What does being ready for elementary school really mean? It used to mean starting the first day of school with all the supplies on the list, but now, more and more parents are aware of the positive effects of a high-quality early childhood education for their child’s success.
Experts suggest parents look for programs with a balanced approach to school readiness. "With young children, everything is connected: their minds, bodies and emotions; creativity, happiness, security and intellectual progress," said Robert Needlman, author and nationally-acclaimed pediatrician. "A balanced approach to readiness celebrates this reality about children. It's our best hope for turning out students who can think, feel and act independently and effectively."
From birth through age 5, development in all areas of the brain is rapid. Research suggests that the quality of interactions children experience during this essential time can have a far-reaching effect on future learning and the formation of satisfactory relationships. The focus of a balanced early childhood education program should be on helping children develop physical, social-emotional, creative and academic skills.
Nurturing guidance and attention to every part of a child’s development during this crucial stage helps children not only learn reading and math skills, but how to show compassion, independence, resilience and curiosity. "Children who are confident, self-regulating and able to relate to others will have a better experience transitioning to elementary school, regardless of their exact reading or math skill level," explained Mary Zurn, vice president of education for Primrose Schools, a family of 220 private preschools across the country. "On the academic side, it is as important for children to be eager to learn, to ask questions and to be able to think as it is for them to know letter names and sounds and be able to solve mathematical problems."
When looking for an early childhood education program, research is the first step to selecting one that will provide your child with these lasting benefits. Zurn recommends looking for these five key factors in a preschool:
Focus on mastering concepts, not just memorization. Look for a preschool that teaches children to love learning through hands-on activities, play and by expressing what they have learned to others.
Physical Activity. Purposeful instruction in motor skills and outdoor play are both part of a well-rounded preschool education.
Music. Early exposure to music can improve IQ scores, motor coordination and social skills. An early childhood education music program supports the development of your child’s sense of rhythm, pitch, melody and motor coordination, all while having fun.
Character Development. Look for programs that intentionally and consistently teach your child to be honest, kind, compassionate and respectful.
Parent Resources. Finally, it’s important to remember that learning does not stop outside the classroom—your interactions with your child at home are equally important.l