Play’s the thing

Editorials - February 2005


In a world where the U.S. government requires preschoolers in Head Start programs to take standardized tests to measure their literacy, math and language skills, it’s easy to see why Americans have forgotten the importance of play for children’s development.

Despite an education system that increasingly sees play as a distraction from learning, we know the opposite is true: Kids learn naturally through play.

That’s why we’re glad to see the Chicago Children’s Museum charging into this debate. The wonderful museum housed at Navy Pier has long understood that, for a child, play and learning are inextricably linked. Now it has a $200,000, two-year study that proves it.

The museum will use the information from the study to revamp its own operation to incorporate more play and help parents and caregivers understand that their children are learning while they play.

That’s great. We’re always pleased to see a good museum striving to be even better.

But we’re even more pleased to hear that the museum has bigger plans for this valuable information: It’s taking the study on the road to Springfield and Washington D.C.

Museum President Peter England says the study lends credibility to the belief that formal instruction and standardized testing is not the way to teach preschoolers. He and other early childhood education experts—including officials from the Erickson Institute, the highly-regarded graduate school for child development in Chicago—plan to use this study to bring lawmakers around to our way of thinking.

We couldn’t be more thrilled. And, while it will be great for children in Chicago to visit a new, improved Chicago Children’s Museum that implements many of the ideas in the study, it will be great for everyone if England and others are successful in their bigger mission to convince legislators that, when it comes to young children, the play’s the thing.

Even small steps help

When it comes to fighting the devastating childhood diseases of asthma and lead poisoning, we have been consistently critical of the government’s inaction.

Both diseases were the subject of an investigation conducted jointly by Chicago Parent and The Chicago Reporter and published in our October 2004 issue. The reports found that although lead poisoning is entirely preventable and asthma is easily treated and controlled there is a lack of political will to do either. We think that has a lot to do with the fact that both diseases impact disproportionately poor and minority residents.

So, now that the state and county governments are taking steps in the right direction—no matter how small—we feel the need to take note of it.

First, up, Gov. Rod Blagojevich: Illinois will offer “mini-grants” of up to $4,000 to 28 offices of the  Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children [WIC] to educate WIC clients about asthma. While it doesn’t ensure any child will be saved the horror of a life-threatening asthma attack, educating parents about how to avoid asthma triggers, how to recognize the early signs of an attack and how to use medications appropriately is an important first step.

Next, the Cook County government: The Department of Public Health is cutting its administrative costs by $35,000 and putting that money into its lead abatement program. The additional cash isn’t much, but it could be used to get the lead out of as many as six additional houses, the department says.

Every little bit helps.


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