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The child is the father of the man, noted poet William Wordsworth. While that 19th century observation may sound sexist, what Wordsworth meant remains true. What happens in childhood has a huge influence on the man or woman that youngster eventually becomes. Preschool can make a profound difference in the life of a child. The answer to the question, “Do kids need preschool?” is a resounding “Yes!”, but there are equally viable alternatives to traditional preschool.

Preschool is not synonymous with daycare; the key word is “school.” Preschool offers an academic curriculum geared to 3- to 5-year-olds. During preschool, they learn the basic skills to prepare them for further education, along with how to play well with others. With daycare, the emphasis is on care. It is a place for parents to leave their children in a safe environment while they work. Daycare does offer socialization opportunities, but educational opportunities are more limited if they exist in any formal capacity.

Preschool hours adhere to those of other schools, while daycare hours do not follow a school schedule. Kids in daycare may range in age from infants to those in elementary school, coming in after school hours, rather than the 3- to 5-year-old preschool range.

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  • Costs
    Standard preschool is not cheap. While the costs vary according to the region and type of preschool, the average parents can expect to spend between $400 and $1,000 per month on private preschool. For many families, spending that kind of money on preschool isn’t possible. Daycare is also costly, with the average family spending $972 per month for Monday through Friday full-time care in a licensed facility. However, most children attend preschool for about three hours in the morning or three hours in the afternoon, not the entire day.
  • Short-term benefits
    While studies show that children who attended preschool have an advantage over those who did not in kindergarten through second grade, the Fade-out Effect then sets in. The Fade-out Effect refers to studies showing that the advantage that preschool gives children over those who do not attend preschool fades out by the third grade. As time passes, the academic benefits enjoyed by children who attended preschool tends to diminish. However, much depends on the quality of the child’s further education. Attending a good quality preschool is not going to make as much of a difference if the child’s subsequent schooling is inadequate. One issue is that, in kindergarten teachers may have to spend a lot of time helping children who did not go to preschool learn what preschoolers already know. Having to go over a lot of material they have already mastered is not helping the child who has attended preschool move forward.


What Kids Learn in Preschool

Kids are learning all the time. At this age, they are curious about everything and ready to soak up knowledge. Preschool allows children to develop and boost their language, cognitive, social, and emotional skills, along with an introduction to academics. Preschool is a child’s introduction to this type of educational structure and promotes later school readiness.

While in preschool, expect your child to learn:

  • Numbers
  • Counting
  • Colors
  • Shapes
  • Letters

Preschool also aids kids in developing fine motor skills, refined as they work on arts and crafts projects. Outdoor play and dancing boost gross motor skills, while spending time away from parents and in the company of kids their age increases their social and cooperation skills.

Children may learn to perform basic tasks, giving them a sense of responsibility. That may entail watering a plant, setting the table for snacks, or being asked to help another child who needs help with a task with which your child is familiar. Kids learn simple but essential things like washing their hands before eating their snacks, sitting in a circle and paying attention to the teacher, raising their hands to ask a question, and waiting their turn for various endeavors. This structure will serve them well as they move on to kindergarten.

Early Child Development Theories to Learn More About:

Kids Gain From Preschool What They Can’t at Home

Some parents may dismiss preschool as just kids playing, singing, and the like. However, playing allow kids to interact with other children and learn important social skills, while singing helps them develop language and enhance their communication abilities. When playing games, kids learn about teamwork and sharing. While kids can learn some of these skills at home, experienced preschool teachers help reinforce what parents teach their children while adding enriching learning experiences. Kids also need other children their age with whom to play and learn. Most parents cannot repeat these critical opportunities regularly with their child’s peer group. Keep in mind that during a child’s first five years their brains make connections that affect them throughout their lives.

Preschools should include play areas that children may not have at home, as well as lots of toys and props. In play kitchens, with stoves and sinks at their level, kids can pretend to cook and serve meals to each other. They can set up a pretend store and sell items to their classmates, taking turns as buyers and sellers. The only limit is their imagination.

At a good preschool, the teacher should give you a daily report on your child, including areas in which they excel and those in which they need a little more work. A third party, such as a preschool teacher, may notice things about your child of which you are unaware. Perhaps the teacher sees that your child does not know how to join a playgroup with other kids, and can recommend ways in which he or she can start playing with the others. Parents meet regularly for parent/teacher conferences for more in-depth updates on your child’s progress.

Long-Term Benefits

There is no question that the preschool experience benefits children going into kindergarten because these kids are already exposed to what is expected of them in a group setting and the classroom. The question is whether preschool offers children any benefits beyond kindergarten and first grade, and the answer is affirmative. These benefits extend over a lifetime.

