So many of you have been asking me my opinion on preschools and two-year old programs.
I will try to summarize my thoughts which are based on my Child Development expertise and on the latest articles and books on this topic from trusted authors. I am also providing a list of resources you can read if interested.
There is no real academic advantage from sending your child to school at a very young age. Young children learn by playing, not by being taught math, reading, or writing. Early academic exposure does not correlate with later academic success and it may generate more anxiety in kids.
According to Martha E. Mock, assistant professor at the University of Rochester Warner School of Education, “young children learn best through meaningful interaction with real materials and caring adults and their peers, not through the drilling of isolated skills.” David Elkind says: “The importance of self-initiated play, particularly for young children, means that we need to give them the time and the open ended toys, like blocks, clay, and form boards that will give children the opportunity to create their own learning experiences. In many cases such learning provides the foundation for academic learning. A child building with blocks, for example, is learning both classifying (all blocks are made of wood) and seriating (blocks can be ordered by size). This play prepares children for learning cardinal (one, two, three) and ordinal (1st, 2nd, 3rd) numbers.”
All this being said, a developmentally appropriate school environment can have other benefits. Boston winters are long, and we (the main caregivers) need a little time of our own to exercise, go to the store, do laundry, get organized, etc. We all know what I am talking about! And giving our children a chance to socialize with peers is also a plus.
Young children need to feel secure, to be nurtured, and to play. So, when thinking about a preschool program for your child, this is what I think is most important:
Teachers: they should LOVE being around young children. They should be caring and nurturing. You have probably heard before that “a teacher makes the school” - I could not agree more.
School environment: it should provide some structure and routine while allowing for free play and free choices. These are some examples of good choices: block/fine motor area, book area, art area, sensory table, dress up/pretend play area.
Outdoor time: ideally, outdoor play should be provided every day regardless of the weather.
Go with your “gut” feel: when you go visit the school, you should love it pretty much right away. Don’t force yourself into liking it based on others’ opinions about the school. Never go against your instincts on this one. See how the children currently enrolled act—do they seem happy and engaged?
Distance: Huge benefit if it is close to home.
Hopefully this is a good start to spark discussion and ideas. Some additional resources:
The Power of Play, by David Elkind
Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk, by David Elkind