All Work and No Play Makes Jack. . .

Kindergarten talent showKindergarten parents in Long Island received a letter this week in the mail from school officials. The contents surprised so many people that the letter made national news: In the interest of the kindergartners’ future college and career preparedness, the traditional, annual kindergarten talent show had been canceled. It did not meet the school’s goals, and therefore, the event could not take place.

While this news item, heard on the radio while I was driving, made my eyebrows recede somewhere in the vicinity of my hairline, I wasn’t actually all that surprised. I’ve heard of too many similar situations like this in my own district over the past few years: Teachers scrounging up academic reasons to justify the annual gingerbread house-building event, or making sure that any holiday party candy was distributed for counting and sorting activities–not just to eat.

When did we get so skittish as a society? So afraid of setting aside a little time for fun and celebration? Would taking time to host a talent show really interrupt the school’s preparations for a five-year-old’s future life goals? Would test scores drop significantly when they were taking standardized tests in the fourth grade and everyone’s fingers would point and say, “I knew that talent show in kindergarten was trouble!”? Really?

There are so many things that could be discussed here–things like the value of creativity, of getting kids comfortable with presentation skills, of gaining confidence that they have skills worth sharing–not to mention the stress that our kids and teachers are under to be at grade level, but for now, let’s just think about one question: What activities make daily living meaningful to you? As a follow-up to that, when did you first become interested in those things? How did you learn them? Was any fun involved? My guess is that playing–with no pressure to relate that learning to a future standardized exam–was probably involved. Hobbies, talents, things you just plain enjoyed doing with no “learning objectives” in sight, are probably things that turned into passions, that thereby turned in to careers or side jobs or creative objects that friends and relatives loved to receive as gifts.

My twin sister and I wrote a play for the American Bicentennial celebration when we were kids, during summer vacation, just for fun, and guess what–we’re still writing and talking about writing nearly every day! I entered essays into school contests and even got to read one in front of a whole school assembly for the annual Christmas concert one year. Visiting schools with my novel in hand is still one of my most treasured dreams.

By downplaying the “fun” side of life, what are we giving up as a school? A school district? A society? Readers, I think we’d all love to hear what you learned to do just for fun that you were maybe able to share at a school event, or something that is still an important part of your life, perhaps turned into a career or a life-long hobby. Share it in the comments!

About Sonja Anderson

I write novels and short stories for children, and occasionally a book or article for adults, too. I grew up in Ohio, and I have lived in Chicago, Connecticut, Boston, Tokyo, and Seattle. The beautiful Pacific Northwest inspires me every day.
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2 Responses to All Work and No Play Makes Jack. . .

  1. Kit says:

    I agree. I believe in making teaching fun, engaging play in lessons, and even in the school day. As a result, my class is louder than some and certainly not as good at walking in lines or “transitions” as other classes are. But it is sad to me to think of how serious it all has become.


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