Preschool Education

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					Definition Preschool is an early childhood program in which children combine
learning with play in a program run by professionally trained adults. Children are
most commonly enrolled in preschool between the ages of three and five, though
those as young as two can attend some schools. Preschools are different from
traditional day care in that their emphasis is learning and development rather than
enabling parents to work or pursue other activities. Description Before 1960, the
education of young children was primarily regarded as the responsibility of families
within the home. As of 2004, most young children in the United States spend some
portion of their days apart from their parents. Most attend some sort of center-based
program prior to kindergarten. In 2001, 52 percent of three- and four-year-olds were
in a nursery school or preschool program. The enrollment rate for four-year-olds in
2001 was nearly the same as the enrollment rate for five-year-olds in 1970. There are
several factors influencing this dramatic change, including a rise in the numbers of
mothers working outside the home, a decline in the size of families (leading more
parents to turn to preschools as a social outlet for their children), and a growing desire
to give children a head start academically. The higher the income and educational
level of the parents, the more likely it is that a child will attend preschool. This
correlation remains true in spite of increasing governmental support for programs
targeting children in low-income households. In addition to being called preschool,
these programs are known by other names, including child care, day care, and nursery
school. They vary widely in their setting, format, and educational philosophy.
Preschools may meet all-day or half-day, either every day or just a few days per week.
They may be sponsored by a church, operate as an independent non-profit, or run for
profit. They may be part of the public school system or part of the Federal Head Start
program. Types of preschool programs PRIVATE PRESCHOOLS Private preschools
operate as for-profits, independent nonprofits, and programs sponsored by religious
organizations. Most are part-day programs. Some so-called lower schools are
affiliated with private schools and maintain an educational philosophy in accord with
the parent institution. Though the margin is small, private preschools still claimed the
majority of total preschool enrollment in 2001. The educational quality of private
preschools varies from program to program. Regulation is primarily by state child
care agencies, but the arrangement varies from state to state. HEAD START Since
1965, the federal Head Start program has provided free education for young children
in many low-income families across the United States. In 2000, Head Start served 11
percent of all three- and four-year olds in the United States. In 2001, Head Start
reported enrollment of over 900,000 children, at a cost of roughly $7,000 per child.
Head Start programs are available in all 50 states and are offered in a variety of
formats, including both all-day and half-day programs. Some of them are held at the
public school the child will eventually attend. Since its inception, there has been
debate about Head Start's effectiveness. Research has shown that children enrolled in
Head Start enjoy immediate, measurable gains in cognitive test scores; however,
researchers disagree as to the long-term impact. Some research has shown that Head
Start has long-term effects on academic ability and success that do not fade over time.
These effects include: persistent gains in achievement test scores, fewer occurrences
of grade retention, and less placement in special education programs. Other long-term
benefits include higher high school graduation rates and decreased crime and
delinquency rates. As adults, Head Start graduates are more likely to get better jobs
and earn more money. On the other hand, some experts believe the research shows
that disadvantaged children in Head Start start off a step behind and never catch up.
One of the primary concerns about the program is with its teachers, who only
subsequently were required to have a two-year degree and who made less than half
the average salary of a public school teacher. To help determine Head Start's
effectiveness, a research project called The National Head Start Impact Study was
underway as of 2004. It intends to follow between 5,000 to 6,000 preschool aged
children through 2006 to determine if Head Start is effective and how Head Start
works best for children. PUBLIC PRESCHOOLS A growing number of states have
started to fund preschool programs offered at public schools, called pre-kindergarten
(or pre-K) programs. They may be administered by the local school board or by an
independent contractor paid by the state. Like private preschools, they may operate
for a full day or just half a day. Most state-run preschool programs began like Head
Start and focused their services on children with the greatest needs, either children
with disabilities or children from low-income families. Most states in the early 2000s
choose to have their prekindergarten programs serve children in low-income families
or children who have other risk factors that place them at greater risk of school failure
or educational difficulties. These risk factors may include having a disability, being a
child of teen parents, or having limited proficiency in the English language. Georgia
was the first state to have a universally available pre-K program, which was started in
1995. It is still the only state to make preschool available to all students. Other states,
including West Virginia and Florida, are making long-term plans to move toward
universal prekindergarten. Research tends to find that public preschool programs
(public schools and Head Start) exhibit a greater effect on children than do private
preschools. One of the reasons is public school programs provide the same quality of
services whether children are rich or poor, while private provider quality is lower for
children from lower-income families. It may be an issue of getting what a parent can
pay for. Most of the long-term research on the effects of preschool focuses on
low-income children. There is very little data on any long-term benefits for
middle-class children. Qualities of a good preschool According to the National
Institute for Early Education Research, the types of teaching activities and classroom
emphases that contribute to a high-quality early education for children include the
following: 1. opportunities to learn persistence when working at tasks, direction
following, and good listening skills 2. focus on language and literacy skills, as well
as interactive book reading 3. emphasis on teaching children problem-solving skills 4.
     helping children expand their knowledge and increase their vocabulary 5.
     opportunities to learn beginning skills involving the alphabet, numbers, and
spatial awareness Preschool class. (? Ariel Skelley/Corbis.) 6.      focus on scientific
thinking skills as well as information about the everyday environment, the world, and
how things work 7. emphasis on teaching early literacy and mathematics through a
variety of activities and projects 8. opportunity for preschoolers to engage in music,
art, and dramatic play 9. educational program in which parents are involved and
have opportunities to watch and take part in classroom activities
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