Is pre-kindergarten just a place to leave your child while you’re at work or are there actual academic and developmental benefits to starting your child’s formal education the year before he starts kindergarten?
As the research piles up, it’s becoming clear that an academic jump-start at 4 years-old can launch children down the path to success in kindergarten and the years beyond.
What the Research Says
Over 10 years ago, the Pew Charitable Trusts concluded, “Based on what we now know about children’s brain development during these crucial years, pre-K has become just as necessary as kindergarten or first grade.”
According to the report, children who attend a high-quality pre-K program:
- Are less likely to be held back a grade.
- Are less likely to need special education.
- Are more likely to graduate from high school.
- Will earn more as adults.
Steven Barnett, Ph.D., director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, told Parents magazine, “Children who attend high-quality preschool enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not.”
In a 2013 report, Barnett summarized a statistical analysis of pre-K studies stretching back to 1960. Pre-K programs, he writes, “almost without exception, are found to improve academic readiness for school, sometimes quite a lot.” And, Barnett says, the effects appear to last well beyond kindergarten. Programs with small groups and “intentional teaching” are particularly effective, he writes.
Why is pre-K so good at preparing young children for kindergarten? It has a lot to do with their brains.
In the first five years of life, a child’s brain undergoes rapid growth (“characterized by its ‘blossoming’ nature,” as two neuroscientists write). The brain can reach up to 90 percent of its adult size before age 5, according to at least one Harvard researcher. This makes age 4 prime time for learning.
What Teachers Say
The research clearly shows pre-K can make a big difference preparing a child for the academic and social challenges of kindergarten. But do the real experiences of teachers back that up?
If the observations of the kindergarten teachers at The Fessenden School are accurate, yes.
“The feedback we have gotten from the kindergarten teachers here at Fessenden is that the boys who are coming from our high-quality pre-K program have already developed strong math and language skills for their age,” says pre-K teacher Keisha Jones. “Plus, they just have that head start and the confidence to navigate kindergarten.”
Fessenden kindergarten teacher Greta Sanborn reflected on how a high-quality pre-K program prepared boys for her class. A good pre-K, Greta says, lays the groundwork for kindergarten by:
- Teaching children to be comfortable with transitions. “Students who’ve been through a strong pre-K program can more easily separate from a parent and start their day in a much more positive light because they’ve done it before,” she says.
- Strengthening their academic foundation. When children enter kindergarten already able to connect letters to sounds and recognize numbers, they spend less time catching up and more time learning new material, Greta points out.
- Familiarizing children with the structure of school. Simple things like how to sit quietly, how to behave in a line, or how to listen while a teacher is talking may be foreign to children who didn’t attend a high-quality pre-K program, Greta says. To pre-K graduates, these expectations are just part of the routine.
What do you think? Does pre-K matter?
Do you think a high-quality pre-kindergarten education helps prepare children for success in kindergarten and beyond? Why or why not? Share your opinions in the comments section below.
If you’re convinced, and you’re ready to find a good pre-K program in your area, get help with your search with your free copy of the Pre-K & Kindergarten Private School Visit Checklist.