Does Preschool Help or Hinder Children?

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My wife, an Education major, nods as President Obama says in his State of the Union address:

In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children ... students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.

Studies do show that children in homes where parents are not around much--through neglect or need--benefit significantly from preschool. This time gives them routine and adult involvement and opportunities to learn. All very great things! On the other hand, I've read that an emphasis on early academics actually stunts a student's future performance (not to mention socialization skills).

What's going on?

My guess is that kids thrive when concerned adults look after them and that an education is best acquired when it is allowed to blossom.

So, I am pleased that the President wants to offer children more care, especially if these children do not have parents who can look after them. Caring for children--especially orphans--is a noble goal (though, I'm unsure how that will be accomplished and not "increase our deficit by a single dime"). On the other hand, I would like to know more about what a "high-quality preschool" looks like. If it is an environment full of picture books and opportunities to discover the joy of life-long learning, fantastic! If, on the other hand, it is a place that pushes laying a foundation for "science, technology, engineering and math," I'm afraid the results will backfire.

My wife tells me that the skills best learned in preschool are soft skills. And these, not surprisingly, seem best taught by parents.

I'll say it again: You, the parent, have the biggest impact on your student's succcess. In situations where the parent is not there, a great teacher can help fill this role. So for those children without parental support, I'd be thrilled if we could help them by providing excellent teachers. And I continue to say, especially in preschool, it is best to begin with a gentle approach that inspires a love of learning together.

Any fascinating educational studies you've read that I should know about?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

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