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."