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Starting strong: Why preschool matters

FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 2015 13:41 PM

The Common Core State Standards were developed to prepare students for college and careers by teaching them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. However, more and more research is showing that children's success in the classroom may depend highly on their early childhood education. Though some states have universal preschools, pre-K education is sometimes optional, and parents often choose to forgo it because it's so costly or they'd rather keep their children at home. But the benefits of preschool can't be denied. Read on to learn why preschool matters to children's success later in life:

Why is starting early important?
Studies have found the first five years of a child's life to be critical for his or her development. Not only do children learn far more quickly during these first years, but they're also rapidly developing mentally, physically and emotionally. In fact, some research shows that children's brains can actually change and develop physically from early educational experiences, which has some effect on determining their intelligence, according to Good Magazine. 

What does preschool teach?
Preschool comes into play during the middle and end of early childhood development, but research has found that it's most effective for children who are at least 4 years old. While some say preschool is just a fancy word for babysitting, it's been shown to teach children a number of important skills that prepare them for elementary school. In fact, preschool has been proven to improve students' test scores, increase high school graduation rates and even decrease the likelihood that children will go to jail, according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Here are some of the important skills preschool teaches:

Academic skills:
Also called hard skills, early childhood education programs often prepare students for elementary school by teaching them basic academic skills, like learning the alphabet, numbers and colors. Some Kindergarten classrooms are even beginning to expect students to know some of these skills on a basic level, like counting above 10, being able to recognize some words and letters and knowing basic shapes. 

School-readiness skills:
Preschool programs also teach students soft skills, which are anything they'll need to know to be ready for school. School-readiness skills can include things like being able to follow directions or learning how to solve problems through experimentation or investigation. Even things as basic as knowing to raise your hand before speaking, learning to focus or asking for help can be taught during early childhood education.

Independence and other social skills: 
One of the most important parts of early education programs is that they allow children to develop socially and emotionally. Children learn to make friends, solve disputes and speak kindly. They're taught how to handle being upset or scared and the best ways to communicate. 

The benefits for low-income children
One of the biggest indicators of how important preschool is to children is how it affects low-income children. Numerous studies have concluded that low-income children who go to preschool are far more likely to be successful than those who don't. According to a study published in Psychological Science, preschools can provide disadvantaged children with a learning environment they may not have received otherwise. And the difference is measured. Children from disadvantaged homes score higher when they take a State Standards test and bring home higher grades if they are able to go to preschool as a 4-year-old. 

Clearly, preschool has numerous positive effects on childhood development. As Todd Grindal, an education expert at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, told the Huffington Post, ""The experiences kids have in the early years have profound effects on their futures."