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What are the main pros and cons of preschool?

Some benefits and concerns with preschool

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Quick summary

  • Preschool is a great option for many families. Benefits include a consistent structure and routine, and a focus on early education (which can inspire a love of learning). Most programs also teach children a variety of cognitive, social, emotional, and language skills.

  • Concerns with preschools include a lack of one-on-one time, beginning learning too early, and the challenges of taking a young child out of the home (and away from their parents).

  • While preschools are regulated by the same bodies as daycares, they tend to focus more on early learning and academics. This helps prepare children for formal schooling and gives them a leg up in the early school years.

  • Daycare centres often have more flexibility than preschool programs. They typically offer before- and after-care programs and remain open during the summer months. Some preschools offer these programs as well, though.

  • One-on-one childcare offers more personal attention than preschool (and daycare). Preschool, though, offers more structure, formal education, and social interaction. It also typically has teachers trained in early childhood education.

  • Preschool is well-suited for children between the ages of 3 and 5 (although sometimes younger kids are a good fit). It’s also a good fit for children who show an early interest in learning, and enjoy interacting with other kids. It may not be the best fit for kids who need lots of one-on-one time and individualized attention, or for those with severe separation anxiety or special needs.  

 

Preschool is an appealing option for many families. Preschools don’t just provide childcare or babysitting for your child. They normally have a well-designed program for early learning.

Most preschools aim to prepare your child for the school years, by teaching them social and academic skills. While preschools have some similarities with nursery schools, daycares, and even kindergartens, they tend to have different aims than these other options.

Keep in mind, though, that these terms are used in different ways. Moreover, preschools (not to mention nursery schools and the other options) vary in their aims, philosophies, teaching approaches, cultures, and more.

Preschool may not be the right choice for every child. But it’s a great fit for many. In deciding whether to place your child in one of these programs, you’ll want to consider preschool pros and cons.

Benefits of preschool

Preschool education has many potential benefits. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, below are some of the main ones. Keep in mind, though, that these benefits will vary between preschool programs.

  • Early learning: There many well-known advantages of early childhood education, including inspiring a love of learning.
  • Teachers: Teachers tend to have training in early childhood education. Many are Registered Early Childhood Educators (RECE).
  • Social interaction: Your child will have lots of opportunities to interact with kids of different ages. This can help them learn, grow, and mature.
  • Activities: Your child will be exposed to a wide range of activities, including art, music, dance, and sports.
  • Structure: A regular routine can help children flourish.
  • Elementary admissions: Preschools can help your child gain admission to elementary programs. Many elementary schools look favourably on preschool educated kids.
  • Easier transitions: Exposure to a regular routine early on makes for a smoother transition to formal schooling later on.
  • Test run: Preschool can be a great way to try out a private education.
  • Safety: Most preschools are a safe and highly supervised place of learning.
  • Regulation: Preschools need to are licensed and regulated by the provincial government.  

Early learning is a unique advantage of preschool. In the right program, your child will learn plenty of academic and pre-academic skills. This can give them a leg up when they start school. In most preschools, your child will learn a wide range of cognitive, social, and language skills. Below, we outline the main ones.

Skills learned

Cognitive and academic:

  • Literacy: reading and writing
  • Numeracy: the numbers and some basic math, such as addition
  • Science: animals, nature, body parts, and more
  • Learning through play and discovery: observing, navigating, and describing the environment
  • Miscellaneous: the seasons, telling the time, health and hygiene, and more

Social and emotional:

  • Cooperation
  • Manners
  • Independence and self-reliance
  • Resolving conflict

Language and literacy:

  • Vocabulary and identification of objects
  • Communication through sentences
  • Reading
  • Writing

Concerns with preschool

This is not to say preschool is without its detractors. Some have raised criticisms against preschool or at least certain preschool programs. Below, we outline some of the main sources of concern.

  • Lack of one-on-one time: Some argue it’s best to keep young children at home for most of the years before formal schooling begins (at least until the age of three). Although preschools tend to have low teacher-to-student ratios, it isn’t one-to-one. This means a teacher’s attention is often divided and there is less individualized attention than at home. And the importance of one-on-one time for some kids cannot be disputed. That said, most agree that at a certain age, usually four or five (at the oldest), kids need lots of interaction with their age-peers. This helps them develop socially, emotionally, and cognitively.
     
  • Learning too early: Some preschools, it’s claimed, force kids to learn too early. This is a special concern with academic programs. Learning subjects such as reading, writing, and math before one’s ready can lead to frustration and interfere with a love of learning. That said, many alternative preschools, such as Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia, normally delay introducing certain subjects until kids are interested and ready.
     
