Preschool. The word brings a host of images to my mind: tiny, brightly colored chairs, sticky-fingered, children giggling, and cheery, slightly frazzled teachers overseeing afternoon finger-painting. For my husband and I, these happy images are accompanied by feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Will we be able to afford preschool? (In our area, four half-days per week is just shy of $5,000.00 for many programs.) How will we get P to and from preschool? Will she be terribly unprepared for kindergarten, academically and socially, if we don’t send her? As a preschool psychologist, I know first-hand how important early educational experiences are, but I do still wonder: is preschool a necessity, or a luxury? Do children require preschool in order to be successful in kindergarten? In an attempt to learn the answers to these questions, I interviewed two gracious kindergarten teachers, Lyndsay and Stephanie, and several mothers, Sara, Monica, Stacey, and Anissa. Here’s what they had to say.
Is preschool essential in order for children to be successful in kindergarten?
According to kindergarten teacher Lyndsay, the answer is “yes.” She went on to say this:
“Only learning about the ABCs and the 123s, taking naps, and attending a half-day kindergarten program are things of the past. Preschool is now what kindergarten used to be.”
Stephanie, also a kindergarten teacher, had this to say:
“I believe preschool is an important stepping stone for kindergarten. I have an 18-month-old son. When he gets older, I plan to send him to preschool for a few half-days per week so that he learns the social skills needed to work with his peers and other adults.”
Sara, mother of two, had this to say:
“I think preschool is essential. My daughter was reading a week into kindergarten, and I’m sure preschool played a big role in that. I feel like it also helped with her social and organizational skills.”
Monica, mother to a one-year-old, expressed similar feelings.
“My daughter [is still young], but I fully intend to send her to preschool. I think it is an essential part of children’s’ social and educational development. My nephew went to preschool last year and I’m honestly amazed by his math and reading skills this year in kindergarten!”
Stacey, mother of three, opted not to send her oldest to preschool. Instead, she brought her daughter to work with her each day (at the YMCA). Stacey went on to say this:
“She (my daughter) went to the playroom, where there are craft, reading, and play areas, while I worked. She is now in second grade and thriving.”
Anissa, mother of two, expressed an alternative viewpoint.
“We will not send our children to preschool, and they will not start kindergarten until they are 6-years-old. [My husband and I] believe this will equip them to be more mature for life events in their later school years. It will also give us as parents time to make sure we are “the influence” in their lives; we want to be in control of what their young minds are exposed to.”
What knowledge/skills should incoming kindergarteners know and/or be able to demonstrate?
According to Stephanie, children should know:
“All uppercase and lowercase letters and sounds, be able to write and recognize their name, be able to count and recognize numbers up to 10, and be able to recognize colors.”
Additionally, Stephanie noted this:
“There is very little time for play. This is where the importance of preschool for the social aspect comes in. Most classrooms have 25+ students. Because the classroom instruction is so guided, the children have very little time to learn important social skills through play. I recommended children start kindergarten being able to use their words , rather than physically take out their frustrations, understand when it is important to tell an adult, know how to share, and know how to initiate play.
In addition to Stephanie’s suggestions, Lyndsay recommended that:
“Children should be able to identify 30 sight words (I, see, the, we, at, etc.), be able to identify simple, geometric shapes, know how to read age appropriate books, know how to handle a book properly and use one to one correspondence when reading (by pointing to each word as they read), and be able to write simple sentences.
What can parents who opt out of preschool for their children, or for those who cannot afford preschool, do to prepare their children for kindergarten?
Lyndsay suggests that parents..
“Spend at least spend 15-30 minutes each day devoted to meaningful learning experiences. Inexpensive kindergarten workbooks can be purchased at the Dollar Store, and there are so many inexpensive DIY educational projects and activities out there. Also, remember that anything can be a learning experience, from grocery shopping to driving in a car. Parents can play fun and silly games with their children. Some activity/game suggestions are; sing a silly spelling song, point out signs on the road and have children read them, play a guessing game (I am thinking of something that starts with an “Aa”), read/write/spell simple words, go on a nature walk or hike and learn about plants and animals, visit a children’s hospital to learn about health, go to museums, go to the library, read books EVERYDAY and talk about the book when finished reading (talk about what happened in the beginning, middle and end), practice writing your names along with simple sentences, and the list goes on…”
Stephanie had this to say:
“I have seen children come into kindergarten from great preschools, not so great preschools, and some who never went to preschool or daycare at all. The children who have been successful without preschool often had very involved parents who were working with them on the concepts mentioned in the first question. In addition, those children were often in many social activities such as ballet, soccer, tennis, boy scouts, etc, activities that helped them learn teamwork, work with other adults, and compensate for the social skills they may not have learned at home.
For parents considering preschool for their child(re), Stephanie also had this to say:
“Preschool is an investment. The last thing you want is for your child to go to one that is not providing them with the foundation needed to be successful in kindergarten. If you are looking at preschools, be sure they have NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) accreditation and ask to observe a classroom, not just tour, prior to enrolling your child. I would also suggest visiting a local kindergarten classroom. It can be quite the wake up call to see what your preschooler will be doing the following year. This may help you decide if and which preschool is right for you. It does not matter what type of preschool you enroll your child in (Montessori, reggio emilia, faith based, etc.) but do take your child’s personality into account prior to deciding. Not every child will be successful in every type of preschool.
So, is preschool essential? Are children who did not attend a preschool program doomed to experience educational and social failure? In short, the answer appears to be “No.” While there is no denying the merits of preschool, parents who do not send their children to preschool (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) can take comfort in the fact that there are ways to prepare children for kindergarten without preschool. Is it more work? Probably, but according to kindergarten teachers Lyndsay and Stephanie, it can be done. Now, I want to hear from you. Did you send your child(ren) to preschool? Was it worth it? If you didn’t send your child(ren), how did they fare in elementary school?