In recent years, it seems that even early childhood education has gotten more and more competitive. Parents feel pressured to get their kids into high-quality preschools with a strong focus on academics, in the interest of turning the kids into early readers and math prodigies who are accepted into exclusive kindergarten programs, that feed into competitive elementary schools, and so on, with the eventual goal of a top-of-the-line education that leads to acceptance at a top college. And if parents feel the pressure, kids must be feeling it even more. But that's what you have to do to get ahead, right? Maybe not. Here are a few reasons why you should think about bypassing the rigorous academic preschools in favor of non-academic, play-based day care programs.
You Can't Rush Development
Given the overall importance of literacy, it may sound strange to say that it's not helpful – and may actually be harmful – to push children into becoming early readers. However, some of the latest research from early childhood education advocacy groups suggests exactly that. Experts say that there's no evidence to back up a common belief that children should begin reading during or even before kindergarten. Studies show no long-term academic gains from learning to read so early.
And not only are there no gains to be had from this approach, early childhood educational programs that have a strong focus on early literacy may actually be harmful to some children, due to the developmentally inappropriate practices that must be employed to get children reading before they're really ready for it. By contrast, play-based programs set in language-rich environments do show long-term academic advantages for the children enrolled in them. Such programs introduce basic components of literacy to children in ways that are accessible, developmentally appropriate, and low-pressure.
Self-Confidence Trumps Structured Learning At Early Ages
When your child is ready, he or she will master letters, numbers, and shapes surprisingly quickly. These academic concepts that are often the focus of structured academic preschool programs are essentially very short-term goals, which is likely why mastering them early doesn't result in any kind of lasting academic edge.
So what does provide an lasting academic edge? Self-confidence. A child that's confident in their ability to master new material and meet new challenges is a child that will excel in school. Preschool programs that push concepts that preschool children are not developmentally ready for do little to promote self confidence. Instead, children will end up frustrated with their inability to master tasks that they're not ready for, and may come to doubt their abilities inside a classroom. Programs that meet children where they're at, at a level they're ready for, offer challenges that children can meet without this frustration. When your child succeeds at their own level, those successes build their confidence, teaching them that they can meet the next challenge that comes along.
A Better Trained, More Knowledgeable Staff
Ideally, the director and staff members of a good preschool program are well-versed in early childhood education research and literature, and they use the recommendation of experts in the field to create a program that's beneficial to the children in their care. When a preschool ignores the recommendations of experts calling for more play-based learning and less academic curriculums, what does that tell you about the level of training and education of that preschool's staff?
You want to choose a preschool for your child staffed with teachers and directors who are highly qualified, well-educated, and informed about the most important tenants of successful early childhood educations. Staff members of play-based preschools demonstrate their qualifications by offering a program that's uniquely suited to the educational needs of preschool aged children.
In short, children are only small for a short time, and during that time their brains are absorbing more knowledge from playing games, discovering new toys, and exploring their world than they are when sitting behind a desk. There is plenty of time for academic learning later – for now, look for a preschool that aids and encourages your child's natural ability to learn through play.