What Happened to Play?

        November/December 2006

Starting a year ago, a group of early childhood educators from local NYC universities and teachers in local public schools decided to get together to talk. One thing led to another, and we began to meet regularly with increasing numbers, in part to share “horror stories,” in part to talk about where we saw openings, and in part to think aloud together about the role of play in our own lives and what research has to say about it!

We decided we had to start something going—as fast as we could. We spread the word, and by the summer we had found enough funds to hire someone to keep our work moving ahead, to seek more funding, and to spread the word. Susan Ochshorn is the name of the person we found to do this, and she can be reached at s.ochs2@verizon.net. Part of the plan was also to join forces with the Alliance for Childhood, a group that had begun a similar effort in Washington D.C. a few years earlier. The plan: to get a grassroots campaign going in New York City and as many other places as we can, to aim at a nation-wide set of events next fall that highlight the risky terrain we are entering into as we try to do everything earlier and faster. By the time some kids reach kindergarten, they are already deemed “failures,” and parents of the most advantaged are more and more priming their kids for tests in order to get a leg up in the competitive race.

We need to reach folks everywhere to see if we can slow the race down a bit, and rethink the power of play for intellectual development and creativity both. Our national genius for inventiveness may be at stake, as well as democracy itself. A rather lofty claim, but we’re pretty sure that the self-initiated child play that constitutes the years from infancy to six is essential to developing the kind of opening-mindedness and empathy that democracy rests on. This hardly guarantees it. Democracy may even be sufficiently “counter-intuitive” to require far more than six years of such hands and minds on play. We ought not to to experiment with it on the scale we’re now witnessing.

Join us? Have thoughts? I’ll add a reading list on the subject soon.

Below is our mission statement:



A Campaign to Restore Creative Play and Hands-on Learning to Preschools and Kindergartens

Child advocates must consider all factors that interfere with optimal development and press for circumstances that allow each child to fully reap the advantages associated with play.   — American Academy of Pediatrics, October 2006

The last decade has seen radical changes in early childhood education. The achievement gap between low-income children and their more affluent peers and new insights from brain research showing the importance of learning in the early years have focused public attention on early childhood, from birth to age six, and sparked a national campaign for school readiness.

Preparing children for school and improving the quality of early childhood education are critical goals. But the means to achieving them now commonplace in preschool and kindergarten—including academic drills, scripted teaching, and standardized testing—are misguided and detrimental to the needs of children and society. Flexibility, perseverance, empathy, curiosity, social awareness, and resilience are best developed in young children through activities that are often dismissed as “only play.” A body of compelling research and pedagogical experience show that open-ended, creative play is essential for all aspects of children’s development, including their academic success. Yet, sadly and dangerously, exploratory play is missing from the lives of growing numbers of our youngest citizens.

Our purpose is to broaden and refocus public conversation about early childhood and its long-term implications for a child’s life and for society; to restore imaginative play and hands-on, experiential learning as central activities in kindergartens and preschools; and to support stable, loving relationships with all adults in children’s lives.

To ensure that the education of young children is in accordance with the precepts of healthy child development, we have set forth the following goals:

  • to develop and implement a public information, engagement, and advocacy campaign, with outreach to educators, parents, policymakers, and others concerned about the well-being of our nation’s children;
  • to cultivate multi-faceted media coverage—including print, broadcast, and web-based—that focuses on the broader picture of childhood and the need for creative play and hands-on learning; and
  • to realign the education and professional development of early childhood educators with the tenets of experiential learning.


New York Voices of Childhood
Deborah Meier, New York University

Susan Oschshorn

Alliance for Childhood
P.O. Box 444
College Park, MD 20741

© 2006 Deborah Meier

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: