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I strongly believe in preschool and advocate this experience for every child. I would like to see quality public preschool, starting at age three, available for EVERY child in the US. Such programs are already in place in several European countries.
Why am I so enthusiastic about preschool? Because humans are social creatures and young human mammals need a variety of social experiences. It may take a village to raise a child but we don’t live in villages anymore. In a sense, preschool is like a village in that the child is exposed to other children and adults in an out-of-home setting.
Young children have developmental needs that cannot be met except by interaction with others. Children need a peer group of same-age children because every child must learn how to get along with their peers. This social skill cannot be learned from books; it requires actual experiences with other children.
Every child must also learn how to interact with adults. Learning to get along with one’s own parents, while a great accomplishment, is not enough. The child also needs exposure to the many other grown-ups of different ages, personalities, and backgrounds who live in the world. Children must learn how to gain approval from, and avoid the disapproval of, a variety of people.
Children also need exposure to play experiences other than the ones they have at home. They need to play with toys in the presence of other children to learn about sharing. They also need lots of space to run around in, again in the presence of other children, so they can engage in what is called “rough-and-tumble play”. This is the same kind of play you see in a litter of puppies who roll all over each other, growl, and pretend to be fierce but nobody gets hurt. Such play is crucial to the motor and social development of all young mammals, including humans.
Also critical to the development of young children is the ability to separate from the parent. All children must learn how to say good-bye and realize they can survive when their parents are not with them.
Children learn skills at preschool that they cannot learn at home. Obviously a mother can teach her child how to color. But the sharing and playing skills which develop in preschool require the presence of other children and the out-of-home setting.
Sooner or later every child must learn how to cooperate with others, work productively alone and with others, take the initiative sometimes and follow at other times, and become part of a group which is larger than and different from the family. Of course the child who enters kindergarten will learn all of these things but I believe in preschool as a jump-start for two main reasons:
1) Children today are pretty sophisticated because of TV and tend to get bored at home.
2) School is so important to a child that we should find out early whether there is going to be a problem in either adjustment or learning so we can begin to solve it.
The only downside to preschool is that exposure to other children will increase the number of inevitable infections the child is likely to have. This is not all bad because exposure to these pesky viruses and bacteria can also boost immunity levels.
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