How does one educate a preschool child? We know that these little ones are naturally inclined to explore their surroundings and are very imaginative. Despite their high levels of curiosity, children below the age of five are incapable of knowing the consequences of their actions. They need the guidance of adults when their actions lead to negative results. At the same time, their attention span is very short and they can get upset very easily. It is absolutely essential that all these factors are taken into account while deciding which preschool to enrol your child.
Before trying to find the best type of preschool for your children, it is important to decide the purpose of preschool education. Should a child who completes preschool know all the letters of the alphabet and count up to a particular number or should a child be placed in an environment where learning processes take place by stimulating the imagination and curiosity of the child? A preschool with the former purpose is called an academic preschool while a preschool with the latter purpose is called a play-oriented preschool.
To compare the two, let us first see how an academic and play-oriented preschool operates. In an academic playschool, the teacher tries to make the children learn the alphabet, a certain number of words and some basic arithmetic. The teacher decides how the class will function and the aim is to enable the children to learn a few of the skills they will learn in kindergarten. On the other hand, a play-oriented preschool is based on the philosophy that a preschool child has a wonderful curiosity and imagination that is stifled in a structured environment where the focus is on academic achievements.
The argument in favour of a preschool that focuses on children learning academic skills states that developing a mastery of academic skills like writing, reading and arithmetic is vital to success in the modern workplace. An added benefit is that the ability to read and write well enables a person to understand how the law works, an essential life skill. However, many people including educational pioneers like Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner believe that children below the age of six have a unique ability to learn by exploring their surroundings and that this ability disappears by the age of six. According to them, providing an environment in preschool that enables children to learn through activity and exploration instils a keen desire to learn in children. They claim that the long term benefits of this thirst for knowledge are tremendous.
From day care in the United States of America to Singapore child care centres , both academic and play-oriented child care centres have their fair share of supporters and detractors.