Quality Preschool Experience Has Lifelong Value
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
From April 22-28, the nation will observe the Week of the Young Child. Sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, it focuses attention on the needs of young children and recognizes early childhood programs that meet those needs. It's a perfect time for families to investigate options for quality preschool programs for their 3- and 4-year-olds.
Parents know that preschool is a constructive way for their young children to spend part of the day. What they may not know is that a quality preschool experience can have a long-range impact on a child's life.
In a study begun in the 1960s, the Perry Preschool Project followed two groups of students over two decades: one that attended preschool at ages 3 and 4 and one that did not. As adults, those who had attended preschool were unemployed less often and sick less often; by age 27, the boys from the preschool group earned 50 percent more in salary than those who didn't and the girls were 50 percent more likely to have a savings account. Other studies since have shown similar results.
According to University of Chicago economist James Heckman, who studied the Perry Project results, the preschool attendees learned "soft skills" in preschool-how to share, pay attention, think creatively, resolve conflicts-that benefited them in the workplace 20 years later. These are skills developed not in elementary, middle or high school but in preschool, which Heckman considers one of the most effective job-training programs out there.
I urge parents to take these findings seriously. A well-run preschool program is much more than just naps and snack time. Whether a private program-like Little GEMS International, opening in Lincoln Park in September-or a public one, a quality preschool program gives children a foundation for the future. At this crucial early stage, children are best able to develop the fundamental skills that will serve them well in life and the workforce of tomorrow:
- Communicating effectively
- Making and sustaining friendships
- Resolving conflicts peacefully and fairly
- Solving problems creatively
- Managing strong feelings like frustration and anger
- Maintaining confidence and spirit even when faced with challenges
Children are innately curious. An effective preschool program makes the most of that curiosity, helping children to be independent learners and thoughtful decision makers, to demonstrate tenacity and express themselves confidently. Whether it's organizing a game on the playground, helping a friend sound out a new word, or putting materials in their proper place, children in a quality preschool are encouraged to be leaders, thinkers, and lifelong learners.
Parents looking for a quality preschool program are making a sound investment in their children's futures. Look for programs that offer:
- A welcoming, child-centered environment with skilled, caring staff.
- Structured opportunities for hands-on play and exploration in literacy, math, science, art, dramatic play, music and movement.
- Clear rules for behavior and reinforcement of positive values.
- An introduction to age-appropriate technology.
- Awareness of and appreciation for cultures and languages of the world.
- Attention to individual students' strengths and interests.
- Regular opportunities for parents to contribute to and be involved in their children's learning.
Preschool is a time for children to learn and explore, to grow and develop, and to enjoy discovering the world and their place in it. Done right, it can also be the foundation for a bright and successful future.