Academic Versus Play-Based Kindergarten

When the curriculum is in sync with natural brain development, everyone smiles.

When the curriculum is in sync with natural brain development, everyone smiles.

The hoopla began once Disney offered refunds to folks who bought Baby Einstein videos. Defenders of the videos insisted their children benefited from their time in front of the screen. Others gleefully took jabs at parents who thought watching them would make kids smarter.

But neither group asked the most relevant questions:  Just how do young kids’ brains develop, and how can we use that information to provide the best learning environment for children?

With such questions, we can hardly pick on just Baby Einstein videos.  Heck, kindergarten curriculum has also changed radically. Yet last I heard, today’s kids’ brains aren’t developing any differently than previous generations.  Nope, we’ve just changed what we demand at an early age.

Now if a five-year-old isn’t sitting still all day in school, we sometimes call it Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder—or some other diagnosis—rather than ask: Would we perceive that same child differently if he were in a play-based kindergarten?

Unfortunately, I’ve met too many adorable young kindergartners who have already experienced failure. That’s why I’m jealous of countries that use curriculum based on natural brain development.

For example, movement, intuition, images, and rhythm are mostly associated with the right side of the brain, and reading, writing, and math are mostly associated with the left side.  Turns out the right side has a burst of development between the ages of four to seven, whereas the left side gets going between the ages seven and nine.  So are we surprised that Denmark boasts nearly 100% literacy—and doesn’t present formal reading instruction until age eight?

But then, why stop with Disney and their Baby Einstein videos?  Why not hold schools accountable, as well? Challenge educators to provide research that shows today’s young children’s brains are different than kindergartners of past generations.  Have them prove that there’s no link between the recent accelerated academic push and the number of kids who are struggling in school.

And if they can’t substantiate claims that academic kindergartens are far better for young brains than play-based ones . . . . will millions of school kids also get a refund?

3 Responses to “Academic Versus Play-Based Kindergarten”

  1. Michele says:

    This information is very interesting and for me, opens up the debate regarding the increasing academic demands placed upon elementary school children. It began with homework for kindergarteners and has progressed to a few hours of assigned homework for 5th grade. If the demands keep accelerating before their left brain developmentally awakens, how are they to catch up?

    Additionally, our school district is affluent and high scoring. How do you hold teachers accountable when they will counter with their statistics regarding off the chart test scores for the majority of kids? Also, isn’t some (most?) of the academic drive prompted by parents and not necessarily teachers?

  2. admin says:

    Hi Michelle,
    We can teach kids any curriculum so long as the information is presented in a way that uses both sides of the brain. So if we include right brain kind of input (movement, rhythm, imagination) with left brain areas of the curriculum, we get the best of both worlds. To further ensure success, we can establish that fundamental neurological functions are in place before asking a child to perform. For example, we would want to first develop the fingers and hand before we have kids start to write.

    We demonstrate that kind of approach all the time in our year-long Brain Highways preschool. Hands-down, their curriculum is far more advanced than what you’d expect for such a young group, but they all joyfully acquire the concepts because we do the above.

    In response to schools that point to high test scores as validation for the curriculum, it’s a given that such tests only evaluate specific areas of knowledge in one format. Moreover, they do not tell us anything about the child in terms of other skills (e.g. leadership, kindness), nor do they tell us whether children are finding joy in learning.

    Last, yes, many parents share responsibility for pushing kids to do more and more at such an earlier age. But I believe that is more of a fear-based reaction (i.e. gotta make sure my kid gets into Harvard) than one based on actual knowledge of how the brain works and what kids need to be successful learners.


  3. [...] Could be correlation, but it could be that waiting helps more children learn. That homework and formal instruction in kindergarten are counter-productive. But public schools aren’t listening. Maybe they can’t, given [...]

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