What do you think of when you hear the word “preschool?” In the past, you might have pictured a group of happy young children singing songs and finger painting together. In more recent years, though, the word has become synonymous with kindergarten prep. This leaves many parents with the belief that preschool should have a more academic feel, complete with desks, lesson plans and rote memorization.
It’s true that the academic importance of preschool has increased from what it once was. Preschools teach skills and concepts that are important to a child’s ability to succeed from the very beginning of kindergarten. But preschool is about more than just academics. The importance of preschool education is largely tied to its impact on a child’s overall development.
Reasons for Kids to Attend Preschool
The first thing to understand when you’re starting your preschool search is that each program is different. There are several different philosophies out there about how a preschool program should be run and what children should take away from it. Before you even start your search, take a few minutes to understand the purpose of preschool and what you’re hoping your child will gain when they enroll.
In general, preschool programs are designed to lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Even the things that don’t seem like they provide much in the way of educational value — singing songs, playing on the playground and art projects — actually encourage a child’s brain development and sense of exploration, both of which are essential to academic success later on.
One of the biggest benefits of preschool is that it lays the foundation for academic confidence. When children master concepts like using scissors, gluing and writing their names, they begin to believe they can do even more than that. This sense of confidence is key to their ability to adapt when they reach kindergarten. The easier they adapt when kindergarten starts, the quicker they will start to absorb and retain the academic material that’s presented to them. Their confidence will continue to soar and lead them to academic success in the years to come.
Some parents opt to introduce these concepts at home, and they have great success in preparing their children for kindergarten. So why is preschool important?
There are many reasons for kids to attend preschool. Although some of the concepts taught in preschool can be introduced at home, preschool teachers are trained to enhance a child’s academic, social, mental and physical capabilities. The experience of learning and growing alongside peers of the same age is also important. Working alongside other children enhances the learning experience and helps children retain the concepts they’ve been taught. It also lays the foundation for cooperation, problem-solving among peers and understanding of diversity that cannot typically be replicated in the home environment.
What Do Kids Learn in Preschool?
If you walk through the halls of a typical preschool, you’ll likely see walls covered in brightly colored artwork and hear the joyful sounds of group play or a teacher reading or singing a song. At first glance, it might appear to be all fun and games, but preschool is about much more than fun activities and snack time — although we love those, too! The preschool environment is designed to use those fun and games to teach children a variety of like skills that are essential to their academic and personal success later on. What skills do kids learn in preschool?
1. Social Skills
It’s a fact that kids who attend preschool are better prepared for kindergarten. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of a preschool education when it comes to social skills. Preschool teaches children how to operate as part of a group by introducing concepts like walking in a line, being quiet when asked, taking turns with others and other essential skills they’ll need for “big school.” They learn what it means to help in the classroom, respect a teacher, follow the rules and work with others to complete a task.
Preschool also gives children the opportunity to learn these things outside of their own home. Children learn how to cooperate with other children and other adults who don’t do things the same way their parents do. They learn to follow directions from their teachers and how to contribute to a group environment. Practicing good manners is also an important part of preschool. Children are expected to use “please” and “thank you” regularly. Using their “indoor voice” at the appropriate time, as well as generally being courteous to others is another important aspect of the social benefits of preschool.
Preschool teaches children to be more self-sufficient. In a classroom full of children, teachers don’t have time to tie each shoelace, wipe every nose or zip every coat. Children are expected to learn how to perform these and other basic self-care tasks for themselves. This can be especially important for a child who is coming from a home where they are the only child there and have been doted on by their parents.
In some cases, children may not perform these tasks because they are still developing the fine motor skills needed to do them. Preschool activities, such as writing their name, drawing, playing with playdough or other sensory activities can help to improve a child’s motor skills so that they can successfully zip their coat or tie their shoes.
A preschool is a great place for children to learn about diversity. In preschool, children from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds come together in one classroom. This can be especially important for young children because, for many of them, they haven’t had the opportunity to interact with children who have different backgrounds. The children are grouped together and, through play and a variety of academic activities, they learn that they can form friendships with all kinds of people.
In preschool, children are also exposed to children who have different abilities and interests than they do. For example, one child may be enthusiastic about dinosaurs and share her knowledge of prehistoric creatures with another child who is passionate about butterflies. Or perhaps one child comes from a family who spends weekends hiking, while another child has taken a recent trip to the beach. By simply talking with each other about the things they love and experiences they have, children become teachers, too.
If you wonder whether preschool important for your child, consider this: By the time a child heads off to preschool, they have probably started performing basic tasks at home, such as cleaning up toys or putting away books. They might “help” mom or dad with laundry or the dishes or yard work. But they probably don’t do those very consistently, and requests for help may result in tantrums or blank stares.
