Preschool or nursery school is the educational environment in which your child can be cared for before he starts school. Most children don't start at preschool until they're at least two-and-a-half, but you need to be thinking about it well in advance, especially if you live in an area where waiting lists are long. Going to preschool will be an important stage in the life of your little one, so you need to be sure that you choose the preschool care that is right for him. Of course, you might decide to keep your child at home until he's old enough for "big" school - whatever suits you and your child.
What are the options?
Over the last few years, the number of preschool options has mushroomed. It can be tricky, however, to understand the differences between programs, before you even get around to deciding which one would be best for your child! Preschool options are known by a confusing variety of names, but it's safe to say that the ones you're most likely to hear are nursery school, pre-K, and kindergarten. Meanwhile, some day care centers provide many of the same' educational and social advantages of preschools, too.
Weighing the alternatives
Over the last few years, a lot of study has gone into establishing what the best early learning environments are for young children between the ages of three and six, and the picture is confusing. Some studies seem to suggest that young children learn better when they are at home with a parent; others, that a well-rounded preschool setting gives them the best start in life. Research has also suggested that too much of an emphasis on learning at this early age can have long term negative effects on a child's academic career, while there is another view that early learning is the backbone of all future achievement. What's a parent to make of it all?
However much you'd like your child to do well in later life, don't be swayed by promises that a nursery school will teach your baby to read by the age of three. The most important thing is that he'll be happy there.
The truth probably lies somewhere between the diametrically opposed pieces of research: good preschools can give children important experiences of being with and learning how to live with other people. On the other hand, it's crucial that young children have a strong sense of security and spend as much time as possible with their parents. Getting out and about and having new adventures is very exciting and opens up new horizons for children over the age of two and a half. But the security of their own home, or a caregiver's home, still has plenty to offer in terms of a big enough and busy enough environment for early learning.
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