  • Separation anxiety: Many young children find it difficult to separate from their parents. Some may need more personal attention and may not be ready to attend school. For others, though, the anxiety quickly recedes (after the first week or two), and they go on to thrive in preschool.
      
  • Less social opportunities: Some preschools, especially academic ones, have less social activities. These programs also have less play-based learning.
     
  • Too rigid: Many preschools don’t allow children to attend when they’re sick. Some are also closed during the summer and statutory holidays and may not offer before- or after-care programs.
     
  • Ineffectiveness: Some critics argue that preschool programs have little, if any, impact on academic success. Whatever advantages preschool kids have over those without preschool education, it’s claimed, normally disappear after grade 2.

 

Preschool questions (read our in-depth answers)

Preschool versus other options

Private preschool is a great option for many families. Many children will thrive in the right preschool program. Of course, as we’ve seen, preschool has both its pros and cons.

Below, we compare preschool to daycare and one-on-one care: we list their pros and cons relative to each other. This comparison should give you a better sense of whether preschool is the right choice for your child.

 

Preschool

Pros

  • Allows for a test run of the private school system.
  • Prepares children well for the school years.
  • Offers consistent structure and routine, more so than one-on-one care.
  • Can inspire a love of learning.
  • Most teachers are registered early childhood educators (RECE), unlike in one-on-one childcare and some daycares.
  • Licensed and strictly regulated by the provincial government, unlike one-on-one childcare.
  • Staff are reliable (less likely to call in sick), more so than one-on-one child care provide by a nanny or au pair.
  • Safe and highly supervised.

Cons

  • Higher child-to-adult ratio than one-on-one childcare.
  • Less individualized learning and one-on-one time.
  • Focusing on academics too early can lead to frustration.
  • Unlike some daycares, closed on statutory holidays and during summer. May not offer before- or after-care programs.
  • Unlike parental one-on-one care, can lead to separation anxiety.
  • May offer less social opportunities than daycare.


 

Daycare

Pros

  • May be open during summer and holidays.
  • May offer before- and after-care.
  • May be more affordable than one-on-one care.
  • Licensed and regulated by provincial government, unlike one-on-one care.
  • Safe and highly supervised.
  • Lots of social activities and interaction.

Cons

  • Less individualized learning and one-on-one time.
  • Less focus on early learning and academics than preschool (usually).
  • Children may be less prepared for the school years than those who attend preschool.
  • Higher child-to-adult ratio than one-on-one childcare.
  • Infant daycares can be hard to find.

 

One-on-one care

Pros

  • Low child-to-adult ratio.
  • More individualized attention and learning than preschool and daycare.
  • Usually offered in the summer and some holidays, unlike some preschools and daycares.
  • Less separation anxiety, especially if provided in the family home.

Cons

  • Often less structure and routine than preschool and daycare.
  • Often less focus on early learning.
  • Less social opportunities than preschool and daycare.
  • Normally, no RECE staff or trained teachers.
  • Often less affordable.

The truth is, there is no perfect choice for the preschool child. The right option depends on a variety of factors, including your child’s age and personality, and your family’s finances, values, and priorities.

Below, we outline which children may be suitable for preschool, daycare, and one-on-one care. Keep in mind, though, there’s lot more to this decision than just the points below (including your family’s finances, values, and priorities). Also, note that your child might display signs from all three columns.

 

Preschool may be suitable for children who:

Daycare may be suitable for children who:

One-on-one care may be suitable for children who:

  • Are between the ages of 2.5 and 5.
  • Show an interest in early learning.
  • Prefer structure and routine.
  • Have good concentration and attention spans.
  • Enjoy interacting and learning with other kids.
  • Are between the ages of 1 and 5.
  • Are highly social.
  • Enjoy interacting and learning with other kids.
  • Learn best through play and exploration.
  • Are active and have lots of energy.
  • Are between the ages of 0 and 3.
  • Enjoy lots of one-on-one time and individualized attention.
  • Have severe separation anxiety.
  • Have special needs.

 

What research shows about preschool

Whether to send your child to preschool (private or public) is an important decision. One factor that needs to be weighed is how effective preschool is, both in the short- and long-term.

What, then, does research say about the effectiveness of preschool? While the jury is still out, most research studies indicate that preschool seems to have benefits for many children. Below, we briefly look at a few of the most important preschool studies. For a more comprehensive examination of research on preschool, check out this article in the journal Child Development.

