In Preschool, it is Quality that Matters

Posted on March 13, 2017

Photo: flickr

There are many questions surrounding early childhood education, but arguably the most pertinent one is whether it is effective. Parents want to know if preschool will give their children a head start in their schooling life afterwards. Much research has been done in this area, but results vary widely.

The latest research shows that preschool programs are effective in preparing children for the next phase of their education journey: kindergarten. A team from Vanderbilt University followed students in Tennessee from preschool through to third grade, and found that those who attended preschool did score higher marks on literacy and mathematics tests. They were also better able to interact with their peers. Head start programs across the country yielded similar results, but both the large-scale study and the Tennessee study found that results were only significant for children who came from lower-income, non-English speaking families.

However, the Tennessee study revealed alarming results in later school years. It was found that those who did not attend preschool caught up to those who did by the end of their kindergarten years, and even surpassed them by the end of third grade. In fact, those who attended preschool had poorer work ethic and did not like school as much. There were no noticeable differences in the way the children interacted with each other.

The Tennessee study might have revealed some rather fleeting and afterwards unfavourable results regarding the efficacy of preschool, but other large-scale preschool programmes, such as state-funded programmes in North Carolina, have yielded far better and longer-lasting results. Of the one million children who were tracked from 1995 to 2010, those who attended preschool achieved higher scores on mathematics and reading tests throughout elementary school.
There is an explanation for this vast difference in results. The Tennessee preschool programme was heavily focused on large group instruction and gave the children only 15 minutes a day, on average, to play in the playground or gym. On the other hand, the North Carolina programme gave the children plenty of time for play and physical activity, conducted lessons in small class sizes and rarely had any large-group instruction. These are characteristics of high-quality preschool education all around; smaller preschools with similar curriculum structures have yielded similarly positive results on their children.

All this evidence shows that preschool education does have a positive impact on children’s lives, but only if the quality of the preschool education is up to par, with teachers forming strong bonds with students, student-led learning, and plenty of time for exercise and fun.


Category(s):Child Development

Source material from Psychology Today


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