February 9, 2022

Tom Hobson: We Must Demand Play-Based Education Because That’s What The Evidence Tells Us

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Teacher Tom Hobson is an early childhood educator in Seattle. In this blog post, he makes the argument for play-based education for the littles.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Economic Forum, and Unicef (and according to the dubious measurement of standardized test scores) Finland has the best schools in the world. They have achieved this status by building their educational system on evidence. The US languishes around the middle of the pack, often falling into the bottom half according to some measures. We have achieved this lack of success by relying upon the busy-body guesswork of policy makers, billionaire dilettantes, and administrators who listen to them.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the system based on evidence, on research, on reality, would outperform the one based on the fantasies and feelings of people who are not professional educators. In Finland, they do not try to teach kindergarteners to read because the evidence tells us that formal literacy instruction should not start until at least the age of seven and that children who are compelled into it too early often suffer emotionally and academically in the long run. In the US we are forcing kindergartners, and even preschoolers, to learn to read. There is no, as in zero, research that finds longterm gains from teaching to read in kindergarten. In fact, the research that has been done tends to find early instruction reduces literacy in later years.

The evidence tells us that early childhood education should focus on equity, happiness, well-being and joy in learning. This is what Finland has done by basing their educational model on childhood play, which is, again according to the overwhelming preponderance of research, the gold standard. The US has based its early childhood education on standardized testing, increased “instructional time,” bottoms-in-your-seats carrot-and-stick standardization, and an ever-narrowing focus on literacy and math despite the evidence that it causes longterm harm to children, because people in power who know nothing about education think that sounds good to them.

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