Denisha’s Blog

WHAT IS TRUE PLAY?

5/23/2019


As a play advocate and a protector of childhood, I was immediately drawn to learning more about the play revolution, true play, and Anji Play. I recently joined the Anji Play Revolutionary Leadership Program and attended the First International True Play Conference in Anji County, China, earlier this month.  This experience has left me in awe of the power of play and eager to help expand the play revolution. This summer, I will write a series of blogs about true play, Anji Play, the play revolution in China and the U.S., the environment for play, and play as liberation and freedom.  I hope you will join me in igniting the play revolution across the world!

What is true play? We have all heard of play, but you might be wondering what true play is and how it differs from traditional play. I chose to begin with this overview of true play because I believe there are many early childhood educators, researchers, and parents who are advocates of true play in the U.S. and beyond. Although I will use definitions collected at the conference, I believe true play has universal aspects that can be found in centers and preschools globally. For many, true play is synonymous with loose parts play and free play. Although there is no one definition of true play, I will highlight some aspects that are crucial to differentiating between true play and traditional play. 

​“True Play-True play is deep and uninterrupted engagement in the activity of one’s own choice. True play is most frequently characterized by observable experiences of risk, joy, and deep engagement. This is the deepest manifestation of learning, grown, and development. True Play flourishes in places of love where the materials, environments, and decision-making attend to the needs and differences of the individual and the group. When given space to reflect, those who experience True Play and those who take part in deep and engaged observation of True Play will create ecologies that prioritize the understanding of learning and development in their respective communities. Educators and policy-makers committed to True Play protect the child’s right to experiences of True Play, and make True Play a priority in their decision making about education.” 
This definition of True Play was posted in one of the kindergartens (preschool for age 3-6) I visited in Anji County. The characteristics of true play that stand out the most are self-determined, uninterrupted deep engagement, freedom to take risks, and joy.

As I stated earlier, I believe many early childhood teachers and educators provide an opportunity for children to experience true play. In Poolesville, MD Kisha Reid is the owner and director of Discovery Early Learning Center A Place for Childhood that provides a beautiful environment for children to engage in true play. To learn more about Kisha’s play advocacy, watch this video.
Hundreds and possibly thousands, of early childhood teachers, provide time and space for young children to experience true play every day. Unfortunately, many of them face challenges from licensing requirements to the push down of developmentally inappropriate standards and curriculum. Nonetheless, these true play defenders recognize the “child’s right to experiences of True Play,” and they fight for that right every single day.

Below are more pictures of true play from Anji County. My next blog will describe the features of Anji Play, which is a type of true play. Do you provide true play experiences? If so, please share your photos and true play stories with [email protected] so we can spread the True Play Revolution!!!

Calling all ECE Leaders! 
Calling all Play Defenders! 
Calling all Protectors of Childhood!

Are you ready to develop your advocacy skills or to take them to the next level? Do you want to make your voice heard to lawmakers and policy experts? If so, then please join Defending the Early Years at our first Early Childhood Organizing Summer Institute July 7-10 in Washington DC. More information including links to register and book your hotel room can be found here https://www.deyproject.org/early-childhood-summer-organizing-institute.html

DENISHA JONES’ TESTIMONY TO THE OREGON STATE LEGISLATURE ON SCREEN TIME FOR CHILDREN

4/2/2019


,In the summer of 2018, the Oregon chapter of Parents Across America gathered with concerns about the adverse effects of increased screen time on children. After much research and consultation with experts and policy makers, the Oregon chapter drafted a trio of bills that addresses the myriad of concerns surrounding the excessive use of screens and digital devices in school and at home. 
 
The bills were given a first reading in the 2019 Oregon legislative session as SB 281, SB 282, and SB 283 and are center around three imperatives:  (1) warning labels on wireless products, (2) screen time limits on wireless devices in classrooms, and (3) exposing and addressing the harmful health effects of WiFi radiation especially on children at school. 
 