HighScope Perry preschool study

One well-known study, the HighScope Perry preschool study, found that individuals who were enrolled in a quality preschool program ultimately earned up to $2000 more per month than those who were not. Young people who were in preschool programs were also more likely to graduate from high school, to own homes, and have longer marriages.

The Abecedarian project

Other studies, like the Abecedarian project, show similar results. Children in quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education, or get into future trouble with the law.

The National Education Association (NEA) studie

The NEA has conducted a number of studies on the effectiveness of preschool. These studies have revealed several other long term benefits of preschool programs. These are mostly social and economic benefits.

  • Lower rates of teenage pregnancy
  • Reduced juvenile delinquency
  • Better scores on standardized tests
  • Greater levels of employment
  • Higher wages

Conclusions of the research

In short, a good preschool program can have a number of short- and long-term benefits, including social, academic, and economic ones. That said, preschool isn’t a guarantor of success or happiness. Lots of other factors come into play, including family environment and upbringing, financial resources, and communal support. But there is strong evidence that preschool has significant benefits for children, and that some of these benefits can be long-lasting.

Answers to the question “What are the pros and cons of preschools?” from school officials and educational consultants

Pros

“One of the most important benefits of preschool is that it teaches kids how to socialize. More specifically, children learn how to show respect—to adults, other children, and their environment. They also learn how to take turns, cooperate and share with others, as well as problem-solve and compose themselves during stressful situations. Preschool also teaches children important lessons in independence. In addition to preparing children for the separation from mom and dad during kindergarten, preschool offers a safe, fun, and exploratory space for children to develop their self-confidence and sense of self.” Dr. Irina Valentin, Paediatric Neuropsychologist and Clinical Director at Valentin & Blackstock Psychology, in Toronto, Ontario

“The main benefit of preschool is that children gain a solid foundation before beginning their academic career. They are able to socialize with peers and build friendships. They learn basic academic building blocks such as letter names and sounds, numbers, how to hold a book, and sight words. Children learn to be more independent and how to solve problems independently.” Vanessa Sjerven, teacher at Elmwood School (the early years program), in Ottawa, Ontario

“High-quality preschool programs nurture warm relationships among children, teachers, and parents. And teachers build a close connection with each child. Young children learn social skills in ‘real time.’ Three and four year olds learn through their experiences and good teachers make time for those ‘teachable moments,’ when they can help learn to manage frustration or anger. A highly structured environment helps young children learn to make friends and play well with others. Classroom space is organized to encourage social interaction, and minimize congestion and conflicts.” Lee Venditti, director of J. Addison, a Montessori school in Markham, Ontario

“Preschool allows a child to develop how they see themselves as learners. Interacting with a peer group allows a student to develop social skills through problem solving and nurtures adaptability. Developing language skills through group discussions and daily interactions helps build confidence and self-esteem. These skills are foundational, as kids prepare to move through the rest of their academic career and interact in a diverse and inclusive school experience. Preschool also allows young learners to interact with older students who mentor and model academic success. They experience compassion and kindness in older peers and witness firsthand their potential future.” Corina Gill, assistant head of lower school at Bayview Glen Independent School, in Toronto, Ontario

“Preschool inspires creativity and promotes social and emotional development and independence. It’s also known that more preschool students eventually go on to attend university.”  Marcel Pereira, director of Century Private School, a Montessori school in Richmond Hill, Ontario

“The social benefits of preschool are that it encourages children to gain independence from their parents and trust in a new environment. Children are offered the opportunity to cooperate in a group setting, contribute to playtime, problem-solve, follow routines, and build age-appropriate self-help skills. Academically, children experience the joy of learning through a variety of activities that support letter and number recognition, colour and shape identification, and explore the physical world through science and social experiences.” Stacy Paton, ECE program manager of Queen Margaret’s School, in Duncan, British Columbia

Cons

“The most common problem for very young children is separation anxiety. While it is common for children to exhibit some separation anxiety during the transition into the structured environment at preschool, some children show more significant emotional problems that may indicate that the child is not yet ready to be at preschool and may have or may be at risk of developing a separation anxiety disorder. Normal separation anxiety can be eased by parents staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits. However, some kids experience separation anxiety that does not go away despite the parents’ and teachers’ best efforts. These children experience a continuation or recurrence of intense separation anxiety during their preschool or even elementary school years. If a child experiences these symptoms, it is best to address them with a professional without delay.” Dr. Irina Valentin, Paediatric Neuropsychologist and Clinical Director at Valentin & Blackstock Psychology, in Toronto, Ontario

