It used to be that Kindergarten was the great evening agent – it leveled the playing field as much as possible for children before they entered 1st grade. Those were in the days where kindergarten was half-days, at most, and it consisted of fairy tales, building blocks, and finger paints. Now these traditional kindergarten activities are being bumped by preschool, and kindergarten is a full-time job for 5- and 6-year-olds.
Is preschool the new kindergarten?
Does my child need preschool in order to succeed in kindergarten?
These are the questions that parents today are facing, and the answers and expectations of society aren’t always on the same page. It is becoming the expectation of teachers that children coming into their kindergarten classrooms have attended either preschool or a have been in a formal daycare setting – and they are probably right. Approximately two-thirds of children in the United States attend preschool or are in daycare during these formative years.
Research seems to indicate that children who attend preschool score higher on average in pre-reading skills and math skills than their kindergarten counterparts who don’t attend formal preschools. The follow-up research, however, is ironic. Of those children who attended preschool, studies indicate that by the time these children enter 6th grade, they have slight increases in behavioral problems. They tend to act out and disrupt classroom activities more often.
And those academic edges that kids had in kindergarten? Those seem to fade by the time kids who attended preschool are in 5th grade. The exceptions to this group of kids are those children who attended affluent preschools and are still slightly ahead of the curve. However, this could be attributable to the fact that these children who come from extremely financially secure backgrounds could also be exposed to other cultural opportunities that enhance their overall studies.
The Benefits of Preschool
Preschool began as a way to jump-start education for children – those who were early bloomers and those who seemed to need a head-start. There is little doubt that when children are exposed to a positive and stimulating environment, that there can be benefits that will help them succeed in formal school.
- Experience following directions from someone other than a primary caregiver
- Experience working in groups with peers
- Opportunities to experience interactions with children of other backgrounds
- Opportunities to build skills needed for kindergarten
Can My Child Succeed without Preschool?
The benefits that children can gain from preschool aren’t only found in preschool settings, however. They can be supplied by parents and caregivers who are proactive and take the time and energy to expose their children to myriads of opportunities in the real world.
- Visits to museums (science, art, children’s, etc.)
- Opportunities to volunteer in the community as a family
- Daily reading and writing opportunities
- Interactions with people of all ages from all walks of life by being engaged in the community
- Trips to the library and things like story time
- Opportunities to play with children other than siblings (those little sibling hierarchies don’t matter as much in the classroom!)
- Engaging activities that encourage kids to explore art, social studies, their faith, and the world
Not all parents are rushing their children through academics. In fact, some parents are taking the opposite approach and practicing what is known as red-shirting – holding their kids back from starting kindergarten in an effort to give them an edge. The effects of this practice are debatable, as are the benefits and drawbacks of preschool.
As a homeschool mom who is about to graduate her first child from high school, I can wholeheartedly say that preschool is not the be-all, end-all of academics. When we provide engaging and enthusiastic opportunities and environments for our kids, they flourish. And we have to go back to the basics and ask ourselves:
Have kids and their basic needs and abilities really changed, or are we just changing our expectations and social norms?