Is Preschool Necessary?
The Preschool Question
Deciding whether to send your son or daughter to preschool can be difficult. Many of today’s parents face enormous pressures from family, friends, fellow parents, and society in general regarding whether or not their toddler should be enrolled in a pre-kindergarten environment. Although there is much literature in favor of both attending and refraining from preschool, true evidence to support either side of this argument is hard to find.
When contemplating preschool for your child, you may wonder what is the most important factor to consider. Although the root answer is simple—your child and his or her needs, personality, and development—discerning what is best for your child can be much more complex.
The idea of enrolling your child in a preschool program can mirror a game of tug-of-war. Parents and educators who believe that preschool education plays a vital role in the development of children defend its merits with passion, while parents and caregivers who feel that preschool doesn’t play an essential role defend their opinions with equal fervor.
This question has created a rather heated debate, but with little evidence to support either side. As Kelly Maxwell, a research scientist at UNC Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, says in a February 2, 2005, Tallahassee Democrat article, “I think there’s no one thing that’s a must for children to be successful for school.”
Family psychologist John Rosemond reports in the same article, “I’ve met countless numbers of parents all across America who have opted not to put their child in preschool of any sort, and they attest to having well-adjusted kids.”
Despite some feeling that preschool isn’t needed as a mandatory first step in a child’s education, the majority of parents in the United States send their children to preschool, according to an April 2003 Educational Leadership report. States such as Georgia have already incorporated mandatory preschool programs for four-year-old children, and New York, California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey are in close pursuit.
These states feel they have found good reason to enforce a universal preschool program. In a recent study posted on the Chicago Child-Parent Centers website, children who attended a pre-K program are nearly 30 percent more likely to graduate from high school, 40 percent less likely to repeat a grade, and 32 percent less likely to be arrested as a juvenile.
So, what’s the right step for your child? As Thomas Andrews, a retired private-school teacher with over 30 years experience in elementary education from Long Island, New York, points out, despite other influences the main consideration should be your child. “It is only natural for parents to feel like they don’t want to short change their child by not giving them an opportunity to learn. [But] a huge part of the equation is the child—some children thrive in a preschool environment, while others may not,” says Andrews.
Educational and Social Development
Prior to making any decision, parents should ask themselves several questions: Is their child social? Does their little one have the ability to work and play for an extended period of time? Can he work independently as well as focus on one task for several minutes? Can he get along well with others in a group? These behaviors are just a few of those needed for a child to successfully participate in and benefit from preschool. Some children may not yet exhibit a focused attention span for sitting through circle time, but they may learn to do so from exposure to a preschool environment. Parents must discern if their child will be able to learn from and grow in a preschool environment, or instead feel restricted and unhappy.
Many preschool proponents cite social development and interaction as the most important part of preschool. Early childhood educators as well as parents of children in preschool argue that the social skills children learn while enrolled assist in helping deal with conflict, negotiation, sharing, problem solving, and compromise.
“The most important aspects of a child’s development are social and emotional. If a child is not content socially and emotionally, that child will be hesitant to perform academically. Although children can be exposed to social situations through activities such as play groups or sports, preschool gives a wide variety of experiences,” explains Helen James, a pre-K teacher at a private elementary school in Orlando, Florida. She maintains that from her experience, “children that have attended preschool, generally, are more confident and comfortable when they move into kindergarten.”
Chris**, a marketing executive and father of two from Bedminster, New Jersey, feels that the preschool experiences his two children had when they were little were beneficial to their social growth. “Preschool helped my children develop socially—my son’s best friends, now at age 12, are the same ones that he met when he first started preschool.”
However, many parents believe the opposite—that socialization skills are first learned in the comfort of home. These parents try to instill and pass down their values and knowledge to their children by exposing them to other families with children who share similar values.
“I really cannot believe that preschool can provide children with anything that a loving parent cannot,” says Susan, a mother and member of the Berkeley Parent’s Network message board. “I think the arguments about socialization are crazy. In developmental psychology (this is straight out of a textbook) socialization is: ‘The process by which children acquire the standards, values, and knowledge of their society.’ If you keep them at home and teach them your values and enrich them with your knowledge, you are socializing them. If you meet with families whose values you share or respect and let your children play together, play with other children and help them to learn to share, be respectful and not hurt each others’ feelings, look out for younger children, say please and thank you, or whatever it is that you think is important, then you are socializing them.”
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