Most parents would agree that the first few years of their child’s life seem to pass in the blink of an eye. Those wonderful, exciting and often sleepless days become weeks, and then years. And before you know it, you’re thinking about enrolling that baby in preschool. While preschool was once thought of as an optional choice, research shows that this time leading up to kindergarten is absolutely crucial, and not just for learning the ABCs. In fact, preschool matters for so many other reasons.
“Preschool is vital for young children to help build the foundation for a lifetime of learning,” says Emilie Parry, owner of Creative Tots in Mason. “They gain self-confidence and independence in a safe and nurturing environment outside the home.”
If you’ve ever wondered why it’s important to send that baby of yours to school before kindergarten, here are four reasons why preschool matters for young children.
Preschool Builds Social Skills
When a child begins preschool, he is introduced to a brand-new environment that safely allows for social development. “The social benefits of a quality preschool experience are undeniable,” says Frances Russ, communications officer for Cincinnati Public Schools.
While children might be comfortable in their home setting, or even at frequently visited places, preschool provides a new community environment where they can interact with unfamiliar children and adults. It’s in this environment that “they learn to problem-solve with others who want the same toys, same place in line, same friends and same teacher’s attention as they do,” Russ says. “Interacting with other children means learning how to wait, how to take turns and how to listen.” If you’re familiar with 3- and 4-year-olds, then you know that these skills typically are not strengths, but can absolutely be developed in preschool.
Preschool Nurtures a Child’s Natural Curiosity
Young children are notorious for asking, “Why?” This natural curiosity is not only explored in preschool, it’s encouraged. While many preschools do introduce some structure, even that structure tends to be open-ended to allow for questions to be asked and answered. “Research has proven again and again that children in the early developmental stages of growth learn best when given the time and space to explore and play,” Russ says.
Preschool encourages children to be curious, which allows them to learn, while also building confidence and decision-making skills. “Preschool provides rich classroom environments that give children unique opportunities to explore, develop and investigate the world around them,” Parry says.
Preschool Structures Learning Through Play
If you ask a young child what she loves to do, chances are she will answer with the word, “Play!” Like curiosity, play is a natural thing for early learners, which is why so many preschools structure their teaching through this favorite pastime. “Learning should be a joyful process for children,” says Parry, and preschool provides that type of setting. Especially in today’s society, quality playtime seems to be dwindling, but preschool reinforces and emphasizes it. Children need a chance to pretend, create and tell stories. “Pretend play is a great way for children to learn and develop skills, such as creativity and imagination, planning and organizing, and developing communication skills,” Russ says.
Preschool Sets the Tone for a Child’s Future Education
Preschool is commonly thought of as preparation for kindergarten, and it is. When a child attends preschool, he enters elementary school with key skills already in place, such as following directions. This enables the kindergarten teacher “more time to work directly with children and less time on classroom management,” Russ says.
Beyond kindergarten, a positive preschool experience sets a child up for success all through schooling and even into college. Most importantly, preschool develops lifelong learners, which is a trait that will impact a child’s entire life.
Preschool is a wonderful place for a child to learn the ABCs, but there is so much more that happens during these early learning years. The baby and toddler phases pass so quickly, and the thought of sending a young child to preschool and into a new environment can be daunting. But it is in this safe, educational setting where children can develop crucial social skills, interact with new people and learn through play, while exploring those innate curiosities.
“Preschool provides children with opportunities and experience that help them grow and develop into empathetic, compassionate and caring individuals,” Parry says. Preschool matters for many reasons, and it is a stepping-stone that leads to kindergarten and beyond, as it develops a love for learning in our eager, young children.