On March 25th DEY’s Director of Early Childhood Organizing, Denisha Jones, submitted her testimony in support of SB 282 to the Oregon Senate Committee on Education.  Read her outstanding testimony here: 

​Oregon State Legislature
Senate Committee on Education
900 Court St. NE
Salem, OR 97301

Re: Yes on SB 282

March 25, 2019

Dear Senate Committee on Education,

My name is Denisha Jones and I am the Director of Teacher Education and an Assistant Professor at Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC. I also serve as the Director of Early Childhood Organizing, for Defending the Early Years (DEY), a grassroots advocacy organization that seeks to protect young children from inappropriate curriculum, assessment, and practices. As a former kindergarten teacher, preschool director, and current teacher educator, I have spent the past 15 years working as an advocate for high-quality early childhood education.  Given my vast experience and knowledge of child development, I write today to declare my support for SB 282.  For the reasons listed below, I hope the Senate Committee on Education will support the successful passage of this much-needed legislation.

Anyone who spends times with young people or in schools knows that technology has become a ubiquitous presence in their lives. As adults we often allow technology to dominate our lives as part of our careers and how we communicate with friends and families. And although many of us are addicted to our phones and laptops, as adults we can recognize the harm that comes from too much screen time and takes steps to take a break and unplug. Unfortunately, many young people are unable to recognize the danger from too much screen time and lack the skills needed to take a break from technology.  Based on the way children develop over time, it should not come as a shock to anyone that too much exposure to digital media hurts child development.  In 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines for children’s media use. Evidence of the negative impact digital media can have on young children was enough to recommend children 18-months or younger receive no screen time while children ages 2-6 are limited to one hour of screen time a day. If the nation’s largest organization of pediatric doctors recognizes that limiting screen time is important for the healthy development of young children, then it is imperative that the Oregon legislature follow suit and do what is necessary to embrace the recommendations. 

Although technology does provide some benefit to young children, the dangers clearly warrant serious attention. Whether it’s the lack of manufacturing labels warning parents about the dangers or the exposure of student privacy data to technology companies, schools can no longer ignore these issues. If the state of Oregon truly seeks to prioritize the physical and mental health of all students, the legislature has a responsibility to ensure that SB 282 is passed and implemented. We cannot roll back the clock and limit the expansion of technology into our society, however, we must do what is necessary to protect children from the harms that overexposure to digital media can cause.  I hope you will join me in supporting SB 282. If you have any questions regarding my testimony, please do not hesitate to contact me at the phone number or email listed below. Thank you and have a great day!

Denisha Jones, Ph.D., J.D.
Director of Teacher Education
Assistant Professor
Trinity Washington University
[email protected]

I AM READY: HOW FLORIDA EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATORS RESIST THE MISUSE OF KINDERGARTEN READINESS ASSESSMENT

2/12/2019


At the last DEY organizing meeting during the NAEYC conference in Washington, DC, I met Heather Siskind who is the director of Jack & Jill Children’s Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Heather told me about the negative impact the results of the new kindergarten readiness test have on child care centers in Florida. Last month, I was headed to Miami for a retreat and made time to visit Heather and her colleague Julia Musella, Head of School at BB International School in Pompano Beach. Julia was instrumental in creating the I Am Ready movement in response to the attack on more than half of Florida’s early learning programs. I am Ready is the type of resistance we need to save the early childhood profession. Below are Julia’s responses to three interview questions to help you understand what is happening in Florida and how early childhood educators are fighting back.

Please tell us how I Am Ready began. Why did you feel the need to start this group? What do you hope to accomplish?
‘I am ready’ was born in direct response to the inappropriate testing of incoming Kindergarten children by computer and then publishing the scores in 2018. This disgraceful labeling of more than 50% of Florida’s Early Learning centers as failing to prepare children for kindergarten created an outcry from early educators across the state.  We had enough years of being voiceless so we created an online petition through Change.org to then-Governor Rick Scott demanding the scores be taken down and comply with the statute on assessments. At the same time, we launched a public Facebook page, registered “I am Ready” as a nonprofit corporation to serve as an advocacy group, and encouraged local groups of providers to launch private Facebook pages to dialogue with each other.

