As we saw last week, the research findings on preschool are varied. Some studies show that preschool boosts school readiness skills (particularly for low-income children) and gives students an academic advantage during their elementary years, while other studies show the benefits of preschool are transient and that it may contribute to burnout in young students.
When it comes to your particular child, what’s the best option? Would he or she benefit from preschool?
Questions to answer when considering preschool
My family has been considering four questions as we decide whether or not my 3-year-old should complete some form of preschool.
What is she learning through everyday activities at home?
As I noted last week, preschools seek to give children the foundation they need to be successful in school. Preschool programs teach children things like letter and number recognition, as well as how to say the alphabet, count to ten, cut with scissors, write their names, and follow directions.
When we look at the things preschools teach, we can determine if our children are learning these things through the course of our everyday activities. If we’re teaching these things at home, then they may not need preschool. On the other hand, they may benefit from preschool if we are unable to teach these things at home.
Before I continue, I want to say a couple of things about social skills. Many experts assert that, in addition to academic concepts, preschools teach social skills that are important for our children’s long-term educational success (source). These include the following:
- Getting along with others
- Following directions
- Identifying and regulating one’s emotions and behavior
- Thinking of appropriate solutions to conflict
- Persisting on task
- Engaging in social conversation and cooperative play
- Correctly interpreting other’s behavior and emotions
- Feeling good about oneself and others
The way I see it, if we’re not teaching our children these social skills at home, then we’re doing something wrong! Our children shouldn’t need preschool to learn these; they should learn them though interactions with family members and friends (with whom they interact during playdates, story time at the library, church, etc.). Preschool may be able to hone these skills, but it shouldn’t be the setting where our children learn them. If we consider what interactions our children have, then we’ll be able to determine if they need preschool in order to learn or sharpen these social skills.
In what academic environment will we place her in the coming years?
In addition to pre-reading, math, and social skills, preschools often teach young kids some behaviors they will need to function well in typical school environments. These behaviors include how to raise their hands before asking a question, how to stand in line while walking down the hall, and how to write their names at the top of each worksheet they complete.
It might be beneficial for children to have some preschool experience where they are able to learn these behaviors if they are going to be in typical school environments for elementary school. Likewise, it’s not as important for children to learn these skills if they are going to be homeschooled.
Another thing to consider is the academic rigor of the schools our children will attend. Kindergarten used to be pretty relaxed, but this isn’t the case anymore. Kindergarteners are now learning what children used to learn in the first grade and they are even required to take standardized tests. It’s a good idea to examine the schools our children will attend and determine if they need preschool in order to be prepared.
What are our academic hopes for her?
We saw last week that preschool does give students an academic edge that lasts until about second grade (though high-quality programs may give students an edge until the fifth grade). When we think about this, we have to consider what our hopes are for our children. How important is academic success during the early elementary years?
I’m sure most of us want our children to excel academically. This bring up a lot of things we need to consider. How do we define academic success? Is it by scores on standardized tests? Is it by grades? These two measures often don’t reflect a child’s intelligence or true abilities, so how do we determine if our children are excelling? Additionally, looking at the big picture of life, academics only matter so much. I also want my children to have emotional intelligence and come to share my faith. How do I promote character development and spiritual growth while encouraging academic success? Another thing to consider is how much preschool costs (see discussion below). Are the academic benefits worth the cost of preschool?
What will preschool cost?
There are a number of costs associated with preschool. The most obvious is the financial cost. Although families with financial need may qualify for free preschool programs, other families will have to pay for preschool. Can our families afford these financial costs?
There are also a number of non-financial costs. There’s time. Do we have the time available to drive our children to and from preschool? Will it be inconvenient to pick them up because it means waking younger siblings early from their naps? What about the free time it takes away from our children? Is the structure and academic instruction more important for them than play? Will they lose their enthusiasm for learning if they are introduced to so much structure and rigor at a young age? These are important things for us to consider.
These questions are most relevant to families whose children are cared for at home by a parent or other family member. Families who need childcare because the parents work outside of the home face other questions as they decide whether to enroll their children in typical childcares or in childcares that provide preschool. If this describes you, then you’ll want to consider some other factors (how much the various programs cost, what educational activities take place in these programs, etc.).
Be sure to check back in the coming weeks because I will describe the choice we’ve made for our 3-year-old. Have you enrolled your children in preschool programs? What factors impacted your decision?
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