Thursday, 29 August 2013

Is Preschool Mandatory In California?

One would think that with the increasing focus on providing children a good grounding at a young age so as to allow them to learn and achieve more in school, preschool would be necessary and even mandatory in all states, including California. Surprisingly, this is not so. In California parents and guardians are not required to register their children for kindergarten or preschool because the children are not of legal age and so cannot be mandatorily enrolled in an education establishment. According to estimates around 50,000 kids, (10% of preschool or kindergarten aged children) skip enrolling each year because state law does not make education compulsory till the age of 6.
But while the law does not require parents to send their children to preschool, most of them do or at least want to. And finding the reason why is not hard. In a world that is getting increasingly competitive, giving a child the right grounding and start in the learning process is something that will stay with him or her for the rest of his or her life. Many educators find that first graders who have not been to preschool or in kindergarten are behind other children in the same age group when it comes to academic or social development. These children are also more likely to flunk a grade sometime during the elementary school years.

Starting Too Late

There are many reasons why children are not sent to preschool. In the case of California many are from immigrant families who are unfamiliar with the American educational system and cannot navigate their way through school district bureaucracies. Or parents’ work schedules do not mesh with preschool timings.  In some cases children are put into day care when they are infants and when parents find that the children are happy there, they do not think of moving to preschool later because they are not aware of the differences between daycare and preschool.
But preschool does not exist just to provide parents with a place to send their kids before they are old enough for school. It is a place where a child is given the tools and encouragement to begin the learning process in a way that is pressure free and fun. The aim of preschool is to waken children’s innate curiosity and show them the satisfaction that comes from finding the answers to the questions they have. Thus the acquisition of knowledge, even at a very basic level, becomes an interest and not a chore that is to be avoided whenever possible.  Children who learn because they want to are usually academically ahead of those who learn because they have to.
Just like adults, children can become set in their ways and if the concept of learning does not become part of their lives at a young age, the difficulty in accepting it as a part of life increases with age. Children are malleable, physically and mentally, when very young and this is the ideal time to encourage them to focus on learning. Unfortunately, many parents do not appreciate this or feel that by sending their children to preschool they are depriving them of their childhood. This is completely incorrect. In preschool there are no judgments or competition to see who is learning more. All that is done is that the children’s cognitive abilities are stimulated to enable them to want to learn. And being in a preschool with their peers means that the transition from home to regular school is not as traumatic as it can be for those who begin their education only from the first grade.
So even though preschool is not mandatory in California, parents who want to give their children the benefits of a happy and fruitful school life will be well advised to consider sending their kids to preschool.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Why Preschools And Not Daycare Centers?

When both parents are working a facility to look after young children during the day is essential. Even with a stay at home parent, sending the toddler out to mix with others of the same age group is a good idea because it encourages socialization and gives the parent a much needed break. The choice is between preschool and daycare and often parents are confused as to which one is the better option. Or they may presume that both are basically the same so it makes no difference which one the child goes to. That’s a big mistake. The concept and philosophy behind preschools and daycare is different and what they offer both parents and the children who go to them differs widely.

The Differences

  • Daycare centers accept infants as young as 6 to 8 weeks. Preschools admit children aged about 2½ to 3 years old.
  • Daycare centers usually have longer hours than preschools. Daycares typically are open from morning to evening to allow working parents to drop the kids on their way to work and pick them up in the evening. Preschools are normally open for just a few hours a day and that too perhaps not on all 5 days of the week. However, appreciating the problems of working parents, many preschools are now staying open longer to accommodate the parents’ needs.
  • The focus of daycare centers is to keep the children safe and happy while the parents are away. That of preschools is different. Here it is that of laying the foundations of education and learning. The philosophies and pedagogy may differ from Montessori to Reggio or some other method. But the aim is the same – to start the child on the road to learning in a manner that will be enjoyable and involving.
  • There is no ‘progress’ in daycare. The children are there to be cared for, not to learn. So there is no need to evaluate them and how much they are learning and perhaps even to see if any early remedial measures are called for. All of this is part of the preschool system and it is all designed to provide the child with the right foundation so as to make success at school, in the future, easier.

Which One Is For You?

If you have toddlers who are too young for preschool and need them to be looked after while you are at work, then daycare is the right choice for you. In fact, unless you can afford a nanny, there is little other choice. The question of whether daycare or preschool assumes greater importance one the child is about 2½ when the preschool option opens up. Generally speaking preschool will be the preferred option because the child is now old enough to begin the process of learning and what is learned during the preschool years will be of great help in giving the child a good start in regular school in the future.
The important thing in choosing a preschool is the type of staff and the dedication towards giving the children a good start in life. Educating young children is a very specialized subject and a great deal of training is required to ensure that the knowledge is imparted in the right way so that the children are not pressurized or feel intimidated. And since each child is different, the preschool teacher must know how to evaluate the individual needs of each child in her care.
Once a child is old enough for preschool, that is the best option. The parents must however, ensure that the preschool is professionally run and staffed by trained preschool teachers.