Preschool popularity grows as precursor to kindergarten

August 25, 2009

By Barbara Extract

In kindergartens today, expectations are far beyond what they were 20 years ago, and the bar seems to be set higher at every grade level. Preschool, once thought of as something to give moms a break and a chance to meet other moms, has become an almost required preparation for kindergarten.“Being able to separate from their parents in a safe environment eases the transition to elementary school,” said Emily Royce, mother of two. “It’s important to have interaction with kids who aren’t family, to be stimulated by new challenges and experience new situations.

“Kids respond differently in a class. They can’t manipulate like they try to do at home.”

“Most important is learning to socialize in groups, make friends, share, listen and follow directions,” said Issaquah mom Brook Gouge, whose children attend Our Savior Lutheran Preschool. “They have to follow classroom rules, and they learn to become good students.”

For children who suffer from developmental delays, Gouge said preschool offers an added benefit.

“Trained teachers can identify potential problems and direct parents to appropriate facilities for proper help,” she said. “Studies indicate that early intervention can have a profound impact on future success.”

Connie Van Houten, director of Our Savior Lutheran Preschool, said, “Kindergarten teachers want to work with kids who understand discipline, respect others, follow rules and get along in a group. Without pre-school, children start kindergarten with a disadvantage. That’s why, at Our Savior, we focus on socialization, learning through play and discipline.

“Kids can choose not to obey,” she explained, “but there are consequences. For example, if they won’t wash their hands before eating, they get no snack.”

Other important lessons include responsibility and courtesy.

“We don’t accept rudeness,” Van Houten said. “We ask them to restate their needs politely.”

At Kindercare Pre-school, Director Tiffany Bliss said, “We concentrate on academic development, preparing them to succeed in kindergarten, where they are expected to know letters, numbers, shapes and colors.

“Learning and language development come through play, socialization and science activities, like watching a volcano explode.”

“Our approach,” said Mary O’Brien, director of Issaquah Montessori School, “stresses respect for the child’s individual abilities and interests. Our teachers interact with children. We speak with, not at, them.”

At Our Savior, children of all faiths are welcome and comfortable; the focus is more on values than on doctrine, and on learning independence.

“Preschoolers are so much more capable than we think,” Van Houten said.

They can load the dishwasher, fold laundry, dress themselves and clean up their classroom.

“It builds self-esteem,” she said. “They’re proud of their accomplishments and feel like they own the room.”

So, if you are seeking preschool for a child under 5, how do you choose one that’s right for you?

“Be sure to check out several places,” Bliss said. “You’ll know. Walk into a facility, and your instinct will tell you.”

Proximity is a consideration, but more important, said Royce, is to “feel completely comfortable with the environment. It has to be fresh and clean, spacious, bright and child-friendly, with lots of learning toys.”

She also watches her children’s reactions.

“If it isn’t working out, leave and find a more suitable place,” she advised. “Your child will be in school for many years, so you want the first experience to be positive.”

But for expert advice on how to choose a preschool, ask a 4-year-old.

“The snacks,” one said. “Good snacks.”

Things to look for

4A focus on what you consider important (socialization, discipline, academics, values, etc.)

4Credentialed, certified teachers (ask about their specializations: childhood education, development, speech, autism, literacy, etc.)

4A cheerful, child-friendly, spacious, well-equipped facility (some have covered outdoor areas for year-round play)

4Frequent communication/conferences with the parent(s) and where parent visits are welcome

4Play-based, hands-on activities for effective learning and for developing motor skills, academics and social disciplines, while keeping it fun and playful

4Attention to stated needs and requirements for your child

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