As the mother of a son who went to preschool and a professor in early childhood education, you might imagine Anna Kirova would be preschool’s No. 1 fan. But the educator says she cannot give a black-and-white answer to the question, “Do children need preschool?”
She does, however, offer parents who keep their children home all kinds of tips to prepare them for kindergarten.
“I think it’s very important for children to be able to play and interact with other children before they go to school,” Kirova says. “It is an important aspect of any socialization and children learn a lot from their peers – interacting with their peers – not just adults. We may feel that we know it all, and when children interact with us they learn it all but in fact, they learn a lot from their peers and interacting in different settings.”
She recommends reading books, enrolling your child in a camp and exposing them to educational activities with older siblings.
“If the older sibling is reading or writing and then the child does drawing, these are the pre-literacy activities. We definitely want any child to be able to hold a pencil, draw at least a circle and stay within the frame of the paper.”
Kirova says a lot of literacy happens outside of the library. Cooking with your child exposes them to labels and lists of ingredients. Walking or playing outside also showcases all kinds of signs for children to look at.
“There are so many things that the children see and they are curious about.”
“All kindergarten teachers spend a lot of time at the beginning of the school year helping children orient themselves in an environment that is not familiar to children, and that is a school or a preschool,” Kirova says.
She says for young children, going to a big school with older kids can be overwhelming.
“Teachers in general want children to have some skills to be independent in the classroom… so children who already have the skills to orient themselves in the environment perhaps do well at the beginning of the school year. But I would certainly not say at the end of the year that children who have attended preschool would do much better than children who haven’t. It really depends on what happens in the home and what happens in the community in which the children live.”
Learning through play
“Many parents perhaps think because they ‘just play’ in preschool, it’s not worthy of sending their children to preschool,” Kirova says. “Children learn a lot through play and in preschool environments, there are materials that are available to children that they play with in a particular way that contribute to the development of academic skills.”
Kirova says if parents do not have the time to devote to their children and to engage them in different activities, they should consider preschool because “early childhood educators who are trained and have these skills and understanding are going to help the children to be successful.”