The HighScope Perry Preschool study tracked two groups of youngsters, half of whom attended preschool and half who did not, until age 40. Preschool attendees entering middle age were more likely to graduate from high school, hold a job, and were less likely to have a criminal record.

When it comes to the national Head Start program, a preschool program for children from low-income families, data shows participants were nearly 9% more likely to enroll in college, and 19% more likely to receive a degree. In adulthood, Head Start participants also had lower levels of obesity, depression, and fewer criminal convictions than their peers who did not enter a Head Start program.

Preschool Alternatives

Good preschools are not cheap. Not every family can afford the costs, but there are less expensive preschool options for your consideration. Sometimes, a parent may replace part or all of preschool tuition via volunteering. Parents can get together and form their own preschools based on approved curriculum.

Parents can substitute much of what a child learns in preschool with other viable options. Here are just a few possible preschool alternatives:

  • Preschool Co-operatives
    Parent volunteers run co-operative preschools, so they are less expensive than standard preschools if you can spare the time. While the co-operative preschool employs teachers, parents do much of the other necessary work, including administration, cleanup, and preparing snacks. This lowers operational costs, keeping the need for paid staff at a minimum. For parents with flexible schedules, preschool co-operatives are a good alternative to traditional preschools. Those whose schedules don’t offer flexibility will probably find a better fit elsewhere.
  • Home School Co-operatives (That Include Preschoolers)
    Home school co-operatives for preschoolers are inexpensive options if parents can find a suitable group. Although there is a curriculum for home-school co-operatives, such groups do not necessarily have certified teachers involved. Instead, these co-ops consist of parents with similar-aged children who meet regularly, usually at one another’s homes, and the parents work with the children on academic skills and let them play together. Home school co-operatives are informal and less structured than other types of preschools.
  • Structured At-home Play
    Sometimes, preschool isn’t a possibility for financial or other reasons, but that doesn’t mean a parent cannot impart some of what their child would learn at a preschool in the home. Structured play, also known as play with a purpose, are activities teaching youngsters specific skills through play. The parent or another adult serves as the instructor, helping the child reach the desired goal. Structured play may also include puzzles, board games, or incorporating play and learning into daily household tasks. When a preschooler takes specific lessons from a teacher, such as dance or music, or is involved in sports activities, those are also versions of structured play.
  • Online Programs
    Online programs can help prepare your child for school. Popular programs like ABC Mouse teach not only the basic academic skills like letter and number recognition, but also help kids learn life skills such as getting dressed and toothbrushing. They also learn more about the world around them. Such programs are generally available by subscription, starting at about 10 dollars per month.
  • Learning Programs, CDs, DVDs, Apps
    Today’s parents have access to all sorts of early childhood education learning programs, ranging from CDs and DVDs to apps. Companies such as LeapFrog offer a variety of educational tools and toys that teach kids while they’re having fun. Apps, ranging in price from approximately $10 to $25, offer learning activities in reading, math, and science through games. There is certainly no shortage of CDs and DVDs available with wonderful songs and stories for kids to experience.
  • Library or Community Programs
    The local library is usually a treasure trove for preschool-age children, offering special programs and introducing children to books and other media. Story Time is a perennial favorite, along with arts and crafts, puppet and similar shows, and reading aloud for kids. Along with libraries, check out community programs in your area. Churches and other houses of worship may offer special programs for preschoolers, as do organizations such as the YMCA.
  • Public School Preschools
    In some states, public schools offer free preschool education for eligible children. Such preschools are generally geared toward kids deemed to need enrichment before entering kindergarten, so there is extra emphasis on language, physical, and other skills to help them catch up to peers. (Note – my son attended such a preschool in NJ and he grew up to be a lawyer!)

Final Thoughts

Your child is not one-size-fits-all, and neither is a preschool. The right preschool for one child is not the best choice for another. Much depends on the child’s personality, the preschool location, other family obligations, and your budget. Get recommendations from other parents for good preschools in your area. Do your research concerning the type of curriculum offered by individual preschools. Visit potential schools and learn how they operate and trust your gut when it comes to choosing the best alternative for your child.

For some parents, preschool is not an option for their child. That does not mean your child can’t thrive if he or she didn’t go to preschool. There are ways in which to substitute parts of the preschool experience for your youngster. Build language skills by reading to your child every day and encouraging discussion. Provide lots of paper, crayons, coloring books, and similar items to stimulate your child’s creativity and aid their fine motor skills development. Take your kids to interesting places, such as the park and library. While preschool can help, it never replaces a devoted parent’s time and attention.

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