While the nation’s most well-known preschool program, Head Start, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, many parents of 3- and 4-year-olds still wrestle with knowing when it’s time to send their youngsters to preschool.
If you’re thinking that 3 is too young to start organized schooling, there’s plenty of research that indicates otherwise. That research suggests that children who attend preschool generally behave better in kindergarten and elementary school — and get better grades, too.
Not only that, but one of the most oft-cited studies — the Perry Preschool Study — suggests the benefits of preschool carry well into adulthood. The Perry Preschool study tracked the performance of 123 low-income, African-American children in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The children, ages 3 and 4, were considered at high risk for failure in school.
The children attended the preschool between 1962 and 1967. Compared with peers who did not attend preschool, the preschoolers performed better throughout elementary school and high school. As adults, those who attended preschool made more money, used fewer social service programs and committed fewer crimes.
The Perry study provided impetus for the Head Start program, which is now in its 50th year. Since then, additional research has demonstrated the effectiveness of preschool well beyond children considered at risk. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, a study of Oklahoma’s universal prekindergarten program showed the benefits of preschool extended to middle-income kids, too.
Across a number of studies, the NIEER says, “The evidence is quite consistent, while children from better-off families may not get exactly the same benefits from preschool as children of poverty, all children benefit.”
Those benefits include:
- Being prepared to follow instructions
- Having some basic academic training
- Learning to work independently
- Learning to work and play cooperatively
- Fewer behavior problems
- Ability to establish trusting relationships with adults other than their parents
A 2013 report by the Society for Research in Child Development and the Foundation for Child Development said, “The most important aspects of quality in preschool education are stimulating and supportive interactions between teachers and children and effective use of curricula.”
Children benefit most when teachers engage in stimulating interactions that support learning and are emotionally supportive. Interactions that help children acquire new knowledge and skills provide input to children, elicit verbal responses and reactions from them, and foster engagement in and enjoyment of learning.
According to GreatSchools.org, a nonprofit that provides school information to families, a high-quality preschool program can promote language skills, nurture curiosity and help develop motor skills.
When the Head Start preschool program for at-risk children began, the percentage of 3- and 4-year-old children enrolled in schools was 9.5 percent. By 2013, that percentage had grown to 54.9 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
For more information on Head Start in Downeast Maine, call or visit Child and Family Opportunities. Child and Family Opportunities, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary, operates child care and pre-kindergarten centers in Bucksport, Deer Isle, Calais, Ellsworth, Machias, Harrington, Sullivan and Prospect Harbor.