The transition from home life to school can be jarring for many children, especially without prior experience.
According to Mary Beth Hilborn, early childhood director at Hawken School in Lyndhurst; Stacie Roseman, early childhood associate at the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights; and Cathy Schreiber, kindergarten teacher at University School in Shaker Heights, preschool can be the perfect introduction to the school routine.
“Preschool was designed to offer children the opportunity to develop social skills prior to formal schooling beginning,” Schreiber said. “In today’s world, families also have needs for child care, and sometimes preschool and daycare are perceived incorrectly. Looking at it strictly from the point of view of what a child needs prior to five years old to succeed in school, the child’s social-emotional skills are the ones of importance.”
Hilborn said the day care and preschool experience tends to be a child’s first experience in a social setting with academic thinking.
“This could be the first time they see themselves as a student with other children their age,” she said. “At the beginning of a preschooler’s world, it’s very egocentric but when they get into a group with other children, it’s more social skills.”
Roseman added, “Early childhood education plays a pivotal role in a child’s educational development because it builds a foundation for all future learning. Young children can develop a love for learning during their early childhood years.”
Preschool and day care can introduce children to concepts that directly apply to school.
“Self-regulation skills, which include the ability to control your behavior and emotions, are perhaps the most important skills learned in an early childhood setting,” Roseman said. “Children also learn how to problem solve, cooperate with others and express themselves through a number of different mediums.”
Adding that preschool years are developmentally important, Schreiber said, “With long-term school success being the goal, social-development and the ability to regulate emotions are the key elements to develop in the early years. ... Lots of unstructured but supervised play and outdoor time, social interactions, daily exposure to books and stories, time for curiosity and exploration, fine and gross-motor activities are what children need.”
Hilborn noted children develop positive social skills, which in turn teach them how to properly interact in a classroom setting.
“This introduces children to being part of a learning community and a general community,” she explained. “They learn how to listen to one another, conversational turn-taking and conversation in general.”
Even as many parents make the decision to forgo preschool for various reasons, the professionals said its an important educational step.
“Young children gain a great deal of autonomy when enrolled in early childhood programs,” Roseman stated. “As they become more independent, children learn that their choices and actions matter, and that they are in control of their own bodies. When children feel like they have choices and their voices matter, their self-esteem rises.”
Schreiber added, “A pedagogically appropriate early childhood program staffed with knowledgeable teachers will benefit children. Before kindergarten, children should have exposure to books, many different types of unstructured play experiences and understand being part of a group.”
Hilborn agreed but added a mixture of home and school life is key.
“(Preschool) can play an important role in your introduction to school,” she said. “But, I also feel like a parent can provide a rich environment for their child in the home setting. So, a little bit of both is probably best. But, many people don’t have that choice for their child. There are a lot of working families, so we want to make sure we’re providing quality, loving care for their child.”