Our hope went beyond the short-term goal of having the scores eliminated and the assessment changed to meet the statute, although that was something we used to engage the community statewide. Our long term goal was to organize, galvanize and start a movement that would be the voice of Early Learning and small business owners who are in the business of education throughout the state. We were in it for a long term permanent organization that would use voter registration, voter mobilization (locally and statewide) and education of legislators to give a voice to young children, who are voiceless.

What has the response been to I Am Ready from teachers, parents, and lawmakers?
‘I Am Ready’ was an instant presence with 1,000 signatures added onto the petition very quickly. The Facebook page is widely followed by all the folks who are invested in the cause and beyond. There is a constant flow of stories, advice, shared experiences and a large group of silent readers, we call them, who reach out to the organization behind the scenes, by email, to set up appointments with legislators or local agency leaders who govern the funding. In a recent example, a post brought together a local ELC and providers to discuss raises in the reimbursement rates, something that hadn’t happened in 10 years.

What is next for the I Am Ready movement? How can early childhood teachers across the country join/support your work?

In this past election (2018), we used the NAEYC tool kit for advocacy and organized our childcare centers into thinking of themselves as a powerful voting block that included not only families and teachers but all the people who they touch in their everyday businesses. ¸

We created an organization of provider representatives (PRO) to dialogue with our local Early Learning Coalitions as a statewide group. After hosting various candidates in our centers for “Meet and Greets” during the election, we have been meeting with the newly elected or reelected lawmakers, locally in their districts to educate them on the inadequacy of funding for early learning, and the injustice of the testing.  

As a grassroots unfunded group, we use the power of social media to get our message out, keep our issues on the forefront, and coalesce with other causes and issues.  We have created a template for local conversations with communities and we are sharing the “ten-minute agenda” speech as we meet other educators at conferences, forums, and trainings throughout the state and hopefully nationwide in the very near future.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/254972031744763/

https://www.change.org/p/rick-scott-i-am-ready-for-kindergarten-oel-take-the-readiness-rate-scores-down-that-fails-florida

[email protected]

Thank you, Julia and all early childhood educators and supporters, in Florida who are resisting the inappropriate use of kindergarten readiness assessments.

Are you a resister in early childhood education? Send your story of resistance to [email protected]!

CALLING ALL EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATORS: WE NEED YOU TO PARTICIPATE IN THE BLACK LIVES MATTER AT SCHOOL WEEK OF ACTION FEBRUARY 4-8!

2/1/2019


This year marks the second national Black Lives Matter in School Week of Action. What began in 2016 as a one-day celebration of black student’s lives in Seattle, one year later was turned into a week-long curriculum based on the 13-principles of Black Lives Matter by educators in Philadelphia. Last year over 30 cities and hundreds of schools brought the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action to their students and this year we are looking to expand to even more cities. As a member of the national steering committee, I spent the last few months working with educators across the country to build this national movement. Together we have created a curriculum for grades K-12, hosted two webinars to inform the public about the week of action, and provided support to educators and activist across the country who recognize the need for a national Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action.  As I reflect on our work, I am reminded once again why this movement must begin in the early years with all young children. 

In DC, I was fortunate to join a group of early childhood educators exploring anti-bias literature for young children. The DC Area Educators for Social Justice is a project of Teaching for Change created to develop and sustain a collaborative of social justice educators in the DC metro region.  The DC Black Lives Matter in School Week of Action is organized by the DC Area Educators for Social Justice and other local community partners.  Members of the ECE anti-bias leadership group are also part of the Black Lives Matter in School Week of Action, leading our work to focus on bringing the week of action into early childhood environments.  As we thought through developmentally appropriate ways to teach young children about race and diversity, I am reminded of why the focus on the 13-guiding principles are so important. 

Black children learn what it means to be black in America through a narrative of slavery, freedom, and the struggle for civil rights. And non-Black children learn to think of Black people as only having a history that stems from the same.  How can we expect Black children to develop strong identities when the foundation we teach them is packaged in oppression? How can we expect non-Black children to see Black people as equals when the Black history they learn paints them as victims of racial oppression? The 13-guiding principles of Black Lives Matter have nothing to do with slavery and oppression. During the week of action, students learn the values of restorative justice, empathy, loving engagement, diversity, globalism, trans-affirming, queer-affirming, collective value, intergenerational, Black families, Black villages, Black women, and unapologetically black. This is the foundation all Black children need to develop a positive identity of self. And this is the foundation all non-Black children need to develop positive respect for Black people.

