Whether your child has been in daycare since she was an infant or she’s been at home with you, as she develops and grows into an inquisitive toddler, you may start wondering if and when you should think about preschool. The choice is largely a personal one and the decision will likely be based on your family’s educational philosophy, your child’s personality and readiness, finances and other factors. Here, early education experts weigh in on the potential benefits of preschool, how to tell if your child is ready for school and how to best prepare her for this next phase of learning.
Benefits of Preschool
Preschool is a bit of a fluid term depending on where you live, but it generally starts around 3 years old. In some parts of the country a program for 4-year-olds might be labeled pre-kindergarten, while in others it’s still considered preschool. In other cities, kids as young as 2 may be enrolled in preschool. Whatever you call it, the philosophy and reasoning behind it is generally comparable.
Numerous studies over the years have shown the benefits of preschool, from increased academic achievement even years later to a lower likelihood of committing a crime. But according to Fabiola Santos-Gaerlan, founder and director of Honeydew Drop Family of Childcare Services in Brooklyn, New York, the primary benefit is socio-emotional. “They’re learning to share, they’re learning to take turns, they’re learning to have routines. The cognitive—the shapes, colors, alphabet—that can come in time, but you need a basic foundation of socio-emotional skills, namely independence, resilience and socialization,” she says.
Daryl Cantor, a learning specialist at an independent school in New York City with a Masters in early childhood special education, agrees that socialization and learning to be a member of a group are the greatest benefits of preschool. But she also acknowledges that as school becomes increasingly rigorous, early childhood education can help set kids up for success. “Nowadays kids are exposed to school before kindergarten,” she says. “It’s so much more academic than it used to be, so children really need preschool to work on those skills.”