From the outside, preschool might look like just fun and games- and it is! But inside the classroom, children are developing important emotional and social skills. Cincinnati Parent spoke with preschool teachers and administrators throughout the city to find out just what children learn in a preschool classroom, and why a preschool education can help lay the foundation for a child’s future success.
“We really focus on the social skills, emotional skills and how to be a positive member of a group,” says Kara Meador, Director of Early Childhood at The Seven Hills School Early Childhood Center. “That involves sharing, turn-taking, listening to others and problem solving. We want the children to develop a sense of positive self-esteem, to be confident, make friends and learn the give-and-take of friendship and working together.”
“Preschool addresses the child as a whole,” says Cheryl Broadnax, Assistant Superintendent of Early Childhood Education and Director of Preschool Programs for Cincinnati Public Schools. “We focus on some major content areas. We’re developing all those early literacy skills; we’re also developing things aligned in math, basic one-on-one correspondence. We want them exposed to some things in regards to self-discovery through purposeful play.” But there are broader and deeper things happening in the classroom too, that might not be always be visible, notes Broadnax. “We’re also addressing things like how do you get along with other kids? and how do you learn to leave your family and go somewhere for the day? It’s a comprehensive program of academic focus pared with social and emotional focus.”
At Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian Preschool, preschool children learn through play. “The children come in and they have a lot of choices,” says Anna Rapp, Director of the school. “They can choose the activities they do.” Those activities include block area, dramatic play and open-ended art opportunities. “Our teachers find those teachable moments and make learning authentic to them.”
And the skills that preschoolers learn in the classroom aren’t just academic or social, they are also self-help skills that help children gain independence and confidence. “They learn skills that they take home, like putting on their own coat, pouring their own drink or fixing their own snack,” says Rapp. “Parents are always surprised at how much they are capable of doing.” Rapp adds that preschool also helps children learn to cope with their strong feelings and emotions. “We help them have a safe place to express those feelings and help them express them in the appropriate way.”
A typical day in a preschool classroom varies somewhat, depending on the school. Some preschools, like those in the Cincinnati Public Schools, even provide breakfast. Schools may focus on literacy, letter recognition, or music and art while others are more loosely structured. But all of the teachers we spoke with stressed the importance of play. “We really want kids to have some free time to play. They’re riding bicycles, climbing, usually they’re doing something outdoors if weather permits,” says Broadnax. “We try to provide a variety of different learning opportunities.” Rapp adds, “We want them to develop a love for learning. We want them to have fun while they’re learning through their play.”
The experiences that children have in preschool also help prepare them, both academically and socially, to enter kindergarten and elementary school. “Not only are the kids getting excellent instruction, but the kids benefit from being with other kids, they’re getting a lot of stimulation throughout the day,” says Broadnax. “What we notice is that when children come to kindergarten and they’ve had those experiences it makes the transition into school-aged programs easier.”
When choosing a preschool for their child, parents may consider a number of factors. Location plays a role, says Broadnax, “A lot of parents want to be close to where their child is going to be during the day.” The overall environment of the classroom is also important. “You’re talking about three-year-olds. Many times that’s their first experience going away. They want to know their kid is going to be loved and well taken care of,” Broadnax adds.
Rapp recommends visiting the preschool for a tour and seeing how your child interacts with the environment and the teacher. “You know what is best for your child and you’ll know the type of preschool that is best.” Meador seconds that. “It’s really valuable for a parent to come in, talk to teachers and see a classroom in action.” She adds that a parent should feel that their child’s preschool is a place where they are happy, safe and loved. “The child should feel excitement and have a good feeling when they walk in the door.”
No matter which preschool you choose, your child will learn valuable social, emotional and self-help skills that will set the foundation for their years in the classroom. “To me, it’s the most important kind of schooling they can have,” says Rapp. Meador agrees. “The children are gaining building blocks for the rest of their lives.”