First, we have to answer, “What is “preschool?”

Easy.

If we consider that first grade of primary, with students about 7 years of age, is the beginning of elementary education, then, logically, any schooling before “first grade” is defined as “preschool”.

Depending on the country and various schools’ organizational pattern, preschool could include anything from infant day-care with some physical, musical, nurturing activities, to nursery/toddler/infant classes with art, music, physical development, manipulative activities, through Kindergarten level.

There is a marked division between educators and parents who want kids to read and write as young as possible, and those who believe kids need more play time, free time, creative time, believing that reading and writing can come gradually, beginning in first grade, when the child is about 7 years old.

Parents and educators, who are early academic preschool supporters, say they don’t want children to “fall behind”, or “get lazy”, or “not be ready to meet the standards and expectations”.

The advocates of late entry academic focus and accomplishments simply ask, “What’s the big rush?”.

What parents and educators should be asking is , “What does research support?”

Simple!

Research consistently backs what early elementary teachers have known for many years: Imaginative play is the catalyst for social, physical, emotional, and moral development in young children. With guidance from an observant teacher, kindergartners can use imaginative play to make sense of the world around them—and lay the critical groundwork for understanding words and numbers.

Playing with blocks is math. Learning about balance, physics, geometry, counting, shapes… are all mathematical concepts kids learn playing with blocks.

Playing with cloth, paper scraps, small empty boxes, glue, glitter, and paints guide children to create, plan, think, produce, appreciate. Gluing little heads of people or animals on popsicle sticks – to make simple puppets – teaches kids about drama, role play, speaking, and sequencing.

Reading aloud to kids from picture story books – daily – not as a “special treat”, helps develop imagination, an extended vocabulary, and awareness of grammatical structure.          

Researcher and guru of linguistics, Dr. Stephen Krashen, states that the best way to acquire language is through “optimal, rich input”, meaning that what kids listen to, and are exposed to, help them learn language more effectively. Having books on tables or shelves, accessible for young children to explore freely, is part of that rich input.

In Finland, which routinely leads the world in assessments of literacy, math, and science, children don’t start formal schooling until age 7—and then they only attend half days. Compared to countries like the U.S. or the United Kingdom, children in Finland spend less time in school, too. Finnish kids usually have the same teacher in primary school for several years, so that the growth and learning styles of each child are known well by the teacher — not a new struggle, every year,  to know a new teacher. In Finland, students spend as much time as possible outdoors, playing, hiking, sports. Classroom time is limited. Homework is non-existent. Standardized exams are absent, except an optional one at the end of high school.

If we propose to make education a meaningful experience for preschool children, what should we do? What does research for the past 30 years tells us? What does it support?

Research does NOT support required preschool writing or reading, nor standardized exams, nor written homework. Read the research by Alfie Kohn, to learn more on this hot topic. Those are governmental/bureaucratic ideas for political reasons – not educational ones. Presumed “accountability” is a false god. Giving tests every Friday to kindergarten kids is child abuse. It is teacher abuse, too!

In this author’s experience of 55 years in various levels of education, a great preschool program includes ALL of the following. If your program doesn’t have all these items, become a positive deviant! Be bold! Be a change-agent. Our little children depend on your voices.

  • Free, healthy breakfast and lunch. No junk food, no juice, no sodas. Water or milk (not chocolate milk), fresh fruit, vegetables, protein daily.
  • Tables with moveable chairs – not individual, 1-piece desks/seats
  • Story time every day….for pleasure listening and discussions
  • Rest time daily – Kids rest on their mat, and/or look at a book of his./her choice.
  • Art daily – not simply “coloring worksheets” – cut/paste/fold/draw/create
  • Music daily – use rhythm band instruments, videos, singing, listening, alphabet song, nursery rhymes
  • Physical activities daily – dancing, calisthenics, circle games , relay races
  • Initial academics daily AFTER THE FIRST MONTH OF SCHOOL: writing one’s name, beginning to recognize the alphabet Aa, Bb…One letter each week… 26 weeks will know how to recognize them all. Identify sounds of words beginning with some letters. Then begin writing the alphabet. Writing numerals 1-10, then 1-20.  Counting, organizing, recognizing numerals and corresponding with items. Rhymes, poems, safety words like: STOP. QUIET.
  • World cultures –  (2 or 3 times each week) learn the world map – identify some cultural things from countries, recognize the student’s country’s flag.
  • Science – (2 or 3 times weekly) experiments, simple astronomy, simple facts to explore, animals, plants, projects, collaborative work.
  • Free time to explore – daily – play with blocks, costumes, math tools, kitchen, table-restaurant items, books, trucks, cars dolls, doll houses,  toys, table games
  • Circle time – daily – kids get together to talk with teacher, with each other, plan projects or field trips, or parents’ visits… Discuss date, weather, events, etc.

With these 12 items, some daily, some 2 or 3 times a week, you will have a world-class preschool program – research-based, strong, fun, active learning and growth environment for children, preparing their way for self-confidence and school success.

That is the POWER OF PRESCHOOL – happy, loving, caring, inquisitive, creative kids!