Updated: Jun 12
BY DENISE SHIELDS
Once upon a time, preschool was reserved for children who appeared delayed in development or did not seem ready for kindergarten. Perhaps they did not know the basics yet - discerning one color from another, for example - or were simply too shy around others to be ready for kindergarten.
Whatever the issue, formal education before kindergarten in years past was deemed necessary largely to help children who seemed behind in development to catch up. Others were considered ready to go.
My, how times change!
And yet, preschool is still a lot about preparation. But now, preschool helps our youngest children of all skill levels to get the right start as they approach kindergarten age. It’s about building a foundation, and parents and educators now know that starting that base for a good education need not wait until kindergarten.
It’s vital for our children that we understand the importance of preschool in our current times.
According to an article from greatschools.org, preschool offers a solid foundation both socially and academically for children to succeed as they prepare to enter kindergarten and then elementary school. It is likely the first structured learning environment these little ones experience.
In addition, preschool gives children an opportunity to learn the basics - like their colors, ABCs, and 123s - and offers social engagement, too. Kindergarten has become more focused on academics and less on fundamental skills, and parents want their children to be prepared. It’s never too early, for example, to practice social and emotional development with age-appropriate exercises in class. Simply interacting with a teacher and other little ones helps prepare children for the next level.
In preschool, children get an early “trial run” of a kindergarten type of setting. They have structure - organized classroom space and lessons - but also choices for both individual play and learning and group activities, too. All in all, it’s an age-appropriate dip of the toe into educational waters they soon will need to navigate.
Learning comes best to children in person, of course. At my preschool, OurCreativeKids.com, which I have taught here in Fredericksburg, Virginia for the past 13 years, we offer two or three days per week for children ages 3-5 in an environment with small classes and individualized attention. Along with Ollie the Puppet, I engage children in the basics of learning, and there is plenty of time for socializing and play. Children ASK to go to school at Creative Kids Preschool - because we make learning fun!
Interacting with others in a classroom is a completely different social environment than children experience at home with parents, siblings, and other family members and friends. This offers them a new social construct and an opportunity for growth. They are learning new social skills and how to interact with others - and they are learning through play!
Lessons are short and interactive, keeping our children interested and involved. They are reinforced by accompanying activities, too. This is a great precursor for kindergarten - letting them get a taste of what a classroom is like while keeping activities and lessons at the right level to fit their youthfulness.
In the age of COVID-19, many parents have concerns about sending their children to in-person school versus keeping them at home. Naturally, this has led to virtual preschool options.
Virtual preschool is a great alternative for families that cannot afford in-person preschool, or those parents who want a year of virtual learning then a second year of in-person preschool for their children before kindergarten.
In addition, preschool online learning is a great supplement to in-person preschool. Lessons in my virtual preschool, Creative Kids Virtual Preschool, are short and theme-based - perfect for not only supplemental learning for the little ones but also stout enough to stand on their own when parents choose this route.
In 30 minutes a day, Ollie the Puppet and I help children grow, learn, and have fun from the safety, convenience, and comfort of their own home. We encourage curiosity and fun in our lessons, and feedback from parents has shown that many children continue practicing what they learn even away from the virtual classroom.
The importance of preschool
It’s not just my instinct as a teacher, or your parental gut feelings, that indicate that preschool is key for our children. Studies have shown the importance of preschool in a child’s development.
According to an article from the California’s Learning Policy Institute, children experience benefits all the way through school and their entire lives from attending a high-quality preschool program. A 2019 study of 21 large-scale public preschool programs found that little ones who attend such programs are more prepared for school and benefit from learning gains that those who do not attend preschool do not experience.
Put simply - the research backs up our common sense.
Now imagine children in the small-scale preschool setting with more individualized attention, and you see what I’m getting at. Starting a child’s more formal education from ages 3-5 is key to building that foundation they will need in life to succeed - not just in kindergarten, but throughout their lives.
The importance of preschool cannot be overstated. The social and educational benefits have not just been experienced individually for families but also have been proven on a wider scale. It may not be the case in many places yet, but preschool should be considered as vital as kindergarten.
Preschool isn’t a head start. It’s the start that all children truly need - and deserve.
About the Author
Denise Shields is a preschool teacher from Virginia. When she had to close her preschool last year due to COVID restrictions, Denise brought her preschool online learning program to offer a virtual experience to young children. She has worked with preschool children for 26 years, with 13 years as a preschool teacher. She is the owner and founder of both Creative Kids Preschool in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the free virtual preschool program called Creative Kids Virtual Preschool, which has helped thousands of families educate their young preschoolers during the COVID-19 pandemic.