Pre-K education explores is not just important, but it can make the difference all throughout your children’s lives.
Pre-K Education: The Right Start
There are no do-overs or practice runs as a parent. The choices you make will affect your children all the way into adulthood and in turn affect their children as well if they have any. One of the most important things that you can do is to enroll your children into an elementary school with a pre-K curriculum. Why?
First off, pre-K education is a very narrow window. Usually it involves 3-4 year olds. It is at best only two years of education. However, there is mounting evidence that children get a lot out of of being in pre-k curriculum. During preschool, children learn important concepts such as shapes, numbers, and letters. Even more importantly, they learn socialization skills, which is key to interpersonal relationships. This sets the stage for kindergarten.
Entering Kindergarten from a Pre-K Curriculum
Children that have had at least one year of enrollment in a pre-K curriculum come in with better vocabularies, basic math skills, and excellent reading skills. Without the benefit of group experience before entering kindergarten, children have to learn a new skill set as well as the requirements of kindergarten too. Important things like how to raise hands if there is a question, and how to take turns. But what should be part of a curriculum in a pre-K setting?
Children develop quickly during their formative years. You want to find a balance between too much stimulation and not enough. Group and Independent reading as well as reinforced reading at home is important. If they get the beginnings of social studies, science, writing and vocabulary, it is also a sign of a good pre-K curriculum.
Music and gymnastics classes are great, but what preschools do that less formal classes don’t is teach kids how to be students. Your child will learn how to raise her hand, take turns, and share the teacher’s attention. What’s more, she’ll learn how to separate from Mommy, who often stays in a music or gym class. All of this makes for an easier transition to kindergarten. “Kindergarten teachers will tell you that the students who are ready to learn are those who come into school with good social and behavior-management skills,” Smith says.
In fact, educators have so recognized the importance of giving kids some form of quality early education that about 40 states now offer state-funded pre-K programs.
1. What will my child learn?
In addition to strengthening socialization skills — how to compromise, be respectful of others, and problem-solve — preschool provides a place where your child can gain a sense of self, explore, play with her peers, and build confidence. “Kids in preschool discover that they are capable and can do things for themselves — from small tasks like pouring their own juice and helping set snack tables to tackling bigger issues like making decisions about how to spend their free time,” says Angela Capone, PhD, senior program manager at Southwest Human Development’s Arizona Institute for Childhood Development, in Phoenix. “Plus, 4- and 5-year-olds have begun asking some wonderful questions about the world around them — what happens to the water after the rain? Do birds play? Quality preschools help children find answers through exploration, experimentation, and conversation.”
2. But what about learning his ABCs?
“Young children can certainly learn letters and numbers, but to sit kids down and ‘teach’ them is the wrong way to do it,” says Smith. “They learn best through doing the kinds of activities they find interesting — storytime, talking to their teachers about stars, playing with blocks.” To help kids learn language and strengthen pre-reading skills, for instance, teachers might play rhyming games and let kids tell stories. Keep in mind that for small children, school is all about having fun and acquiring social skills — not achieving academic milestones. “Kids need to be imaginative and to socialize — that’s what fosters creative, well-rounded people. It’s not whether they can read by age 4 or multiply by 5,” says Flynn. An ideal curriculum? Parading around in dress-up clothes, building forts, and being read to.
Now that you have covered the information on why pre-k education is important, we will now discuss how parents can choose the right preschool for their child.
3. How old should my child be when she starts?
Most preschools serve 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, and many kids begin at age 4. (Some preschools will start accepting children at around 2 1/2, but that doesn’t mean your child will be ready when he reaches that age.) You can choose from a part-time schedule or a full-time one. Your choice will depend on your family’s situation — working moms might prefer five days a week — and on your child’s temperament.
Parents typically start investigating options about a year before they want their children to attend. But if you live in a big city, where competition for spots can be fierce, you’ll want to start applying even earlier and to more than one place.
4. How do I choose the right preschool?
Research, research, research. First, decide on location (close to work or home?) and hours (half-day, two or three days a week, full-time?). There are programs at private schools, daycare centers, religious institutions (like synagogues and churches), state-funded schools, and cooperatives run by parents. Start by asking for recommendations from other moms. Next, check whether the schools are state-licensed, which ensures the facility meets safety requirements and has adequate staffing (visit naccrra.org). Many states exempt religious-based preschools from all or some requirements — although many meet these standards anyway.
The gold standard of approval is accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. NAEYC carefully evaluates schools and childcare centers based on curriculum, teacher qualifications, class size, and health and safety standards; only about 8 percent of U.S. preschools are currently accredited. (Search for NAEYC-accredited preschools near you at rightchoiceforkids.org.) In addition, many preschools now have Web sites that you should visit.
Call each school you’re considering and ask about its fees, admission policy, and curriculum. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, schedule visits. Most preschools run open houses during the winter. Also, meet with the director and spend time in a classroom to observe the teachers. Visit each school with your child and see how she responds to the classroom, the teachers, and the activities.
5. What should I look for during a visit?
Check out the basics: Is the facility clean and safe? Keep your eye out for smoke detectors and first-aid kits. Is there a well-kept outdoor play area? Are there plenty of art materials, age-appropriate toys, and books? Are they in good condition? Is the atmosphere friendly and fun? Student work should be displayed in the hallways and around the classroom, hung at kid-level. “I tell parents to pay special attention to the artwork on the walls,” says Dr. Barnett. “Would you be able to pick out your child’s artwork? If all the pictures look the same, then your child will learn to make a bunny just like everyone else’s. That’s not really the goal.”
The classroom should have a variety of activity areas — a reading place, an art station with materials on shelves that kids can reach, a block corner, a puzzle area, and a place for naps. Children should not all be doing the same thing at the same time; they should be playing with toys or other kids but still well supervised.
Finally, do you feel comfortable? “You want to be confident that once you drop off your child, he’ll be happy and well taken care of,” says Mark Ginsberg, PhD, NAEYC executive director.
Noah Webster Schools
7301 E. Baseline Road
Mesa, AZ 85209