By Linda Broatch, M.A.
Preschool provides a foundation for learning both socially and academically that will help your child succeed in elementary school.
For many children, preschool is their first experience in a structured setting with teachers and groups of children. It's an opportunity to learn to share, follow instructions and begin the foundation for learning that will occur in elementary school.
As kindergarten becomes more academic, many parents look to preschool to launch their child on the path to success in school. At the same time, parents may worry that the current trend to focus on pre-math and pre-literacy skills in preschool cuts into important play time and pushes a child to grow up too fast. It's a confusing issue,especially with friends and family offering different opinions and advice.
Fortunately, in selecting a preschool, parents aren't forced to choose between protecting a child's play time and making sure she's ready for kindergarten. A high-quality early childhood education program will offer children both.
But how do high-quality preschools benefit children's learning and development? And what features should parents look for in a preschool program? One answer to these questions is that the staff at high-quality preschools and child care programs understand the particular ways that young children develop and learn. And they organize space, time and activities to be in sync with children's social, emotional, cognitive, and physical abilities.
In order to learn, a young child needs to feel cared for and secure with a teacher or caregiver. A 3-year-old child is able to spend time away from parents and build trusting relationships with adults outside the family. High-quality preschool programs nurture warm relationships among children, teachers and parents. And teachers build a close personal connection with each child in their care.
Children thrive when there is consistency in care between home and school. In high-quality preschools, teachers value parents as the experts on their children. Parents get daily reports on their child's activities and regular meetings are scheduled for more in-depth conferences with staff. Teachers strive to understand and respect parents' child-rearing goals and values.
Young children learn social skills and emotional self-control in "real time." Three- and 4-year-olds learn through their experiencesand good teachers make time for those "teachable moments" when they can help children learn to manage frustrations or anger. They don't automatically step in to resolve children's conflicts for them; they have a well-honed sense of when to let children work out their own problems and when to intervene. Without shaming a child, they encourage her to notice the impact of her aggressive or hurtful behavior on another child.
A highly structured environment helps young children learn to make friends and play well with others. This doesn't mean there are lots of rules or that adults constantly direct children's activities. On the contrary, the structure of a high-quality preschool classroom is largely invisible to children. Classroom space is organized to encourage social interaction, and minimize congestion and conflicts.
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