I've been delving into the subject of preschool lately to help parents of young children navigate the definitely overwhelming and sometimes anxiety-producing preschool decision. I am a huge proponent of preschool and play. If you'd like to read more about the importance of play, you can check out my post on play here. With the way kindergartens are being turned into the new academic first grade, preschool is truly the last chance for kids to just enjoy themselves and play. A ton of learning takes place during that enjoyment and play, too!!
I will also tell you without any hesitation that if you are a stay-at-home mom, there is no shame in wanting a few hours off!! If you don't think you need a few hours off, then you are probably in the most dire need of time away from your children. The first year I sent my son to preschool I knew he would've been more than fine at home with me, but I knew we BOTH would benefit from him going to a quality preschool. He would benefit from exploring things that I didn't have at home, learning social skills, and focusing on subjects that are not necessarily my favorites (science and math, anyone?). I would benefit from having a little breathing room to be still and be at home by myself. That alone time definitely saved my sanity and I didn't even have to feel guilty because I knew he was having a great time learning while he was away.
I have found some great resources on the web that I'd love to share with you. If you have any others I should know about, please comment!
The blog Teach Preschool is an excellent resource for all kinds of things during your preschool search. I love this post she did about how to select a preschool: Choosing the right preschool for your child.
I've actually been surprised by the lack of books out there, but this one seems to be the most popular and thorough on the subject...
I just found out about an ebook and some other posts over at Teach Mama. She has written a book called The Preschool Journey Ebook that sounds wonderful. My Thoughts on Preschool is a good place to start on her site.
Learning about your child's needs:
A big "ah-ha" moment that I had during my search for my son's preschool was that I needed to look for the best school for HIM instead of what I would've loved as a child. The first preschool I toured appealed to me so much because it was sweet and little and quiet. All of the things I was as a child, but not necessarily what my very active young boy would benefit from. To help you with this task, I found some interesting notes on determining your child's personality. Not that you'll know right away or have to pick one, but it's better to go into the preschool search knowing your child as well as possible.
Learning about the different kinds of preschools:
Of course, you are going to have your own opinions about religious schools and proximity to your home or work. Beyond that, Babble has a great Preschool Guide that not only helps you learn the difference between Montessori, Waldorf, child-centered, and teacher-centered among others, but it has quotes from real parents about each kind. Love it! There's also a great post on co-op preschools called The ABCs of Cooperative Preschools. SavvySource.com and Naeyc.org are good sources for finding preschools in your area.
Learning about your homeschooling options:
If you've been considering homeschooling for preschool, there has never been a better time to do it. There is such a huge wealth of resources available through teacher, parent, and homeschooling blogs. Two favorites I would send you to immediately would be The Measured Mom and This Reading Mama, but there are just tons out there if you start searching. Here are some great posts to get you started:
10 Books to Start Homeschooling Your Preschooler
Why You Should Attend a Homeschooling Convention if You Have a Preschooler
Why You Should Attend a Homeschooling Convention if You Have a Preschooler
Learning what to look for in a quality program:
I would not recommend bringing all of these checklists with a clipboard on your tour. Perhaps just one will speak to you and help you look at what you need. My tip is always to look at the art you see on the walls. Does it all look exactly the same? Ideally you want child-created art where they can pretty much do whatever they want. I loved that my son's school had an art area in their big play yard so kids could do art on their own at any time.
Advice from those who have gone before you:The Things My Friends Didn't Tell Me About Preschool
Getting ready for the big day:
Preschool Prep: How to Prepare Your Toddler for Preschool
Expert Advice for Preparing Your Child for Preschool
This list from a Montessori school is perhaps a little "ideal" and high reaching in it's hopes - I think some of the things they say your child should have to be ready for preschooler are actually things they need to continue working on in preschool. Preschool and Kindergarten Readiness Checklist.
I know it's such a stressful process because you want to make the perfect choice for your child. The good news is that the reseach shows that prepared children will do well in preschool no matter what kind of preschool you choose. Hopefully that will help you relax a little bit. Good luck and good wishes!!
Please hop on over to another of my favorite blogs, Growing Book By Book, to read excellent ideas for helping kids practice reading with a buddy. As you know, practicing reading over and over again with your child can get monotonous or turn into a struggle. Finding a buddy to read to provides them with a fun and real way to share their new ability to read. I personally love having beginning readers read to babies because they can read the simpler board books without feeling like the book is lame or too easy for them. Enjoy!
You just can't miss some of the great resources from one of my favorite sites, The Measured Mom. This is your go-to source for anything you need letter by letter.
As a mother of a former preschooler, I have great compassion for those of you going through the process of selecting a preschool. Hopefully I can provide some helpful resources for you. The first thing I'd like to share is a compilation of writing about the importance of play, especially in preschool situations.
The Case for Play and Problem Solving in Early Childhood Classrooms – Some snippets from the web
“On the other hand, a child is more likely to have better mental health, stronger relationships, and more success in school and work if he has many chances to strengthen his social competence by playing, talking, working out disagreements, and collaborating with peers and adults.
Much research suggests that pretend play can contribute to young children’s social and intellectual development. When children pretend to be someone or something else, they practice taking points of view other than their own. When they pretend together, children often take turns and make “deals” and decisions cooperatively. Such findings suggest that children in early childhood programs ought to have regular opportunities for social play and pretend play. Teachers can observe and monitor the children’s interactions.”
