3.22 2019

“Experts: More Play Needed in New Haven Schools”

By Brian Zahn
New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN — All work and no play makes the city’s youngest children unprepared to learn in school, or so said dozens of experts, parents and students.

At a Board of Alders Education Committee meeting Wednesday on the role of play in early childhood education, school district officials acknowledged that classrooms could be doing more.

“We’re building an approach and a philosophy that hasn’t completely come into play quite yet, but we are very hopeful,” said New Haven Deputy Superintendent of Schools Ivelise Velazquez. “Because a lot of our planning is happening with a new superintendent and a new group of leaders, there’s a lot of emphasis on preschool.”

Superintendent of Schools Carol Birks began in her role in March 2018. The district has not yet hired a full-time assistant superintendent that would oversee early childhood programs.

The committee held a hearing on the importance of play in education up to third grade. Velazquez and other district officials said the schools are foregrounding equity in their mission to introduce play into school curriculum.

“Next year is our year of looking at curriculum; not just curriculum in preschool, but that continuum up to third grade,” she said.

Members of the community said the district has not done enough, and play is missing from schools.

“When I went to kindergarten, everything changed,” said Christopher Columbus Family Academy third grader Pablo Cruz. “All we did was study; we didn’t have any time to play except one short recess. It was too much.”

Gary Highsmith, a finalist for the superintendency in 2017, said when he was principal of Beecher School in 2002 he was tasked with improving academic achievement in the youngest grades.

“I felt the best way to do it was to decrease recess. I wanted early learners to spend more time on academics,” he said.

He said he eventually began to regret the decision as he realized children learn through play.

“Developmentally appropriate learning, play and rigor are not mutually exclusive,” he said. “It’s not whether we have this or that, but how we can get this and that.”

A slew of local experts presented on the importance of play to cognitive development in young learners.

“Children construct knowledge from diverse experiences to make meaning of the world,” said Allyx Schiavone, executive director of the Friends Center for Children.

She argued that the “tension” between play and testing is misguided.

“Play-based learning actually creates preparation for testing,” she said.