Why are Preschools So Popular?
Preschools are programs for three- to five-year-old children before they enter kindergarten. Today, child care beginning at six weeks is commonplace for children of working parents, and many children are in a school of some kind as early as age two or three. Fifty-seven percent of all three- and five-year-olds are enrolled in some kind of school program (U.S. Department of Education, 2007).
A number of reasons help explain the current popularity of preschool programs:
- Many parents are frustrated and dissatisfied with efforts to find quality and affordable care for their children. They view public schools as the agency that can and should provide care and education for their children.
- With changing attitudes toward work and careers, more parents are in the workforce, thus placing a greater demand on the early childhood profession to provide more programs and services, including programs for three- and four-year-olds.
- Quality early childhood programs help prevent and reduce behavioral and social problems, such as substance abuse and school dropout. Research supports the effectiveness of this early intervention approach (Uhlig, 2005).
- Publicly supported and financed preschools are one means of ensuring that no children, regardless of socioeconomic background, are excluded from the known benefits of quality preschool programs. Given that more than 11.6 million, or 17 percent, of American children live in poverty and that more than 8 percent are disabled, affordable quality programs have the potential for positive social change (Rossi & Iherjirika, 2005).
- The foundation for learning is laid in the early years, and three- and four-year-old children are ready, willing, and able to learn. Recognizing the strong connection between a child’s early development and success later in life, states are funding preschool programs for four- and even three-year-olds (Andrade, 2002). The National Research Council concluded in its study Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers that the last thirty years of child development research demonstrate that “two- to five-year-old children are more capable learners than had been imagined, and that their acquisition of linguistic, mathematical, and other skills relevant to school readiness is influenced (and can be improved) by their educational and developmental experiences during those years (Bowman, Donovan & Burns, 2001).
- From birth to age five, children rapidly develop foundational capabilities on which subsequent development builds. In addition to their remarkable linguistic and cognitive gains, they exhibit dramatic progress in their emotional, social, regulatory, and moral capacities. These critical dimensions of early development are intertwined, and each requires focused attention (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000).
- For children with disabilities or delays, preschool programs offer opportunities for early intervention in addressing the disability or delay.
As preschool programs have grown in number and popularity over the last decade, they have also undergone significant changes in purpose. Previously, the predominant purposes of preschools were to help socialize children, enhance their social-emotional development, and get them ready for kindergarten or first grade. Today, although socialization remains a function of the preschool, academics are also playing a major role. Preschools are now promoted as places to accomplish numerous goals:
- Support and develop children’s innate capacity for learning.
- Deliver a full range of health, social, economic, and academic services to children and families.
- Find solutions for pressing social problems.
- Promote early literacy and math (Kronholz, 2005).
- Prepare children to read.
It is little wonder that the preschool years are playing a larger role in early childhood education and will continue to do so.
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