“Preschool teachers have to care for more than one child: the minimum ratio is 1-to-8. Also, kids get sick more often, and most preschools don’t let sick kids attend.” Lee Venditti, director of J. Addison, a Montessori school in Markham, Ontario

“Not all preschools are the same. Inexperienced parents may not know what to look for or what questions to ask. The best teachers and childcare providers can be very expensive to hire. Therefore, potentially inexperienced and underqualified people are in charge of these children, because the facility and/or parents don’t have the funds to pay for skilled employees.” Vanessa Sjerven, teacher at Elmwood school (the early years program), in Ottawa, Ontario

“The main concerns with preschool are behaviour (such as crying and whining), safety, toileting, and nutrition.” Marcel Pereira, director of Century Private School, a Montessori school in Richmond Hill, Ontario

Preschool vs. daycare

“Although preschools technically fall in the same category as daycare centres—they’re licensed and regulated by the same bodies—they typically have a more academic focus and are for children ages two through five.” Lee Venditti, director of J. Addison, a Montessori school in Markham, Ontario

“A positive aspect of daycare is that it can have a more flexible schedule and caregivers are typically available during times outside of school hours, and during the summer months. It can also cost less and have smaller ratios between caregiver and child. However, preschool better prepares children for their academic career and provides a more diverse learning experience.” Vanessa Sjerven, teacher at Elmwood school (the early years program), in Ottawa, Ontario

“Daycare is fun: the whole idea of making the child happy, fostering play, allowing naps, etc. Preschool, on the other hand, offers the child more: it has an individualized learning system, focuses on key developmental stages, inspires creativity, encourages cooperative play, etc.” Marcel Pereira, director of Century Private School, a Montessori school in Richmond Hill, Ontario

Preschool vs. one-on-one childcare

“One-on-one childcare provides a nurturing, homelike atmosphere. However, many providers don’t have formal schooling in early childhood education. Also, there are less stringent licensing requirements and no real caregiver supervision. Preschools offer a structured environment with a developmentally appropriate learning curriculum. They are also well-regulated and have teachers with training in early childhood education. However, teachers in preschools have to care for more than one child: the minimum ratio is 1 to 8. And kids tend to get sick more often.” Lee Venditti, director of J. Addison, a Montessori school in Markham, Ontario

“A negative aspect of preschool is the ratio between caregiver and child. Although usually very good, it is not 1-to-1. So attention is divided among other students and concessions must be made. As a result, there is less direct, individualized attention for each and every child. There are several pros to attending a preschool. These include the opportunity for children to gain exposure to new teachers, different learning environments, and other children. Also, one-on-one childcare doesn’t foster as much academic learning, or provide as many academic opportunities.” Vanessa Sjerven, teacher at Elmwood school (the early years program), in Ottawa, Ontario

Research

“There has been considerable research done comparing parental care, daycare, preschool, and other approaches to children’s early years. This research yields a number of competing conclusions, and it is no wonder many parents feel confused as they consider options. One of the most comprehensive studies available was done by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Overall, the NICHD findings showed that what matters most is not the kind of care a child receives—whether nanny, parent, daycare, preschool, or other—but rather the nature of their home experience.

No matter the early childhood care, optimal outcomes are experienced by children who experience warmth, responsiveness, and the right kinds of situation at home. The findings are more nuanced than that, of course. Quality of the setting, time in non-parental care, and the child’s age all make a difference.” Dona Matthews, Educational specialist, and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids

“There is an increasing amount of evidence that attending a high quality preschool has numerous short term and long term benefits for children The brain is rapidly developing between the ages of 2 and 5, so it is important that children are provided with opportunities that facilitate their natural stages of development during this period of time. Preschool programs, although not the only option, offer a structured setting focused on age-appropriate development in social, emotional, cognitive, and language development.

Because the ages between 2 and 5 represent a critical period of brain development, early enriching experiences, such as those obtained in preschool, can also have enduring outcomes beyond kindergarten readiness. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the benefits of attending a high quality preschool can have a significant impact later in life, including in the areas of educational achievement, socioeconomic status, and health.” Dr. Irina Valentin, Paediatric Neuropsychologist and Clinical Director at Valentin & Blackstock Psychology, in Toronto, Ontario

“The document Early Learning for Every Child Today: A Framework for Ontario Early Childhood Settings was created in 2007 to serve as a preschool guide in Ontario. It is supported by various studies and includes The Continuum of Development, a sequential tool used to assess preschoolers. It was written for childhood educators, parenting workers, kindergarten teachers, family support staff, early interventionists, and others who work in preschool settings.” Ann Wolff, educational consultant at Wolff Education Services, in Toronto, Ontario

 

 

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