What is Preschool and Why is it Important?
What is preschool? Why is it important? Commonly referred to as child care, day care, or nursery school, preschools are early childhood education establishments dedicated to building the foundation for your young child to become a learner for life. The various reading, writing, math, and science activities your child will engage in will help them understand the routines of school, build skills to collaborate and conflict-resolve in groups, and be effective early learners by the time Kindergarten rolls around. The various education and play-based learning activities will equip your preschooler with the skills to become a learner for life!
In your search for the perfect preschool, there are several popular approaches to early childhood education that you may encounter. What are the philosophies of each type, and more importantly, what do they mean for your child?
Waldorf: The focus at a Waldorf preschool is on creative, hands-on play that encourages development of a child’s unique capacities. Teachers develop a warm and trusting relationship with children, and they design experiences to help children explore their interests through various free play, arts, circle time, practical tasks, and outdoor activities. Children are also encouraged to investigate and explore interests on their own to play a role in shaping their early learning. The physical environment is arranged to provide a safe and comfortable place for children to act independently and learn by doing.
Reggio-Emilia: The Reggio-Emilia philosophy is a less familiar approach to early learning. The term refers to Reggio Emilia, a region in Italy where parents, preschool teachers, and children took an innovative approach to early childhood education. Reggio-Emilia inspired schools share a philosophy that children a) can construct their own learning experiences, b) learn best through relationships with others, and c) communicate in a variety of different ways that must all be respected and understood. Preschool teachers and parents are responsible for understanding what children tell them through their words, actions, artwork, and other “voices.” They can then facilitate children’s exploration and learning. The Reggio-Emilia philosophy also stresses the importance of documenting children’s work and language, both to enable the preschool teachers to learn and improve and to show the children that their ideas have value.
Montessori: Montessori is perhaps the most commonly heard of early childhood education teaching style. Children choose their own activities for self-directed learning, with preschool teachers acting as facilitators. Collaborative play between children is also encouraged, enabling them to learn from each other. Materials are selected to support various aspects of a child’s development.
Outside of the child care setting, some toys for children are marketed to parents as “Montessori” products. There is no official designation for Montessori toys, but generally, products advertised as such will be made of natural materials, reflect the real world, enable the child to learn independently, and promote STEM learning. All features of a Montessori philosophy.
Transitional Kindergarten: Transitional kindergarten, or TK, is not a particular philosophy or approach to child care. It is simply a pre-kindergarten school readiness program offered through public school districts, serving children whose birthday is between September 2nd and December 2nd of the school year. If your child turns 5 on September 6th, they are eligible to enroll in a TK class at a local public school. When a parent has a child that falls past the September 1st, the Transitional Kindergarten school program offers their child the age-appropriate curriculum, after which they’ll move on to kindergarten the following year. Program features vary by school district.
Here at Kids’ Care Club, we take a whole-child academic approach that blends elements of all of these philosophies. Our warm, nurturing teachers encourage their students to come up with their own ideas and to explore them both individually and in small groups. We incorporate natural materials and real-world images as we teach important concepts at developmentally appropriate levels. Preschool teachers design activities around the specific needs of their students in order to fully support their learning of STEM, literacy, and social-emotional skills. Recognizing that parents are children’s primary teachers, KCC staff forge a strong home-school connection by communicating and collaborating with families to extend the learning beyond Kids’ Care Club. Children’s development and ideas are documented in a variety of different ways, from formal developmental assessments to books written and illustrated by the child. Kids’ Care Club distinguishes itself from other child care settings by providing a nurturing environment for children to develop at their own pace.
Brief overview of different skills that a Preschooler builds in their Classroom Setting
Many parents wonder what children actually learn in preschool. Does preschool serve a purpose beyond providing a safe place to play while parents are at work? Yes! Every classroom in a high quality child development center is organized by different subjects and types of play, with each day structured by both free time and time devoted to specific activities. A quality preschool program jumpstarts early childhood education and teaches critical skills for their future.
Reading: Learning to read begins with awareness of print, followed by an understanding that each letter indicates a particular sound (called “phonemic awareness”), memorizing what those sounds are, and finally, combining the sounds into words. It’s a big process, and preschool teachers are great at helping children through every step!
Writing: Children are eager to share their ideas through writing. Preschool teachers guide them in holding a writing implement effectively, and then in forming each letter. As children progress, their teachers will also help them space their letters and words correctly while using punctuation.
Math: Learning math in the preschool classroom helps your child make sense of the world around them. Math is all around the preschool classroom! Each day, your child will be exposed to math activities that build on their prior knowledge and equip them to understand new discoveries. Some of the activities seen are learning numbers, practicing counting, learning shapes, completing puzzles, and working with a wide array of toys of different shapes and sizes!
Science: Science offers children the opportunity to explore and collaborate with one another. Through a myriad of sensory and visual experiences, preschool children learn to explore, communicate, find answers on their own or as a group, and form their own opinions based on their observations. These activities lay an important foundation for understanding the world around them. Activities that give children scientific learning in each classroom include sensory tables, science experiments, nature discovery, and more. Outside
Social Emotional Learning: Social emotional learning is the process preschooler’s use to learn to recognize the emotions of themself and the emotions of others. Through strengthening friendships, building connections, and making good decisions, your children learn the social skills and strategies needed to approach and overcome challenges. This pillar of early childhood education combines the previous activities and builds an individual child’s resilience through a diverse set of obstacles and challenges.
How to Choose a Preschool
When it comes to choosing a preschool for your child, there are several factors to consider. You want a preschool where your child will be safe, respected, and happy. Here are some things to look for when auditioning schools.
Adult:child ratio: This is the number of children in the care of one adult. In California, the maximum allowed ratio is 1:12, or one adult supervising 12 preschoolers. Lower ratios mean more one-on-one time for each child. NAEYC standards have lower requirements for maximum ratios depending on their age category, ranging from 1:4 to 1:10.
Physical environment: Do the classroom and outside play area have enough space for the number of children? Is there opportunity for both high- and low-energy activities? Are all materials safe and in good condition? Is there an engaging outdoor environment? At both Kids’ Care Club centers, we believe an outdoor classroom is an important space for children to engage with the natural world through various engaging sensory activities, such as gardening.
Social/emotional environment: Children want to be in a classroom with a teacher who knows them personally and likes spending the day with them. A warm, caring teacher will be happy to see each child as they arrive – and it will be clear that the children are happy to see the teacher, too.
Accreditation: The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the highest authority on the best preschool practices, with standards that are always based on the latest research. A school that has achieved NAEYC accreditation has thoroughly demonstrated that it a) is a safe place for children, b) provides a high quality education in all areas of children’s development, c) has well-qualified staff who care about the children and families, d) is a positive part of the local community, and e) is committed to constantly improving. Of more than 125,000 child care centers, only about 8% of child care facilities in the United States make it through the intensive accreditation process.
By choosing a quality preschool program, your child will have the necessary academic and social skills to prepare them for kindergarten and beyond. We encourage all parents to use Kids’ Care Club’s Identifying a High Quality Preschool – A Parent Checklist in finding the perfect preschool program for their child.