Two recent Metro articles ["Aiming for a Better Start," Dec. 6 and "Kindergarten Gets Tougher," Dec. 15] about "academic" kindergarten may promote a misconception about what constitutes good early childhood teaching practices.

The Dec. 6 article said that "all-day kindergarten programs are effective if they offer solid instruction, and not just play." In the Dec. 15 article, a Montgomery County school board member said, "We need less play time . . . and more learning time." But play is the primary vehicle by which young children learn. A kindergarten program that is not primarily play-based is inappropriate and could even be harmful to children.

When children are looking at books, attempting to write, tracking print on a classroom chart or listening to a tape as they follow along in a book, they are playing with words and the patterns of language. When young children investigate the natural world, make observations, record what they notice and report their findings, they are playing with science. When children engage in active, hands-on exploration of concrete materials to build conceptual understanding, they are playing with mathematics. Likewise, children learn about social studies and the democratic process through "hands-on, minds-on" experiences--i.e., play.

We who are in classrooms understand the importance of play to children's cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. Somehow, we need to get the word out. The "drill and kill" approach to learning will extinguish the spark of curiosity that young children bring with them when they come to school.

GAIL V. RITCHIE

Burke

It was puzzling to read that the superintendent of the Montgomery County public schools is cutting back on music and art education in kindergarten to make more time for academic subjects. Music and art are intellectual, academic subjects. Like literature and poetry, music and art are part of the humanities, because they articulate what it is--or could be--to be human. Like psychology, anthropology and philosophy, music and art often explore social ideas and critiques, and contrasting world views--even in kindergarten.

JESSICA KRASH

Chevy Chase