Every non-dominant racial and cultural group has experienced some type of oppression. And at some point, students must learn this history. But should it be the first thing they learn? Do young Jewish students learn about the horrors of the Holocaust in preschool? Or do they develop a positive foundation and pride in their Jewish identity before learning about the historical oppression their people suffered? If the answer is the latter, then I implore you to recognize young black children deserve the same. And yes, positive racial identity development begins at home, but it cannot flourish without support from the educational environment. I call on early childhood teachers across the country to accept the responsibility of bringing the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action to your students.  For more information including access to the curriculum resources and student creative challenge, please visit www.blacklivesmatteratschool.com

OUR FIRST STORY OF RESISTANCE: VOICING YOUR CONCERNS

1/3/2019


Last month I announced that Defending the Early Years would be collecting stories of resistance with the goal of developing an early childhood resistance movement. For more on why we must resist, you can read my previous articles here and here.

I’m excited to announce that we have our first story of resistance. Susie LaBarre an Occupational Therapist in Washington State sent me a copy of her letter where she voiced her concerns over the well being of young children and to implore for radical change. In addition to raising her voice, Susie included resources to educate her district superintendent (each of the resources is located here). With her permission, I have included a copy of Susie’s letter below:

Good morning Rob, 
Following a discussion with one of my special education teams when a family did not show for a preschool evaluation, I was feeling defeated and wondering where to start to be a voice for students as they begin their education journey.  To also be a voice for students who struggle to learn, academically, socially, with self-care, and coping skills.  To be a voice for staff who are feeling exhausted trying to meet the needs of students on so many levels and pressure to perform with classroom standards they are expected to uphold, even when their educational background is telling them that they are asking students to do tasks that may not be developmentally appropriate.  They push forward, seek support for intervention, yet students are not able to qualify for services, because they demonstrate age-appropriate skills, and the loop continues, pushing students to try and reach standards that are not developmentally appropriate.

I do not know where to start, but I feel in my heart of hearts, we need to start thinking about making radical changes.  The needs of students are changing based on the nature of our world (see attached references), and it appears we are using tools that may not best fit the job at hand.   I know that I am not alone in expressing concern for the overall well-being of our students and staff, but like in Horton Hears a Who, I am compelled to be a voice for the voiceless or for what is not being said.  

This is not just school district concerns.  Fellow professionals are expressing like concerns when caring for moms/dads and infants in the hospital, NICU, birth to three programs, other school districts and child programs, transitions to the workforce, and adult support programs.  Not knowing where to begin the discussion, yet I know that you have read my emails in the past with conviction and felt compelled to be a voice again. 

Thank you for taking the time to read any or all of what I have shared.  I wish you a season of hope for you and your family and for Cheney SD this holiday season.


Susie LaBarre, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist
Windsor, Betz, Snowdon, WMS

This is one way to resist. How do you resist? Send me your resistance story to [email protected].

BUILDING AN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION RESISTANCE MOVEMENT: PROTECTING CHILDHOOD AND THE PROFESSION

11/15/2018


Education in the United States, and especially early childhood education, is a decentralized patchwork of local, state, national, and private organizations. Even though public education remains (for now) in the public realm, unlike other countries, we lack a universal federally funded system of public education and instead we have 50 states who manage public education and even more organizations that oversee early childhood education. Given the disparities in how much state governments and local governments spend on early childhood education, we have a system that varies greatly in quality and access.  Attempts to unify the profession are underway by those who seek to “establish a unifying framework for career pathways, knowledge and competencies, qualifications, standards, and compensation”. I support these efforts and participate when I can to ensure my voice is heard as others collaborate to strengthen the Power to the Profession project. 
           
