21 October 2016
Excessive focus on academics without sufficient time for games and play could hamper a child's overall development, a study suggests. Photo: HKEJ
Excessive focus on academics without sufficient time for games and play could hamper a child's overall development, a study suggests. Photo: HKEJ

All study and no play can make tiny tots ‘clueless’: study

Kindergarten students who are immersed too much in an academic-driven environment could display an inability to cope with conflicts on a social level and suffer severe anxiety, according to a study by the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd).

The HKIEd adopted an international test developed in Finland to analyze 30 Hong Kong kindergarten students categorized as “academic type” and 30 other students categorized as “game type”.

The test results suggest that academic types were lacking in the ability to make up their minds quickly when confronted with questions related to social conflicts, Ming Pao Daily News reported.  

In the study, children aged four to five from two different kindergartens were required to answer 16 questions related to inter-personal conflicts. For example, what would you do if you want to continue playing with your toys while your teacher asked you to stop?

The HKIEd researchers classified all the 960 answers collected from the 60 students into four categories, dealing with the aspects of negotiation, following orders, insistence, or withdrawal. 

Each category represented a varying degree of ability to make one’s own decisions.

Doris Cheng Pui-Wah, associate professor at HKIEd’s Department of Early Childhood Education, said replies from a similar test on students in Finland could all be put into one of the four categories.

But in Hong Kong, there was a fifth category where students were simply found lacking responses, Cheng said.

The students tended to stare at the researchers helplessly and if the questions were repeated, they would tend to cry or simply say that they have no idea how to deal with the situation.

About 16.7 percent of answers from the “academic type” students fell into the “I have no idea” category, which was four times more than the 3.8 percent recorded among “game type” students.

Offering “I have no idea” replies is worse than those who display withdrawal, Cheng said, noting that a child would at least have thought about the subject matter before arriving at a decision to withdraw, whereas those who say “I don’t know” wouldn’t have even made an attempt to think.

Academic-centric kindergartens could be aiming to bridge the curriculum between pre-school and Primary One level, and may offer as little as 15 minutes for games. And even the games could be learning-based, rather than a free-spirited activity.

That could be detrimental to a child’s overall personality development.

In contrast, games-oriented kindergartens allow more freedom for children during class, enabling them them to think and learn on their own. 

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