By Laura Lamothe
Quality preschools that focus on learning through play and interactions provide young children with a solid foundation to be successful in school as well as foundational life skills to grow into successful adults. Preschools offer children opportunities to build relationships, develop emotional intelligence, experience independence, expand language skills, and develop skills for life-long learning.
Preschool provides children with those initial experiences in building relationships with people outside of their family. As young children have opportunities to connect with teachers who are caring and responsive to their needs, they begin to see adults as sources of support. This goes a long way in strengthening children’s sense of security outside of the home. When children have this experience early in childhood, the transition to kindergarten can be much easier.
Preschool offers children their first experiences in forming friendships. Children, through the encouragement and guidance of their teacher, are able to comfortably move from the solitary and parallel play typical of infancy and toddlerhood to exploring how to play with other children in both small and large groups. Through these interactions children are learning how to cooperate, share materials, share attention, and how to take turns within games and conversations. Preschool offers children opportunities to not only make friends, but to learn how to be a friend.
As young children navigate the preschool environment, they will undoubtedly experience a myriad of emotions from joy and excitement to frustration and sadness. With the patient guidance of teachers, children are able to not only experience emotion, but also begin to learn about what they are feeling, why they are feeling it, and how to express it appropriately. This focus on understanding and managing emotion builds children’s ability to self-regulate and control impulses.
Children’s ability to develop a sense of autonomy is just as important to life long success as developing their sense of belonging. In the preschool classroom, children have opportunities to exercise their independence as they are encouraged in their self-help skills and in making choices in their exploration and play. They also have opportunities to take care of others and their environment through classroom jobs, encouraging responsibility and respect.
In addition to offering a structured environment, the quality preschool classroom offers an environment rich with both print and verbal language. The preschool environment is often labeled at the child’s level so that children can begin linking everyday items with the written word. Library centers are set up to foster an appreciation for reading and are equipped with a variety of books that build upon early reading skills. The preschool classroom is also filled with verbal language from casual conversations among teachers and children to intentional interactions meant to promote thinking. All of this language paves the way for preschoolers to expand vocabulary and their ability to use language effectively.
The interactions and materials within the preschool environment intentionally ignite a child’s natural sense of wonder and curiosity. Children are exposed to a variety of activities, materials and games that help them learn more about their own interests as well as the world around them. Students are encouraged to ask questions and are guided in how to find, rather than being given, the answers. This type of active learning boosts a child’s creativity and imagination because they are often discovering new ways to accomplish tasks.
Quality preschools also provide support to parents and families. It is often said that a child’s parent is his or her first teacher. As a parent, this can feel a bit daunting. However, a trusted preschool teacher is another invested partner in a child’s success and well being. When parents and teachers engage in ongoing conversations about a child’s successes and challenges, both within the classroom and the home, the foundation from which that child can continue to thrive is that much stronger.
Laura Lamothe is a Quality First! supervisor at Southwest Human Development, Arizona’s largest nonprofit dedicated to early childhood development. Learn more about Southwest Human Development at www.swhd.org.