Preschool is called that because it is just that, pre-school, before schooling is supposed to begin. It is meant to be a fun time with gentle learning. It’s not meant to be stressed over with curriculum and formal learning. Unfortunately, I have read a lot of blogs and boards lately with well meaning moms fretting over what curriculum to use or where to send their kid to. Many spend a lot of money on these programs for 3 and 4 year olds. They get stressed when the kid doesn’t learn or like what they chose. Then they switch to a different program and start the process over for kindergarten.
This isn’t what is supposed to happen. Yes, young children should be introduced to basics of learning like counting, shapes, colors but shouldn’t be pushed and NEVER compared to the ideal learner in the catalogs. Their young minds just aren’t always ready for formal learning. It may be a wonderful program but if they aren’t ready, no program will work.
The concept of a preschool is a rather modern idea beginning in the mid-1960’s. It was thought that giving kids more readiness skills and formal early learning opportunities would help insure kindergarten readiness at age 5. Prior to then, most children stayed home and just learned through daily life or went to day care. State funded Head Start and pre-k programs really began taking off in the 1980’s. Their popularity greatly increased in the later part of the 1990’s, nearly tripling the number of states funding preschool programs. However, I can’t find any studies that definitively show a link between formal preschool and school success in later years.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have some simple learning activities for young children. My son loved matching games. My daughter likes puzzles. They both enjoy playing outside. I did get a big workbook type activity book for my son with letters and number recognition activities. However, I didn’t stress over him getting w and v mixed up repeatedly. It wasn’t the workbook’s fault, but just his level of development.
The age a child starts to read depends more upon the child then the curriculum used. Every child is individual. Some read when they are 3 or 4, others not until they are 7 or 8. This is normal. If you have a slow reader, use the time to explore other interests and try to use them for reading opportunities. However, don’t overwhelm a child with reading activities and lessons as it can make things worse rather than help.
This isn’t to say all preschool curriculum are the same or would work for every child. Some are mostly activity based. Others are more formal with workbooks. Experiment before commiting yourself to an expensive curriculum to see what works best for your child. My son was ready and enjoyed learning games and more formal activities at a younger age than my daughter. He liked hands-on Montessori style activities in his preschool years. She doesn’t like them but is enjoying simple workbooks.
The preschool years should be more fun then structured learning. If you can find a program that your child enjoys and benefits from that’s even better, but don’t fret if she just doesn’t get it or isn’t interested. Watch your child for readiness. Does she enjoy “reading” books? Does she follow along when you read together? Does she try to guess letters on a page? Does she enjoy drawing and scribbling? If not then she just isn’t developmentally ready for formal learning curriculum and no you’ll only stress yourself and her out by trying to force her into one before she is ready. For this reason, some curriculum don’t recommend starting formal learning until age 6 or 7. The age a child begins to read does not necessarily coordinate to their learning ability or school success later on.