One of the lifelong benefits of preschool is that it is designed to reinforce the concept of responsibility. Children participate in the classroom routine of hanging up coats and backpacks in the morning. They take turns feeding the class pet or being the line leader. They are expected to clean up their trash after snack time.
Children tend to be more cooperative when they’re asked to perform a chore or task in the classroom setting. But as they experience the good feeling they get when they help and contribute, they are more likely to want to replicate that at home. Teaching children to pitch in and take responsibility when they are young will go a long way as they grow.
5. How to Stay Active
Being active has a direct — and important — impact on a child’s ability to focus on what they’re learning. That’s why physical activity is an essential part of the preschool experience. But there’s more to it than just running around a playground. In preschool, movement is incorporated into a variety of classroom activities, such as games or songs that include dance moves or hand motions. Sure, some of it is designed to simply get those wiggles out, but physical activity has also been proven to improve a child’s ability to learn and retain information. Physical activity also helps to improve a child’s ability to concentrate on tasks.
6. Making Friends
Even children who come from a home full of siblings need the chance to learn and practice making and keeping friends independently of their family. Children need to learn how to take direction from other adults who aren’t their parents as well as how to establish friendships that aren’t determined by their birth order or family associations. In fact, research has shown that the soft skills associated with developing friendships — being open to new experiences, curiosity, patience and the ability to focus — can have a life-long impact on a child’s ability to succeed in the workforce as an adult.
Although only one in a list of benefits, the positive impact of preschool on a child’s academic career can’t be ignored. Children who attend preschool generally have higher math abilities and stronger vocabularies than their counterparts who stayed home. Children who come from low-income households or multilingual families reap even greater benefits.
What Does a Child Learn in Preschool?
Preschool indirectly impacts their academic career by teaching them how to act in an educational setting before more intensive learning begins. Socializing with other children teaches skills like cooperation, problem-solving and stress management — all of which are important tools for academic success later on. They learn early that they must listen to the teacher, as well as their classmates. And they develop an understanding of how a classroom operates. Why is this important? A child’s brain is the most malleable in their early childhood years, so teaching and reinforcing these skills in a preschool environment goes a long way toward cementing these concepts while they’re primed to understand and retain them.
They’ll learn to recognize and write numbers and letters. They’ll learn about community helpers, days of the week and months of the year. They’ll learn pre-math skills, such as patterns and counting. And they’ll learn pre-reading skills, such as new vocabulary and the ability to recognize the sounds different letters make.
The Value of Play-Based Preschools
As adults, we often mistake play for the absence of learning. We view it as a bonus once a child has finished the work of learning. But play is actually the way that children learn about the world around them. Emotional regulation and social competence are essential components for academic success down the road. Regular interaction with peers aids in vocabulary development, and physical activity has a direct impact on long-term academic success.
We often encounter parents who view preschool as their child’s gateway to academic success. And, while research does support the notion that children who attend preschool are successful in school later on, it’s a bad idea to focus on finding a school that pushes academics onto preschool-aged children. A child’s early years are the years when their brain is developing the most. But what many parents don’t realize is that the best way to stimulate their child’s brain and prepare them for a rigorous academic program later on is to focus on finding a play-based preschool.
What Is a Play-Based Preschool?
A play-based preschool is a school that emphasizes exploration, hands-on learning, play, sensory activities and social experiences as the most important learning experiences of early childhood. At first glance, a play-based preschool might appear to spend a lot of time on arts and crafts, until you realize that learning to cut and draw helps children develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination — which are essential to learning how to read and write. A play-based preschool may appear to be chock full of toys until you realize that each toy is part of a series of stations designed to introduce early math concepts such as recognizing patterns, problem-solving and building.
Using developmentally appropriate play also allows a preschool to encourage children in many of the skills listed above. Children spend time developing friendships and learning how to operate within a classroom setting. They learn how to follow instructions from an adult who isn’t a parent. They are also exposed to new ideas and topics they might not otherwise encounter at home.
Is Preschool Important for My Child?
Is preschool worth it?
Play-based preschool programs provide a rich, stimulating environment for young children to explore the world around them. Rather than providing a stressful academic approach to education, play-based programs provide age-appropriate hands-on activities that prepare children for a more rigorous academic environment later on.
At Haymarket Children’s Academy, we’re dedicated to providing a safe and nurturing atmosphere where your child can learn and grow. We are committed to partnering with parents to provide an environment that encourages children to ask questions, make friends and take notice of their community.
If you’re looking for a quality play-based preschool program in the Gainsville area, consider the HCA community. When you enroll a child in one of our programs, they receive access to our experienced teachers, as well as nutritious meals — prepared on-site by our school’s chef — and access to medical care when the need arises.