It can be difficult to choose a preschool program that meets the needs of your child. But first you might want to decide if your child even needs one.
Many studies support that the first 5 years are the most important years of brain development in a child's life. Therefore, establishing a positive attitude toward learning during these early years is critical. However, this may occur either in a quality preschool program or in the comfort of your own home. Here is some information that may help you through the decision process.
Sorting out Information
Formal education classes for young children have gained popularity as a way to give children an extra edge in a highly competitive, technology-driven society. However, many physicians, child psychologists, and child development experts disagree. In fact, they believe that rushing your child in the area of formal academics can actually lead to stress, anxiety, or depression. In some children, overscheduling can lead to school avoidance and physical illness.
Children aren't the only ones feeling the pressure. Parents often feel pressure such as:
- Fear that missing early educational opportunities will leave your child at a disadvantage
- Worry about getting your child into an exceptional university
- Messages that only bad parents don't follow certain paths
- High demand to balance work with fast paced scheduling of child's time
The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care has emphasized that a child’s early experiences affect both the structural and functional development of the brain. Early experiences, whether positive or negative, can have long-term consequences for both the child and the family. These effects are magnified for children from disadvantaged situations. It turns out that the quality of early experiences is important. High quality experiences can be provided in the home or outside. Luckily, there are steps you can take to make sure these early experiences are positive.
Playtime or Schooltime
For children, playtime is learning. Your child does not have to be involved in multiple classes or groups to learn. Activities during your downtime can be as effective for your child's development as organized classes. Some activities that can help include:
- Talking to your child about anything
- Working on a hobby
- Including your child in meal making
- Exploring the outdoors
- Playing some sports or just playing around
- Exploring neighborhood destinations like libraries, stores, fire stations, and parks
Keep in mind that children have different interests. If your child finds it easier to play an instrument than throw a ball, find ways to develop that talent.
Development through childhood is rapid and constant. Milestones may be used to mark your child's progress. Remember that every child develops at a different pace. Your child may develop certain skills a little earlier or later than expected. Your doctor will monitor your child's overall progress to determine if it is within normal development or part of a delayed development.
If certain development factors are delayed, then it can affect the child's future school achievements and education level. Fortunately, early intervention can help get children back on track.
If you feel your child is not responding as he or she should, speak to the pediatrician.
This does not mean that you cannot get the education for your child that is needed. Consider these guidelines:
- Let your pediatrician guide you.
- Get advice and support from other reliable sources.
- Look for quality programs in your area.
- Find out what other resources are in your area.
To School or Not to School
To decide whether or not your child should go to a preschool program, begin by asking yourself a few questions:
Does your child have opportunities to socialize with children their age?
Successful socialization is learned through experience. Children need opportunities to interact with others. It is through these early opportunities that they first learn to show their independence, build friendships, solve problems, and learn to accept and respect others with varying personalities, values, and cultural differences.
Does your child have reasonable responsibilities?
When children go to kindergarten they are given certain tasks for which they are responsible, such as hanging their coat on a hook, keeping their desk neat, following rules, and putting toys and equipment away when they are finished. If children know what is expected of them, they are usually happy to comply, especially when they are praised for their accomplishments. Children who are given responsibilities at home usually adapt well to the new responsibilities at school.
Can your child separate from you when left in others' care?
It is common for children to have anxiety when separated from their parents, especially during the toddler years. Separation is most successful when the parent prepares the child in advance, tells them when they are leaving, promises them they will return, continues to leave regardless of the protest, returns on time, and compliments the child for taking a big step. If the separation brings about a prolonged emotional outburst, regression of earlier habits (thumb sucking, biting nails), or negative physical symptoms (stomach aches, diarrhea, and headaches) the situation is too stressful for the child to handle at this time. They need time, consistency, love, and support to help them adjust to the situation.
Do you have the opportunity to spend quality time with your child?
Quality time is probably the greatest asset you can give your child. It is also sometimes the most difficult because the demands of other family members, work, and other circumstances may interrupt your plans. Be honest with yourself and look at whether or not your schedule and temperament allow you to have the time, patience, discipline, and enthusiasm to give your child a solid foundation that will prepare him/her for kindergarten.
Has your child been exposed to "worldly" experiences?
These experiences do not need to consist of international travel. Trips to the library, post office, grocery store, bakery, and fire station are beneficial to a preschool age child. These experiences expose them to the world around them, which sparks their curiosity. This prompts them to ask questions. It is through the response to these questions that they discover the joy of learning.
If you answered yes to most of these questions, it is likely that your child will be prepared for kindergarten without the aid of a preschool program. If you answered no to most of these questions, your child may benefit from attending a quality preschool.
The most important factor to consider is that your preschooler develops a healthy attitude toward learning. If this is modeled and encouraged by parents and/or preschool teachers, the child will have the most important tool they need to begin their formal education.
National Association for the Education of Young Children
US Department of Education
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Benefits of early intervention. Preschool Learning Center website. Available at: http://www.preschoollearningcenter.org/index.php?benefits%20of%20early%20intervention. Accessed October 13, 2016.
Children at risk. Consequences for school readiness and beyond. Rand Labor and Population Research Brief. Available at: http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_briefs/2005/RAND_RB9144.pdf. Accessed October 13, 2016.
Cognitive development in preschool children. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/Pages/Cognitive-Development-In-Preschool-Children.aspx. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed October 13, 2016.
Committee on early childhood, adoption, and dependent care. Quality early education and child care from birth to kindergarten. Pediatrics. 2005;115(1):187-191.
Developmental red flags: Signs and symptoms of developmental delays. Preschool Learning Center website. Available at: http://www.preschoollearningcenter.org/index.php?Signs%20and%20symptoms%20of%20Developmental%20Delays. Accessed October 13, 2016.
Ginsburg KR, American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Communications. The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics. 2007;119(1):182-191.
Is your child ready for preschool? Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/pages/Is-Your-Child-Ready-for-School.aspx. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed October 13, 2016.
Taanila A., Murray GK, et al., Infant developmental milestones: A 31-year follow-up. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2005;47(9):581-586.
Last reviewed October 2016 by Michael Woods MD Last Updated: 10/28/2014