As the end of January approaches, bringing with it the start of registration for the next school year, I have the opportunity to speak with lots of parents as they are making decisions about a preschool for their child. It is always an exciting and fascinating time for me, one of the perks of my job, meeting so many new people and telling them about our program.
I have found that thinking about how to answer the questions they raise often causes me to reflect on what we do and how and why we do it. I would like to share some of those thoughts with you.
Playschool vs. Preschool
One of the things I am often asked is to explain the difference between a “playschool” and a “preschool”. It’s a little bit like being asked to explain the difference between a beagle and a dog. My answer is that we are both. We are a “preschool” by virtue of the fact that we work with children who are preschool age. We are a “playschool” because we chose that name as a way to describe our philosophy which is centered on the knowledge, well-documented by research, that children learn best through play.
Do the children just play, or do they learn things?
That speaks to another common question: “Do the children just play, or do they learn things?” Children in our program do learn, and as previously mentioned they learn in the best way possible, through play. As one of our parents once told me, “They learn so much without even realizing that they’re learning. They just think they’re having fun!” Our goal is not just for children to learn specific concepts (although they do learn those), but also to help children develop a lifelong love of learning, to believe that learning and fun are synonymous.
Why does my child need to go to a preschool?
Another question I am sometimes asked is, “Why does my child need to go to a preschool? I stay home with her. She already knows her colors, can count to 300, sings the “ABC” song and is reading War and Peace.” Okay, I am kidding about War and Peace, but you get the picture. Obviously this is a very bright child, with parents who have been able to spend quality time with him/her and provide many forms of enrichment. How will Playschool benefit this child? I think that a part of the answer to this question has to do with changes in our world, neighborhoods and families. First, we are very much a mobile society. Many of us do not live near family members. Our children don’t have the experience of playing with cousins, being “baby-sat” by grandparents, aunts or uncles on any kind of regular basis, and their parents may not have the wisdom of those elders, who have already experienced the challenges of raising children, to rely on as a resource when they need support. Secondly, in many families (the majority in some areas), both parents work away from home. Most of the children in those families go to some kind of out-of-home care during the work day. That limits the availability of daytime playmates in the neighborhood. Playschool can serve the role of extended family, providing peer play for children and a support system for parents. The children in each class learn so much from each other. Many of those things can only be learned by the experience of interacting with children of a similar age. They learn how to share, to use words to get their needs met, to be neither a bully nor a victim, to negotiate, compromise and resolve conflicts with peers, to tolerate and even come to appreciate different personalities. These are the skills that will give them a head start in life over and beyond their academic knowledge. We strive to create a warm nurturing environment where a child can learn that, in addition to his parents, there are other caring adults he can trust. That gives the child the security to face other separations from parents, such as the first day of kindergarten, with greater self-confidence.
Will playschool prepare my child for kindergarten?
Which brings me to the last of the questions I am most often asked: “Will playschool prepare my child for kindergarten?” We get excellent feedback from kindergarten teachers in our community as to how well prepared our students are, both academically and socially. Not a year goes by without a parent of a former student telling me, “My child’s teacher said she was the most prepared student in her class.” That being said, if you have read any of my previous posts you know that I have deep concerns about the direction in which our kindergartens seem to be headed and the inappropriate expectations that many of them have for young children. For that reason, the question becomes not “Will my child be prepared for kindergarten?” but also, “Will kindergarten be appropriate for my child?” Unless the answer is “Yes”, I cannot promise that your child will love kindergarten. However, one of the biggest indicators of how well a child will do in school is his/her ability to self-regulate, and that is one of the skills we work hard to develop in our students. Interestingly, research shows that dramatic play is the single best activity for developing self-regulation and we provide many, many opportunities for that. Children who have good self-regulation handle frustration, whether from boredom or from being expected to master skills beyond their developmental level, better than those with poor self-regulation. That alone helps them be prepared for whatever challenges lie ahead.
I have written all of this in reference to the program I direct, Front Street Playschool, the only one of which I have intimate knowledge, but to anyone reading this who for reasons of geography or other circumstance won’t be affiliated with us, I can safely say that a child who has participated in some type of high quality preschool experience, wherever that might be, will be better prepared as a result of that experience than if he/she begins kindergarten with no previous group experience.
Wishing you well, Miss Barbara