It is perfectly normal for parents to have many questions about preschool. After all, this new generation is starting school earlier than the parents ever did.
History of Preschool
The first preschool programs were developed in the early nineteenth century in Europe as a means of caring for the children of working class women who needed to work in the fields and factories. These programs were designed to keep the children out of trouble, not to educate them in any way. Preschools or nursery schools appeared in the 1920's in the United States when universities began experimenting with educating the very young. Today the majority of children in the United States attend some kind of preschool program before entering kindergarten.
When you are talking about preschool, you will quickly find that there are many different approaches to preschool education available in the United States today. Approaches to preschool education can generally be divided into two categories: academic and developmental. Before enrolling your child, you should ask about the preschool's approach.
When thinking about preschool, you must decide if your child would benefit from an academic program. An academic preschool approach is one in which the primary focus is curriculum-based learning. Young children spend the majority of their time involved in pre-reading, writing, and arithmetic activities. Letter and sound recognition, handwriting, and number theory are pursued rigorously. Such programs have developed from the belief that if children in elementary and secondary schools are not learning as well as we expect, teaching them earlier may make a difference. Unfortunately, statistics do not prove this to be the case. Preschools utilizing an academic approach to teaching young children are often referred to as pre-K programs.
A developmental approach to early education is one in which the preschool program strives to develop the emotional and social aspects of the child instead of the academic. Emphasis is put on learning social skills like sharing, taking turns, problem solving, and developing peer relations. Children spend most of their time in directed or free-play activities, imitation and roleplay, movement, music, art, and physical activities. Little time is spent on reading, writing, and arithmetic, although the environment is usually rich with print and stories. The developmental approach to early childhood education is largely a result of Piaget's theory of cognitive development.
The Preschool Day
Once you have decided whether your child would benefit more from a developmental or an academic program, you need to determine how many hours per week your child will attend preschool. Many programs offer different programs from two half days to five full days. Few preschool-aged children need to be in a program for five full days but many single parents or families with two working parents require full-time care. If you do need to use a full-time preschool facility, look for a program that includes lots of down time, play, and a rest period for your child. Choose the program according to your child's age and needs. A three year old may do best in a half-day, twice a week program. He may be ready for three half days when he is four. Whether to enroll in an afternoon or morning program is also an individual decision. Does your little one still need an afternoon nap? Does he prefer to sleep late and get moving slowly?
Is My Child Ready?
Many parents are under the impression that every child needs to attend a preschool program and that those who don't will struggle once they begin kindergarten. There is no empirical evidence to support these theories. Children who attend preschool do not do better in school, read earlier, or get better grades than children who do not attend a preschool. Many psychologists and sociologists actually believe that children who remain in the home until kindergarten have the advantage over those who attend preschool. Whether or not to enroll your child in preschool is a personal choice that should be made according to the personality and needs of the individual child. If your child does not exhibit most of the behaviors below, he may not be ready for the preschool experience:
- Can leave you easily for an extended period of time.
- Can work easily with a small group of children.
- Can put on outerwear with little help from you.
- Can use the bathroom with little help from you.
- Asks and wonders about going to preschool.
- Can sustain attention for a twenty minute activity.
- Has the physical stamina to complete the day's activities without napping and without becoming excessively cranky.
About Preschool Summary
Sending children to some kind of preschool program has become common practice in the United States. Parents who are considering preschool for their child should be aware of different approaches and different programs and choose one or not choose one according to the individual needs and personality of the child. Parents should be aware that children who do not attend preschool do not have a more difficult time being successful in kindergarten.