An early-childhood researcher at the University of Illinois is featured in this Science Daily article, which argues that unstructured playtime is a critical part of literacy development. Pushing more traditional kinds of academic work in early childhood at the expense of play, Anne Haas Dyson says, is akin to "banning the imagination."
Many early-childhood experts have pointed out the importance of play in developing inquiry and critical-thinking skills that are the building blocks for later learning. But there has been a movement toward more formal instruction in pre-K and kindergarten as a way of getting children on grade level by the 3rd grade.
The findings of the National Early Literacy Panel, released last month, suggest that more attention to foundational literacy skills is needed in early-childhood classrooms. But experts quickly cautioned against interpreting those findings as supporting a strict instructional approach. Instead, many researchers say, young children should have rich learning environments with ample opportunities for hands-on learning, interaction with peers and adults, and large blocks of play time. Lack of such unstructured experiences, they argue, is detrimental to both health and learning.