A lot of elementary schoolchildren in the United States are being deprived of their favorite subject: recess.
But that old joke about youngsters' preferences is no joke to many educators. The school reform movement's emphasis on academics is leading some districts to exclude play from the school day. Some principals and superintendents proudly proclaim that more time is thus freed up for the three Rs. Others firmly demur.
One leading authority on elementary education points out that playground time often serves a purpose other than the obvious one of giving kids time to blow off steam. Observant teachers and principals will also use it to see how children are relating to each other, and to spot children who seem isolated and may need help.
Hand in hand with the departure of recess comes the arrival of more homework at an earlier age. The crucial point here is parental involvement. It's a rare fourth or fifth grader who doesn't need some gentle but persistent prodding to realize home is a place for work, not just play.
But it's well to remember that a parent's role in "homework" probably begins when you first start reading to a child, and goes right through helping teenagers budget their time to complete 20-page English papers.
Looking at learning's long term, we endorse ample enjoyment and, yes, play, along with the needed hard work.