The Disappearance of Child-Directed Activities and Teachers’ Autonomy

by R. Clarke Fowler, Ph.D., Department of Childhood Education and Care, Salem State University (2018)

This report documents the disappearance of child-directed activities and teachers’ autonomy from Massachusetts kindergartens.

While child-directed activities have been reduced across the board, the study found that high socioeconomic status schools (SES) schedule 30 minutes more daily, two and a half more hours weekly, than low SES schools. Furthermore, low SES kindergartens were more likely to have transformed child-directed activities into adult-directed activities.

According to a survey of 189 kindergarten teachers in the wealthiest and poorest school districts in Massachusetts, schools have reduced the amount of time that kindergarteners have for child-directed activities (CDA) such as free play, rest, recess, snack and lunch.

At the same time, school administrators with limited or no knowledge of early childhood education have placed increasing restrictions on kindergarten teachers’ control over curriculum and instruction.

        • Schools have reduced the time kindergartners have for child-directed activities.
        • Children in high-socioeconomic status (SES) schools have more time for child-directed activities.
        • Kindergartners in Massachusetts get much less time for free play and recess than three provinces in Canada recommend for kindergartners.
        • The scheduling of child-directed activities in some low-SES kindergartens is minimal or non-existent.
        • Schools have reduced kindergarten teachers’ control over curriculum.
        • Most elementary principals are inexperienced in early childhood education.

In far too many public school kindergartens in Massachusetts, children are experiencing educational conditions that prepare them, not for a career in the creative economy, but rather for settings where creativity, personal agency, and a sense of purpose not necessary.

Advocacy is required at both the state and local level to persuade or, if necessary, compel schools to adopt practices that address the needs of children rather than the needs of child-blind administrators in their pursuit of higher test scores.

To read Dr. Fowler’s full report on the Disappearance of Child-Directed Activities and Teachers’ Autonomy.

If you want to read more of Defending the Early Years’ reports, like Dr. Diane Levin’s report on How School Reforms are Failing Low-Income Young Children.