Duncan on the Importance of Play

Secretary Duncan recently responded to a couple of comments from his Facebook page regarding the importance of play for young children.

Arne emphasized the need for innovative and reasonable assessments of children’s cognitive and social skills as they transition from early learning programs into kindergarten. However, the Secretary made clear these assessments need not interfere with schoolchildren’s play.

“It can be done very, very thoughtfully, unobtrusively,” Duncan said. “It doesn’t in any way compromise the importance of play and having students simply learn through those experiences.”

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Continue the conversation on Secretary Duncan’s Facebook page, on Twitter and in the comments below.


  1. I am so pleased to hear Secretary Duncan’s mention of play. In the ECE field which includes grades K-3, play is the primary way children learn. It is through play that children learn to regulate their emotions, learn to pay attention, and build the foundation of language, cognition, physical development, and creativity. If children do not have a solid “infrastructure”, they can have difficulty learning future concepts in math, language arts, science, etc.
    One thing I did want to point out is that the word “play” I am referring to includes both free play and “play with a purpose”. I tell my college students that it’s important to set up your classroom environment with stimulating, engaging activities that encourage children to want to learn and explore. It’s also imperative that teachers are involved with children’s learning. They ask questions, encourage children’s ideas, and scaffold children’s development.
    Of course, in any grade, free time is necessary to help students learn to build relationships and learn about themselves, but I am specifically talking about teachers setting up a rich, thought-provoking, environment in their classrooms that allow students to develop their creativity and problem-solving skills. These are necessary for our citizens to become the adults that are able to think up solutions to our country and world problems.

  2. Early childhood play is so important. Children need the time and space to play and to develop their knowledge and understanding of the world through these activities. I agree with the post above play should not stop simply because a child enters grade 1 -in fact the more play the more a child will learn if it is carefully structured. I believe we all need to play and play is such an important part of a child’s social and emotional learning curve that we must fight to ensure that early childhood education promotes play and that training institutions ensure future teachers are well trained in the importance of play in learning. We also as school bodies need to do more to educate parents on this important topic and explain how play is developing different areas of the child.


  3. Three thoughts:
    1. Early childhood education does not end when children enter kindergarten (as Secretary Duncan states in this video) – it continues until age eight.
    2. “Ready to learn” by kindergarten is a ridiculous notion. What do you think children have been everyday since birth? When you think about all that children have learned in the first five years of life, it is truly astounding. Our goal should be to continue to support their learning – and make sure schooling doesn’t get in the way of their natural curiosity.
    3. Why do public statements from Secretary Duncan, such as this one on the importance of play, so readily contradict the policies he puts forth? It is disheartening and confusing.

    • Actually, as an “early childhood educator” my teaching certificate is for birth-1st. He wasn’t off.

  4. Thank you to Mr.Duncan and President Obama for taking the initiative to end this nightmare law. The teachers are wasting so much valuable time testing students, instead of teaching them anything other than the stupid tests. And God forbid they did not do well on the tests, they got looked down upon as though they somehow had learning disabilities. All kids learn at a different pace and to expect everyone to perform at the same level is simply unrealistic.

  5. Secretary Duncan–Thank you, and thank you again for recognizing the restraints that NCLB has forced on teachers. Many left the field of education during NCLB because of the fact that they lost the opportunity to teach creatively and with flexibility that attends to the learning needs of individual students. Rather, teachers were forced to “teach for the test”, which not only impaires the opportunities for creative teaching, but impairs the learning opportunities for children. Instead, children are continually being “taught for the next test”. One 1st grade child a while back in one of our schools entered her classroom, found her teacher and asked, “Will we be taking a Government test today?”. Her question reflects what our children are “learning” in school. That is, “how to take the Government tests”. That is not what education is supposed to be about! Education should involve the opportunity to learn in an enjoyable, supportive, creative environment, that encourages a love for learning. Additionallyl, the library is the hub of all schools where children also learn the love of reading and discovery. I am sure that Alexa Posny, my colleague from Kansas feels the same way.

    –Ray H. Hull, PhD, FASHA, FAAA
    Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Audiology/Neurosciences
    Wichita State University

  6. If the waivers are granted to the states, will the schools still have access to supplemental education after school? So many of our children need the skills to perform at the level required. Our teachers don’t have time to fill in the gaps while instituting all of the required standards being adopted. Please don’t take away this very important component that has shown very strong and positive results.

  7. Thanks, Arne! We love to hear the importance of play in ECE championed, because we’ve seen ourselves how play ties to social emotional intelligence and school readiness for children experiencing homelessness.

    – Horizons for Homeless Children, Roxbury, MA

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