The Play-Based Learning Movement is Off to a Promising New Start

September 24, 2010

We should all hope for a beautiful fall day in New York City on October 3rd when Play for Tomorrow, the consortium of educators, authors and business leaders formed last year kicks off what it terms a new national movement dedicated to play-based learning with its “Ultimate Block Party” in New York City’s Central Park. The group’s co-founder, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University), and her collaborators, not least of which is the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, have put together what promises to be a spectacular event that’s sure to draw lots of media attention to the issue of play-based learning. Among the luminaries involved in the event as spokespersons are none other than Laurie Tisch, president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, bestselling children’s book author, Craig Hatkoff, and actress and mother of three, Sarah Jessica Parker.

It’s heartening to see so much momentum develop around the critically important issue of play-based learning — and to see people of the caliber of Hirsh-Pasek involved. The group’s goal is to create a groundswell of public support for play-based learning across the country and the world. Accomplishing that goal could go a long way toward addressing the harmful loss of human potential that is the result of reductions in time children spend in the various forms of play that are critical to learning and creativity. For this new movement to succeed it will be important to think broadly about play and its unique ability to get children engaged in more sophisticated thinking and problem-solving. Parents and educators alike must be made aware that not all play is created equal. When play is used as a reward for things like doing household chores, it may not contribute to learning in any meaningful way, especially if that play is devoted to activities like playing mindless electronic games rather than children involved in scientific explorations or interactive media. When teachers or other adults are present in settings where children are playing, it’s important for them to be aware that they can support children’s play in ways that lead to building skills like abstract thinking, self-regulation and spatial reasoning. Maintaining the play movement’s newfound momentum while also delivering the resources for more playful learning in America’s schools and homes will pay dividends the value of which are difficult to over-estimate.

So join me in Central Park on October 3rd if you’re in the area. If you’re not, go to the website and learn how to get a block party organized in your city.

Let the games begin!

–Ellen Frede

Co-Director, NIEER

The Perry Preschool Study Stands the Test of Time, but It Doesn’t Stand Alone

September 17, 2010

Perhaps because the Perry Preschool study is cited so often to demonstrate the long-term benefits of preschool, it seems the landmark study is often criticized – or at least its flaws underscored in an attempt to discredit its findings as relevant to today’s world. This week I decided to address the validity of some of the criticisms I hear most often. At the same time I add a word of caution about relying too much on this (or any) single study.

Claim: The Perry study was poorly randomized and so its results cannot be trusted.

Response: No study is perfect, and the Perry study had minor problems in random assignment. However, these do not invalidate the results. For example, a few children assigned to the treatment group crossed over to the control group because their mothers worked and getting their children to and from a half-day preschool program was difficult. As children of mothers who were employed tended to do better on tests and in school than others, this had the effect of making the control group look better, biasing estimated effects downward. A recent re-analysis of the Perry study by James Heckman and others at the University of Chicago that takes into account the limitations of the randomization finds that the basic results were not altered.

Claim: The Perry program was not preschool education in the usual sense, because it had an extensive home-visiting program to provide maternal training.

Response: The home visits were designed to work with child and mother.  Their primary value may have been to help the teacher focus on individualizing their teaching to each child and providing one-on-one tutoring.  Data collected on the families do not show any effects on the home learning environment, including such activities as reading to the child. After the Perry study, a curriculum comparison study was conducted in which the frequency of home visits was reduced in the next study to once every other week with no apparent impact on children’s learning gains.  Neither meta-analyses nor direct experimental comparisons have confirmed the hypothesis that home-visiting involving parents adds to the effectiveness of preschool programs.  The Perry study’s results point to the importance of the teacher’s interaction with the child with primary emphasis on the classroom.  Other studies of programs that did not have home visits have produced similar results. Read the rest of this entry »

Shakira Steps Into Role of Early Childhood Advocate

September 9, 2010

When you hear the name Shakira, the image that comes to mind is most likely not that of an advocate for early education and care for Latin America’s kids. In NIEER’s Preschool Matters the chart-topping superstar and Colombia native discusses her passion for the cause and strategies to build a successful coalition to support it.

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