However, I do feel there is another type of unifying that needs to happen in the early childhood field.   Yes, we must create a bold vision for the profession that addresses pathways, qualifications, and compensation, but we also need to unify the profession to build a movement of resistance.  We must organize each other and educate our families so we can all mobilize to protect childhood and the profession.  What do we need protection from? The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), privatization of public education, neo-liberal reforms, test-based accountability, and other forces that push developmentally inappropriate practices, assessments, and policies are a great place to begin.  These threats are real and any attempt to unify the profession that does not address how we resist these toxic efforts does not go far enough, in my opinion.  Over the past 20-years we have identified and discussed these threats, but we have not established a movement of early childhood educators who collectively organize to resist.
           
Well, I am proud to announce that the time has come to build that movement. As the new Director of Early Childhood Organizing for Defending the Early Years (DEY), I will begin the task of developing an early childhood education resistance movement.  Building on the work of DEY and other education justice allies, I will build relationships, identify knowledge and skills, and recruit early childhood educators to share stories of resistance and offer support to help build their resistance efforts.  We know what works in early childhood education and we know what children need to develop and succeed. What we need is the time to come together, learn, organize, and support each other as we build a movement of resistance.
           
​If you are in Washington, DC for the annual National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference, I invite you to join DEY at our 5th Annual Organizing Meeting on Friday November 16th at 7:30 pm in the Marriot Marquis Hotel, Capitol Room.  Partnering with NAEYC’s Community Collaboration Interest Forum, DEY meets every year to organize participants on important issues. This year we will discuss how to build an early childhood education resistance and we will collect stories of resistance. How do you resist inappropriate standards? Less time for play? Inappropriate assessments? Demands for more academics? Every day, early childhood educators engage in efforts to resist things they know are harmful to young children. Help us help others, by sharing your resistance stories. If you cannot attend the organizing meeting you can email your story of resistance to [email protected] I look forward to working with all of you as we build his movement together. We will protect childhood. We will protect the profession. 

“PUTTING CHILDREN AT THE CENTER:” REFLECTIONS FOR THE 5TH ANNUAL NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION (NPE) CONFERENCE

10/29/2018


I travel to many conferences every year. As a professor, I am expected to conduct research, write about it, and travel around the country sharing my work. I like traveling, so I enjoy this aspect of my job. Five years ago, I went to my first Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Austin, Texas, and it has become a very special event for me. First off, it is not like many of the boring academic conferences I attend where people read their research papers.  Educators, parents, and activists from all over the country (and world) attend NPE. Second, the first NPE is the first time I met my Badass Teacher family! After a year of watching that organization grow exponentially fast on Facebook, we finally meet in Austin at NPE. Finally, it was the second annual NPE conference in Chicago where I was asked to join the Advisory Board of Defending the Early Years. Each year, early childhood education is well represented at the NPE conference and I am proud to be able to discuss many issues related to the education and care of young children. 

This NPE conference ended with a keynote from Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP.  Given the history of civil rights organizations supporting high-stakes testing and other school privatization efforts, it was refreshing to hear the president of the NAACP denounce privatization, charters, and high-stakes standardized testing.  One comment that Mr. Johnson repeated as a salient part of his remarks was that we must “put children in the center.” He advocated that the work we do must put the needs of children in the center.  He urged us to put children in the center and march forward with our allies by asking “are we training and preparing our children for a bright, prosperous future?” His comments resonated with me because I believe we must do all we can to protect childhood. And we must work together to put children and their education in the center of the work we do.

Many of the workshops at NPE were about putting children in the center. I was able to speak with other early childhood educators and advocates about how we restore justice in the early years and address trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACES). In the DEY workshop, we addressed how the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) infected early childhood education with the proliferation of online preschools. Other speakers addressed many issues about education, teachers, and public schools which all include a need to put children at the center.  Whether it is teachers in Puerto Rico fighting to save schools for their students, or teachers in Arizona organizing to improve working conditions that impact children’s learning condition, we all came together because we believe that the fight for equity and justice must place children in the center.
           
The NPE conference might be the one time a year I see many of my education activist friends who advocate for children and their schools across the country. It is great to be reminded that you are not alone in this fight and that your allies are there to support you and help you heal. It is good to laugh, eat, drink, cry, and organize with people who understand why you do what you do. And most of all, it is important to learn from each other and recharge your spirit as you gear up to continue the fight.

IN DEFENSE OF PLAY: WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO GET PARENTS, TEACHERS, AND LAWMAKERS TO FOLLOW THE DOCTOR’S ORDERS?

10/18/2018


The first time I taught a course on play, I used the term Play Defenders. I told my students, as future early childhood educators, they would have to become Play Defenders. It might be parents, or other teachers, or even their administrator that questioned their insistence on free play being part of the curriculum, thus their job would be to defend play. I armed them with research on the benefits of play not only to help with learning, but to promote social and emotional development which to me was way more important.  When it comes to the need to defend play, not much has changed in the past five years since I taught that first course on play. Now I teach, research, and write about the need to defend play. Not just to my students, but to the teachers who mentor them, the administrators who hire them, the parents who entrust them to teach their child, and the lawmakers who decide which early childhood programs to fund.

Resistance to play is everywhere. Parents stressed that their child will not do well in kindergarten or graduate from high school can become resistant to play. Teachers forced to raise test scores at all cost will likely resist play as a waste of time. Administrators looking to prove their programs are a worthy investment will view play as risky instead of necessary. And lawmakers demanding to see evidence of long-term growth and increased academic achievement will be resistant to see the value in play.  Given all this resistance, what chance do the Play Defenders have at saving play?

Well, the Play Defenders have a new ally in their fight to save play…pediatricians. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical report last month that depicts the role pediatricians have in using play to promote healthy development in all young children.  The report provides a comprehensive review of play including definitions, benefits, challenges, and barriers, and ends with five recommendations for pediatricians. The final recommendation suggests pediatricians can “encourage playful learning for parents and infants by writing a ‘prescription for play’ at every well-child visit in the first 2 years of life”. I never thought the day would come where we would need doctors to prescribe play, but that is our reality. My only critique of this article is that this recommendation should say for the first 10 years of life!

We now live in a world where states that do not offer public pre-k or kindergarten are spending millions on online preschools (yes, that is just as terrible as it sounds). Instead of finding ways to make high-quality preschool accessible to more families, they are cutting corners and spending money on online programs that claim to prepare young children for kindergarten.  We also live in a world where researchers are just starting to understand how young children are affected by trauma and adverse childhood experiences, but we see little action from local, state, and the federal government to address these issues. Maybe we need doctors prescribing play for all children to make Play Defenders become a thing of the past. Imagine a world where a preschool teacher announces that it is time to do work, and the child says, “I have a note from my doctor that says I get to play.” Sounds like a dream, but I say we make it a reality.

Click here to read Defending the Early Years and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood statement against funding for online preschool.

EARLY CHILDHOOD AUTHENTIC ASSESSMENTS: NECESSARY FOR GOOD INSTRUCTION OR IRREPARABLY HARMED BY TOXIC TEST-BASED ACCOUNTABILITY

9/4/2018


This was not the topic I planned to write about for my second back-to-school piece but given some of the social media comments from my last blog I felt the need to respond. In my list of ten suggestions for parents to demand a right to play I included asking if their child’s teacher engaged in play-based assessment and then linked to a couple of resources to share.  My thinking was that if teachers learn to assess children authentically during free play, the time allotted to free play will increase, and the use of standardized computerized assessment would decrease.  Some readers took issue with the idea of assessing children during play insisting that it would contribute to the increase in data collection and turn something as wonderful as free play into an opportunity to “systematically assess for social activity”. To be fair I am not even sure what a systematic assessment of social activity is, but nonetheless I feel the need to explore the benefit of authentic early childhood assessment deeper. 

