How important is preschool? It’s widely accepted that preschool is beneficial, but factors like preschool cost and parents’ wishes to keep their kids at home longer lead many to question how necessary this extra early education is. In my experience as an educational psychologist, the lessons learned in preschool can be supplemented at home, but parents have to keep in mind that the majority of their child’s kindergarten peers will have likely learned similar skills in the formal setting of preschool where group learning and socialization is practiced. Let’s look at what makes preschool valuable and what the research is saying about kids who attend.
Preparation for Kindergarten
Preschool has become increasingly more important as kindergarten curriculum has moved away from play and socialization to early academic studies. Preschool is now where kids learn foundational socialization skills that help get them ready for kindergarten. Here are a few things your child will need by the time they reach kindergarten:
- Ability to sit and attend
- Ability to perform on request
- Good receptive and expressive language
- Understanding of rhyming
- Experience with scissors
- Experience with letters and numbers
- Ability to write their own name
Marked Benefits Among Similar Students
Most research shows big distinctions between kids who didn’t go to preschool and those who did. A report compiled by Learning Policy Institute stated that “when participants are compared to very similar students who did not attend preschool, the benefits of participation are found to be substantial.” Of course, among the kids who did not attend preschool, there was no distinction among kids whose parents intentionally prepared them for kindergarten and those whose did not.
It’s also important to note that the report placed emphasis on the quality of preschool programs. While preschool may innately offer some benefits, the quality of the program and the schools children attend afterwards can also have an impact on kids’ early success. A quality preschool will offer your kids a solid foundation that they can build and grow their academic skills on. This being the case, families that have limited access to good preschools – whether that be due to location or budget – are likely better off preparing their kids for kindergarten at home.
Closing the Gap Between Socio-Economic Differences
Learning Policy Institute’s report also showed significant benefits for kids raised in low-income families. In the report, W. Steven Barnett, Founder and Senior Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University said this about preschool, “High-quality preschool programs can…help close the gap in school and life outcomes between those raised in low-income families and their wealthier peers.” Again, the quality of the program is important, but it seems safe to assume that when kids get a quality preschool experience they are better off for it.
Preschool: Parents’ Prerogative
Until states offer government-funded programs and require all students to attend, parents get to decide if they will send their kids to preschool. The evidence makes it clear that the majority of kids who attend preschool experience prolonged benefits. However, that’s not to say kids who were prepared for kindergarten at home were worse off. Studies have not accounted for these scenarios. The overall takeaway is that kids need to learn the basic skills listed earlier in this article before entering kindergarten and quality preschool programs provide a formal venue for this to happen.
If you’d like to talk about this subject more or discuss if your child is ready for preschool or kindergarten, please contact me.
For more information about kindergarten readiness please check out my blog, Kindergarten Readiness – Is My Child Ready to Start Kindergarten?