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 ABCs. In fact, preschool matters for so many other reasons.
“It is hard for some to believe, but preschool is the foundation to which all other years of school are built upon,” says Renee Koschnick, founder and director of Little Acorn Academy in Dayton. “Just like with a house, you need a strong foundation; preschool is no different. It is a child’s first exposure to school and can set the tone for their educational career.”
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. “An important part of preschool is teaching children about their emotions and how to navigate through them safely, kindly and appropriately,” Koschnick says.
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 students learn “to listen to others as well as verbalize their own ideas, to make new friends, share, cooperate with other children and adults, and learn to become accountable for their actions,” Koschnick says. 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. “The more curious a child is, the more they will learn,” Koschnick says. “To foster a child’s curiosity is one of the most critical ways to create lifelong learners.”
Preschool encourages children to be curious, which allows them to learn, while also building confidence and decision-making skills. “Preschool is an ideal place to nurture curiosity — there are so many ‘first’ opportunities supported by incredible resources for discovery, outstanding teachers to guide and a world of literature to enrich,” Koschnick 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. “Play is really how young children learn and have fun while doing it,” says Koschnick, 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. “Play creates a fun and non-stressful environment in which students can strengthen academics, including number and letter recognition, and build a stronger vocabulary,” Koschnick says. “Play is also vital to practice necessary life skills, such as social development, being active, manners, compromise and working with others.”
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.
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.
“In early childhood, every experience offers a learning opportunity,” Koschnick says. “Preschoolers learn from everyone they talk to and play with, and every experience they have. Preschool is a perfect place for those encounters and experiences to happen.”
Preschool is a wonderful place for a child to learn 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 teaches young children how to be learners, work through emotions, learn to pay attention and interact positively with their peers,” Koschnick says. Preschool matters for many reasons, and is a stepping-stone that leads to kindergarten and beyond, as it develops a love for learning in our eager, young children.