—conceived by German educator Friedrich Froebel in the 19th century, was a place where children learned through play, often in nature.
That idea is fast eroding. Children aren’t playing in the garden anymore; instead they’re filling in bubbles on worksheets.
Kindergarten is the new first grade. Its teachers are required to focus on a narrowing range of literacy and math skills; studies show that “some kindergarteners spend up to six times as much time on those topics and on testing and test prep than they do in free play or ‘choice time,’” writes journalist David McKay Wilson in the Harvard Education Letter. Instruction is teacher-proofed as teachers are required to use scripted curricula that give them little opportunity to create lessons in response to students’ interests. Many schools have eliminated recess or physical education, depriving children of the important developmental need to move and exercise. The efforts to force reading lessons and high-stakes testing on ever younger children could actually hamper them later in life by depriving them of a chance to learn through play.