Now I fully understand how high stakes standardized testing and the push to make sure all students are “college and career ready” has created a toxic test-based accountability nightmare for public education. I am also fully aware of how data collection through these standardized tests turns children into data points and transforms real teaching and learning into “personalized learning” or as I like to call it de-personalized learning i.e., learning in front of a computer all day (for more on my take read this article). I have been active in the fight to stop the privatization of public education since I returned to Washington, DC in 2011 and began working with grassroots groups such as the Badass Teacher’s AssociationUnited Opt Out NationalSave Our SchoolsDefending the Early Years, and the Network for Public Education.  I have spoken out against privatization through charters and vouchers, the racist history of standardized testing and how they continue to marginalize students of color, and de-professionalization of teaching through the expansion of fast-track teacher preparation programs like Teach for America.  And more importantly, I base my teaching and research as a teacher educator and critical scholar on disrupting the neoliberal assault on public education.  I am not trying to toot my own horn, but instead demonstrate that I am very aware of what is happening regarding testing and I am in no way supportive of the test-based accountability movement.
But, as a teacher educator, I recognize the value of authentic assessment. I believe that you cannot teach students without assessing students. Teaching and learning are part of a cycle that includes assessment. I remember a few years ago, being at a rally to save public education outside of the Department of Education and a passerby asking if as an educator I did not believe in assessment. I explained to him the same way I do to my students, assessments are a necessary part of teaching and learning, but standardized assessments are only one kind of assessment and they are not as reliable or valid as we have been led to believe. Furthermore, the insistence that we test all children all the time through standardized measures, is tantamount to education malpractice because it destroys childhood and education. 

​I do not know how to prepare future teachers to engage in quality teaching without being able to assess their students. Additionally, I want my students to use assessment as a tool to improve teaching and learning and not to punish students, teachers, schools, or communities. When my students observe (and assess) students during free play they are asked to see the child’s strengths and focus on what the child can do and not what the child cannot do. This is the best way I know how to ensure that these future teachers will have a valid option when it comes to deciding how to plan for instruction based on knowledge of their students.  I know that high stakes standardized testing has turned assessment into a dirty word. But I wonder, is there still room for authentic early childhood assessments, or have we lost the ability to find the good in any assessment due to the toxic world of test-based accountability we are currently experiencing? I would love to hear your thoughts.

PROTECT CHILDHOOD: DEMAND A RIGHT TO PLAY

8/16/2018


Back to school was always my favorite time of the year.  I loved going to school so much that I became a teacher, teacher educator, and professional student with two advanced degrees! When I was younger, back to school shopping was my favorite activity and I was so excited I could barely sleep the night before the first day of school. Although I have fond memories of my time in school, I fear that today’s young children do not have the same sense of joy when it is time to go back to school. For too many young people, instead of school being the place where the joy of exploration and inquiry occurs, now it has become a place for direct instruction and rote memorization.  Researchers and kindergarten teachers have reported the decline in play and choice time as a result of an increase in teacher-led academic activities.  The push to have children “college and career” ready means kindergarten can no longer be a place where children engage in free play, but instead they must learn how to read.

Research has proven the benefits of play
, but the powers that be refuse to listen. Additionally, the decline in play and rise in challenging behaviors and mental disorders have been studied, but we still have so-called experts claiming play is not important. Early childhood teachers are criticized for allowing young children to play and parents are led to believe that play is not valuable for the development of happy, healthy children.  Those of us who recognize the value of play are the last line of defense when it comes to ensuring all children have the right to play.  We must be advocates for all children, we must protect childhood, and we must demand a right to play. Below are some back to school suggestions for defending play and protecting childhood.

  1. Ask the teacher, principal, or director how play is utilized in the school curriculum. If they say there is no time for play, ask if they have read the research on the benefits of play and if not share this with them.
  2. Request that all students receive a minimum of 30-minutes for recess. If they say there is no time for recess, share this article with them. 
  3. Request that all students receive 10-15-minutes of physical activity breaks for every 40-45 minutes of instruction. 
  4. Allow your child to play before and after school.
  5. Ask your child’s teachers if they conduct authentic assessments during unstructured play. If not, share this research and this resource.
  6. Encourage your child’s teacher to address the need for more play at back-to-school night.
  7. Talk with other parents about the need for more play.
  8. Create an In Defense of Play committee at your school and center. Ask parents and teachers to join this group and distribute resources about the need for play.
  9. Host a public play-in. Allow children to play while adults watch and observe the benefits of play. 
  10. Contact your local and state representatives and inform them about the need to play and the benefits of play. Ask them to attend your play-in and send them research on play. Ask them to sign on to a statement of support for the right to play. 

Do you have other ideas on how we can protect childhood and demand a right to play? Please share them in the comments.