It’s that time of year again. Local MOMS Club chapters are gearing up for local Preschool Fairs. Registration papers are being sent to the printers. Questions are swirling around the mommy communities: play-based or academic-based? 2-days, 3-days, 4-days, or 5-days? 3-4hour programs or extended/enrichment programs?
These questions can make most parents fall to the floor in the fetal position. There are so many opinions out there and so many options, so what works best for you? I will tell you right now that I am completed biased. I went to school for 4 years as an Early Childhood Education Major. I have wanted to be a preschool teacher for a long time. I have read article after article on the importance of the preschool years. I am writing today in hope that I can shed some light for anyone who has these questions taking over their sleep, while trying to keep my own personal views out of the way.
First, before I enlighten you on 11 years of being in the Early Childhood field, I want to urge you first to also do your own research. There are a lot of people out there who will supply you with their own opinion– and it is just that– an OPINION!
How can sending a child to preschool at 3 or 4 provide any benefit? So and so’s kid never went to preschool and he is now in honors classes in high school. Yes, there are a ton of kids who leap right into Kindergarten and succeed, however, what is their background? Did they stay at home with a very active parent? Did they attend daycare? Did their parents bring them to playdates or moms group meetings? Did they have any reason to listen to another adult during their first 5 years of life? These are huge factors.
Let’s explore some literature that explains the benefits of preschool:
Research provides solid support that preschool programs have a statistically significant effect on children’s performance on cognitive assessments of prereading and reading skills, prewriting and spelling skills, math reasoning, and problem-solving skills. Preschool programs have also found to benefit children from a diverse income community, including those who are eligible for free lunch to those who receive no lunch subsidies at all. (source)
Oklahoma is one of the few states who offer a preschool program to every 4-year old. They have tested 4-year olds and 5-year olds with nationally normed tests to examine a child’s skills in reading, writing, and math. For example, asking a child is they recognize a letter. They ask a child to draw a letter or shape. When given a picture, a child can count the number of a specific object they see. Through these nationalized normed tests, three groups of children were compared: those who were about to begin pre-K, those who had a year of pre-K, and those who have not attended a pre-K. Oklahoma has seen a seven-month gain in prereading skills, a six-month gain in prewriting skills, and a four-month gain in permath skills. (source)
There are a ton of articles, studies, and stories how preschool benefits children. I can give you a quick, personal example, which doesn’t even describe the academic gains a child can have. My daughter, from day one, was always reserved. She preferred me over anyone else. She didn’t go to strangers (family members). When someone said “hi” to her in a store, she would immediately hide behind my legs (not the worst characteristic by the way). It took her days to get comfortable when visiting family members we didn’t see on a regular basis. This was just her personality. When preschool started, she CRIED! It broke my heart, but I knew she needed the time away from me to blossom. She cried every day at drop off well into October. We were EXTREMELY lucky to have two of the most amazing teachers anyone could ask for and they loved her and cared for her. For months, she would need to be with one of the teachers at all times. She was three. She went two days a week to school. I knew her personality. I expected this and I was okay with this. As the year progressed, her teachers would tell me how her little personality was coming out, slowly and quietly, but they saw it.
Fast forward to her second year of preschool. Her interactions with family members (the ones we see a few times a year) has made a complete 180. She will immediately go in and be polite and say hi. She warms up much quicker. When given a compliment our in public, she says “thank you” and allows a sweet smile or hi to the nice lady standing in line with us. She walked into school, on her first day, not having any friends from the previous year with a smile on her face and confidence in her step. Every teacher (and even the director) could not believe that was the same girl from the year before. Her personality that she has with me and her closest friends was with her.
While she is not one to speak out or be crazy, she is more herself than she was walking into preschool that VERY FIRST day. She will always be a little quieter. She will always be my cautious and more reserved child, but her personality and her confidence BLOSSOMED in those preschool walls. She was forced out of her comfort zone, was placed in a nurturing, loving environment, and she was allowed to learn and be who she was.
If preschool does nothing else for your child, it teaches them to be with their peers, without their parent over their shoulder monitoring and refereeing every moment. It gives them a chance to make choices independently. It provides them an opportunity to learn and be with other caring and loving adults. It is a place for them to grow as a person.
Yes, I know this last part was me rambling on about why I think preschool is important, there is plenty of literature provided for you to make your own conclusions. Don’t let me or anyone else give you simple an opinion of the benefits of preschool. Make your own educated decision.
As we go forward in January and February, may you find peace in your decision. If you choose preschool, I hope you find the absolute best school to fit your child’s needs. This is by no means an easy decision.