“One of the risk factors for not having a successful transition to kindergarten is the characteristics of kindergarten and first grade classes (e.g., large class sizes, fewer parent-teacher meetings can make the transition more difficult). Emotional and social competency can be defined and measured. For example, a description of a socially and emotionally healthy child, ready
for kindergarten, could be a child who is confident, friendly, has good peer relationships, tackles and persists at challenging tasks, has good language development, can communicate well, listens to instructions, and is attentive.”
“It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.
Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, "Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain."
According to Berk, one reason make-believe is such a powerful tool for building self-discipline is because during make-believe, children engage in what's called private speech: They talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.
"In fact, if we compare preschoolers' activities and the amount of private speech that occurs across them, we find that this self-regulating language is highest during make-believe play," Berk says. "And this type of self-regulating language... has been shown in many studies to be predictive of executive functions."
And it's not just children who use private speech to control themselves. If we look at adult use of private speech, Berk says, "we're often using it to surmount obstacles, to master cognitive and social skills, and to manage our emotions."
Unfortunately, the more structured the play, the more children's private speech declines. Essentially, because children's play is so focused on lessons and leagues, and because kids' toys increasingly inhibit imaginative play, kids aren't getting a chance to practice policing themselves. When they have that opportunity, says Berk, the results are clear: Self-regulation improves.
"One index that researchers, including myself, have used... is the extent to which a child, for example, cleans up independently after a free-choice period in preschool," Berk says. "We find that children who are most effective at complex make-believe play take on that responsibility with... greater willingness, and even will assist others in doing so without teacher prompting."
Despite the evidence of the benefits of imaginative play, however, even in the context of preschool young children's play is in decline. According to Yale psychological researcher Dorothy Singer, teachers and school administrators just don't see the value.
"Because of the testing, and the emphasis now that you have to really pass these tests, teachers are starting earlier and earlier to drill the kids in their basic fundamentals. Play is viewed as unnecessary, a waste of time," Singer says. "I have so many articles that have documented the shortening of free play for children, where the teachers in these schools are using the time for cognitive skills."
It seems that in the rush to give children every advantage — to protect them, to stimulate them, to enrich them — our culture has unwittingly compromised one of the activities that helped children most. All that wasted time was not such a waste after all.
THE BENEFITS OF PLAY
Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.
It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.
As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced conﬁdence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges.
Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conﬂicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills.
When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.
Ideally, much of play involves adults, but when play is controlled by adults, children acquiesce to adult rules and concerns and lose some of the beneﬁts play offers them, particularly in developing creativity, leadership, and group skills.
In contrast to passive entertainment, play builds active, healthy bodies. In fact, it has been suggested that encouraging unstructured play may be an exceptional way to increase physical activity levels in children, which is one important strategy in the resolution of the obesity epidemic.
Perhaps above all, play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of childhood.
Children’s developmental trajectory is critically mediated by appropriate, affective relationships with loving and consistent caregivers as they relate to children through play. When parents observe their children in play or join with them in child-driven play, they are given a unique opportunity to see the world from their child’s vantage point as the child navigates a world perfectly created just to ﬁt his or her needs. (The word “parent” is used in this report to represent the wide range of adult caregivers who raise children.) The interactions that occur through play tell children that parents are fully paying attention to them and help to build enduring relationships.
Parents who have the opportunity to glimpse into their children’s world learn to communicate more effectively with their children and are given another setting to offer gentle, nurturing guidance. Less verbal children may be able to express their views, experiences, and even frustrations through play, allowing their parents an opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of their perspective. Quite simply, play offers parents a wonderful opportunity to engage fully with their children.
Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development. It has been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even to enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviors, and problem-solving skills.
Social-emotional learning is best integrated with academic learning; it is concerning if some of the forces that enhance children’s ability to learn are elevated at the expense of others. Play and unscheduled time that allow for peer interactions are important components of social-emotional learning.
The above picture is of my son and his friends running around on their very first day of preschool ever. As I'm sure many of you know, preschool is such an important time in a young child's life. It is also a very perplexing time for a parent because you have to decide when to put your child into preschool, how many hours to leave them there, then find a good preschool that you like, and then try like mad to get your child in if it's a popular program. For some parents, you also have to struggle with the decision of whether to send them to an outside preschool or do a preschool curriculum at home with yourself as the teacher. I can so appreciate and relate to all of those concerns from when I had to do my preschool search for my son. I have lots and lots to share with you on this subject and hope to comprise a blog post soon. In the meantime, if you're at the time of life when you're feeling the preschool pressure, please sign up for my talk at the Kidspace Museum in Pasadena this coming Tuesday, February 11th from 6-8pm. We'll cover all of the above topics plus more, I'm sure! Sometimes it's just nice to get to talk out your anxieties and concerns. Click here to register or find out more information. Hope to see you there!
Hello dear readers! Thanks so much for stopping by! It's been a slow start to 2014 blogging for me, but I'm hoping to pick things up soon. In the meantime, Melissa Taylor over at the amazing blog Imagination Soup has created an excellent idea for a Valentine's Day present! Printable "book bucks!" Just hop on over to her blog by clicking the picture above to save and print out your very own. Then you have an excuse to go to the book store with your child and let them pick their own book. As educational psychology and our own parenting instincts tell us, when kids have a choice they have more investment and excitement in their books. I also recommend cruising book stores after the holiday because they frequently mark holiday titles at 50% off. Then you can add to your collection of Valentine's books that you pull out every February like me! I know it came from my days as a teacher, but having a different tub of thematic books for each month/holiday/season keeps things exciting and alive for my son and myself! Happy reading!