As a preschool teacher, I’m asked questions by parents about their children and the preschool program. Is my child ready for preschool? What do you do at preschool? Will there be homework? What should they be learning during the year, and what will they need to know by the end of preschool, before they start Kindergarten?
If these are questions you’re having as you prepare to send your little off to preschool, or during the school year when you’re unsure if your child is on the right path, I hope I can help answer them in this post.
Before attending my Early Childhood Care & Education studies and becoming a licensed ECE, I thought very little of preschool. Three- and four-year-olds were surely far too young to be sent off to school, stealing away the carefree spontaneity of childhood. Now that I have an understanding of what happens inside the programs, and how many benefits preschool provides, I have completely changed my views, and am excited not only to be returning to my work as a preschool teacher but to have my daughter start in her first preschool class this year.
What Is Preschool Like?
I can speak most clearly about play-based preschools (which you will find many are now), having been educated in an ECE program with a Reggio-inspired philosophy and working in play-based preschools. When looking into a preschool for your child, make sure to enquire into their personal philosophies and practices, as operations can vary.
A Typical Day In Preschool
Arrival to a place of belonging: As children arrive, they settle personal items into a cubby or other small space designated for each child.
Free Play: An opportunity to check out the various activities and learning centres carefully set out by educators. These activities and materials will represent opportunities for learning in a variety of areas, such as artistic expression, building and spatial reasoning, reading and storytelling, games with rules, cognitive skills, tactile manipulation, imaginative play, music and movement, language development, and so much more.
Some centres, such as the kitchen centre or block corner, will likely stay as permanent fixtures in the classroom throughout the year, with small changes periodically to keep them interesting and relevant to what the children are interested in and learning. Other tables or areas may change more frequently, offering children the chance to try new experiences each day.
Outdoor/Gym Time: An opportunity for children to use their whole bodies to develop physical literacy, gross motor control, and get some exercise. There may be free-play or organized activities open to children at this time.
Circle Time: A group gathering in which the children and adults come together, usually sitting in a circle, to hear stories, sing songs, play games, have conversations, receive instructions about activities that are coming up, and otherwise be together as a group.
Snack: Some preschools provide the snacks, but more often each family provides their own. Children are encouraged to open their snacks if possible to practice self-help skills, and to eat and drink while engaging in conversation with the others seated nearby. This is a fantastic time to make new connections and to become more familiar with new foods (a blessing for those parents with picky eaters).
There are many other experiences, such as field trips, cooking or baking, special guests like firefighters, walks, and other fun learning opportunities that will happen. Often, the times of the greatest meaning-making for children (and teachers) are spontaneous experiences. These occurrences, such as impromptu projects, imaginary plays, or dance parties that may pull in the entire group as they work together to come up with ideas and actions that become something incredible be part of and to witness.
To sum this all up, at preschool we spend time together in groups or individually, engaging in activities that are naturally interesting or entertaining, that also help us all to enhance our understanding of ourselves, our social community, and our world.
What Does Your Child Learn In Preschool?
There are a plethora of valuable lessons learned and understandings made in preschool. To make this simple, though, the biggest goal of participating in preschool is to learn how to be a capable individual as a part of a social group.
Every day the educators strive to empower children by improving their language development, social skills, emotional recognition, confidence, cognitive skills, self-sufficiency, problem-solving, attention, listening skills, physical development, literacy, imagination, love of learning, and so much more. The preschool experience should set children up for success in their future school careers by helping them enhance the development of the whole child and instill a love of inquiry and learning.
This love happens by offering the children a safe place and positive guidance to participate with the group in developmentally-appropriate activities. Activities that speak to the children’s interests at their pace.
In any of the available experiences on a given day, many different facets of learning are presented intertwined within each experience. For instance, in the block corner, Sally may be working with Peter to construct a store. In this experience, both children can increase their understanding of concepts such as physics, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, spatial reasoning, design, colours (Can you please pass the red block?), numbers (Two blue blocks, please), weight, height, size, and so on.
The biggest goal of participating in preschool is to learn how to be a capable individual as a part of a social group.
In a play-based preschool, there is no set curriculum or homework for specific concepts. Children will not be formally quizzed or instructed on concepts like counting to ten or knowing the letters of the alphabet. Instead, learning will happen naturally, in a casual and engaging way when the child is ready and interested. This learning may occur during free play, circle, snack, and any other time during the preschool session. Every moment can be used to create a rich learning opportunity. These opportunities will ready children for the transition to Kindergarten by building social skills, confidence, and problem-solving capabilities, which will be an important asset to children as they enter formal education.
Is My Child Ready For Preschool?
If you’re looking to enroll your child in a preschool program, you’ll need to inquire with each preschool to see what their requirements for entry are, as they may differ from place to place. Generally, the only requirement is that your child is a minimum age. In British Columbia, the requirement is 30 months, but some other areas may be more or less. Preschool can (and should) be inclusive. I have seen many children successfully participate in preschool who were still in diapers, who did not speak at all or only spoke a foreign language, and who have special needs.
If you find a preschool that will accept your 2-, 3-, or 4-year-old child, I think the decision comes down to your own judgment. As the parent, you should be the one to decide if your child is ready to spend a few hours a day, a couple times a week, interacting with peers and professional educators, practicing their independence from you.
I think it’s also important to remember that preschool is not a requirement or even a necessity. It can be extremely helpful to children in getting ready for Kindergarten (and life), but many children cannot or don’t attend for a variety of reasons. In many cases, these children are taking part in other valuable social group experiences independent of their parents, such as day care. Licensed and professional ECEs, wherever they’re employed, should be offering similar learning experiences for children and helping children navigate the social conflicts and situations that are sure to arise within a group of children.
Don’t feel that you’ve failed your child in setting them up for a successful school journey if they do not attend preschool. Do, however, try to consider if your child is getting ready for Kindergarten by learning to be part of a large group of peers.
Good luck with the coming school year, whether or not you will be sending your little ones off. There are so many opportunities for learning everywhere, every day. Curiosity and adventure need never wait.