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It seems as if more and more children are entering preschool prior to Kindergarten these days. Pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) programs certainly have many benefits, however there are also some real advantages to a child staying at home with his parents. Here are some tips to help you decide.
Social interaction is probably the most important skill your child will learn in preschool. School is not just about academic learning. It is also about developing the skills needed to get along with others, learning how to share, taking turns, handling conflict, and listening to one another. Interacting with other children teaches your child these social skills and generally improves their communication skills.
A good preschool program should also teach your child pre-literacy skills (such as learning all the letters of the alphabet), basic math concepts (such as number quantity and recognition), and basic matching and sequencing skills. Preschool helps prepare children for school by helping them learn appropriate classroom behavior, how to interact with adults other than their parents, and gives them an opportunity to build their independence.
Exposure to different types of materials and activities is another benefit of preschool. Working at a sand table, playing with blocks, climbing on a jungle gym, listening to poetry and songs, going on a field trip... these are just a few of the many experiences your child will benefit from in a fun learning environment. While most children may have access to do these activities with their parents, it is a completely different experience for them when they have the opportunity to play with their peers.
There can be disadvantages to sending your child to preschool if the program is not a quality program with knowledgeable and experienced teachers. It can damage your child's attitude towards school, and can lead to behavior problems and lack of interest. If the children are not monitored properly, they will also learn negative social skills such as teasing, bullying, and fighting. If the learning environment is not positive, or the teachers seem overwhelmed and distracted, look elsewhere! This is the time your child should be brimming with excitement about learning. The last thing you want to do is let someone stamp out their curiosity and individualism.
Overall, good preschool programs have value. If you have a choice between a babysitter or a quality preschool, the best choice is almost always the preschool. If your choice is between teaching your child at home or sending him to preschool, then you have a more difficult decision. You may want to try a half-day program. Many preschools offer this option. Your child is there from 8am to 12pm, and you can decide if you want her to go every day or only a few days per week. Do a little research and visit the preschools in your area. See if you can sit in and watch the children interact for an hour one day. Once you know what is out there, you can decide what is best for your child.