“When my 20-year old was little, hardly anyone went to preschool. Now if you don’t send your kids preschool you’re looked down on. Why is that?” asks my girlfriend, Rajean. We’re sitting with our feet soaking in hot basins of water at the nail salon.
Hmmm, I know what Rajean is talking about.
I phone Barbara Willer, Ph.D. Deputy Executive Director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) to ask. “20 years ago, the value of preschool was understood for social aspects and cognitive aspects." But, “the achievement gap begins early on" she explains. Which is why it's very important for all children to have access to preschool, especially for children of disadvantage. (Access meaning both affordable and high quality.)
Two big benefits of preschool are:
1. New experiences.
2. Improved vocabulary.
Often these benfits are already present in highly-educated families, making preschool less of a necessity than in families with less education.
But, decades of research show that a “high quality early experiences make a difference in children’s lifelong academic and social success.” (NAEYC position statement.)
For all kids.
From all backgrounds.
Have you priced preschools lately? They're expensive. My own kids attended several different programs because of moving, cost, and my growing awareness of what made for a good program.
The NAEYC website says, "Unlike K-12 education -- a publicly financed system with a relatively stable funding base -- most early childhood care and education services operate in a very price-sensitive market financed primarily by fees from families and supplemented by public and private contributions. Many families cannot pay the full cost of quality care, and the ongoing commitment from public and private contributions is seldom guaranteed."
Rajean admits, "I have felt a bit judged for not sending my son, who will be five at the end of this month, to preschool." Our toenails turn bright orange as she explains, "I've been both a stay-at-home and work-at-home mom with him and simply haven't been able to justify the expense of sending him to someone else to teach him kindergarten readiness."
So let's say you find an affordable program, how do you know if it's any good? My second daughter spent months in mediocre program just because everyone else in our new neighborhood sent their kids there. (I know, I know. Not a good reason for attending. No, if everyone jumped off a cliff . . .)
"We do have an accreditation process," laughs Willer when I reluctantly admit my lame method of finding good program. "That’s the purpose of it, to measure quality, to provide parents with a short cut, a way of knowing that programs have met a set of professional standards that are based on developmentally appropriate."
Hallelujah! Search for an accredited program; you'll be glad you did. (Don't I wish I had.)
"The value of education begins early," reminds Waller, "preschool offers an opportunity for a positive educational experience."
What do you think? Will you send your children to an ECE program? How will you decide?