Abigail Seevak ’23 presents thesis: The disappearance of play: Priorities and Practices in Preschool Pedagogy

Abigail Seevak presented her honors thesis entitled “The disappearance of play: Priorities and practices in preschool pedagogy” at an Education Studies celebration on April 25 with faculty and students in attendance. She also was accepted to shared her thesis findings at a conference organized by The Association for the Study of Play called “Playship: a Pathway For Building and Sustaining Equitable Playful Spaces.” Her presentation was titled “Playful pedagogy in US early childhood education: a historical analysis.” The conference was held in NYC at the Borough of Manhattan Community College on May 17-19. Read about Abby’s research below.

“Simultaneous to the growth of public interest and government investment in early childhood education and care (ECEC) in the United States, educators and researchers have raised concerns over the pushdown of academics into early childhood. Direct instruction, the use of worksheets, and other teaching practices intended to build discrete, academic skills and content knowledge have become popular for increasingly young children, often at the expense of child-directed play. This phenomenon reflects a prioritization of quantifiable, academic outcomes and an assumption that play and learning are incompatible. In this thesis, I explore the background, priorities, and practices of ECEC, comparing child-directed, play-based approaches with teacher-directed, academic-skills-based approaches. First, I employ a literature review to track the history of ECEC pedagogy in the United States, exposing the trends and tensions leading to the current era. Then, I synthesize research on early learning and child development, concluding that play-based practices and children’s autonomy are essential for nurturing all domains of child development: cognitive, social-emotional, physical, and language. Next, I look at how state early learning standards have framed ECEC over the past 20 years, discovering a shift from a focus on child development to an academic subject lens. Finally, I explore how the emphasis on assessment and competition that characterizes the contemporary education landscape contributes to the pushdown of academic instruction and the misconception that play and learning are distinct. I argue that prioritizing academic instruction in early childhood, while intended to boost academic outcomes, is not developmentally appropriate. Instead child-directed, play-based approaches should guide ECEC to foster holistic development, support long-term outcomes, and preserve the joy of childhood.”

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