Free-Range Kids

Daycare Dismantles Swing Sets To Score Higher on State 'Early Achievers' Test

Penalizing play time


Elizaveta Galitskaya / Dreamstime

At least one childcare center in Washington—Three Rivers Christian School—is getting rid of its swing sets in an effort to bolster kids' scores on the state's Early Achievers test, which penalizes schools that let toddlers and preschoolers use the swings for more than 15 minutes a day.*

If the kids' scores go up, so do the subsidies the state gives to day care centers. Every dollar counts: Due to punishing new regulations that will force early childcare providers to undergo expensive training and cerification, Washington daycare centers will need more financial support than ever.

According to The Daily News:

The hope is that swingless playgrounds will bolster the institution's score on Early Achievers, a state rating system for child care centers. Schools lose points if their students use swings for more than 15 minutes a day, said James Murphy, director of the early learning center at TRCS. Removing the sets eliminates any temptation students have to spend longer in the swings — and negatively impact the score.

Early Achievers ratings are directly tied to how much a child care center receives in state subsidies: The higher the score, the more state subsidies a center gets.

The rating system is optional, but centers that opt out don't qualify for any subsidies.

Ironically, the school's homepage features a kid on a you-know-what.

There is little that kids love more than swings, recess, and running around. It turns out there is a reason for that: Playing is how kids learn. That's why Mother Nature baked the drive to play into all of us.

I recently came across this report on the importance of physical activity for mental health and education. The National Center for Biotechnology Info writes that "state-mandated academic achievement testing has had the unintended consequence of reducing opportunities for children to be physically active during the school day and beyond." This is a problem, according to the report, because "children respond faster and with greater accuracy to a variety of cognitive tasks after participating in a session of physical activity."

Play is not the opposite of education. It is education. And in fact, taking play out of kids' lives may be leading to awful things like anxiety, depression, and helplessness, as Let Grow co-founder Dr. Peter Gray lays out in this piece, "The Decline of Play and Rise in Children's Mental Disorders."

It's understandable that the Three Rivers Christian School, which looks so wholesome and sweet, needs to make sure its subsidies don't disappear. What really needs to change is what we value and consider educational success in young kids.

*Update: The Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families disputes that outdoor swing use is counted against daycares. The school is only penalized when infants are left in indoor swings with nothing else to do for a significant period of time, according to a spokesperson.

Here is a follow up article.