Early this year, I wrote a post detailing my problems with the way we use titles to separate educators in an attempt at creating a hierarchy that ultimately serves no one; you can read about that here. Then this morning I read a post where a, I'm sure well intentioned, kindergarten teacher wrote about how he believed that daycare is not preschool.
Let me just say, that I respectfully, but quite loudly disagree.
And here's why. Preschool simply means the experiences young children have prior to entering kindergarten or first grade (depending on what year of school entry is mandated by your state/province/what have you).
Research has shown time and time again that early experiences matter. We know that between the ages of birth to five a child's mind is incredibly malleable and that it is during this time that it is essential that we are providing children with rich experiences. It is during these first five years that a child's language and cognition increase by leaps and bounds and it is during these years that children's curiosity and initiative direct their play and, therefore, their learning. We also know that in order to capitalize on these biologically determined growth patterns, we must be providing our youngest children with high quality, stimulating, socially-emotionally supportive environments in which to play and discover.
These young learners must be given the space and the time to engage in rich fantasy play, to create, to build, to read and be read to, to explore writing in a developmentally appropriate manner, to investigate, and to play with numbers. They must also be provided with nurturing care that supports the development of their self-identity and independence as they learn to take care of their self-help needs such as serving their meals, successfully using the toilettes, and dressing themselves. These young children must also have their social-emotional development supported as they learn how to interact among other children, how to use failure to keep on trying, how to problem solve, how to focus on interesting play.
When I think about the needs and experiences of our birth-five year old children, I am not restricted to a classroom that happens to be located within an elementary school. The traits that I described are seen every day in homes where children are cared for and taught by family members and nannies, in children's museums, and yes, in daycare centers. These are all preschool environments that are supporting a young child's cognition, language, and social development.
Aside from the semantics of it all, which truly contribute to creating divisions among all of us who dedicate our life to young children and their families, there is also an underlying issue of culture and context that I feel I must address. As professionals who work with young children and their families, we need to be aware that individual children and families have a wide variety of needs and live in a wide variety of social contexts. It is not our place to judge them for the decisions they make in regards to how and where they are choosing to provide preschool experiences for their children. Culture and social circumstance matter. Some families choose to provide rich experiences through home based care and social groups, others need all day care. Neither is in the wrong and both are valid preschool experiences. If we truly want to do what's best for our youngest learners, we need to keep in mind that there is no one right way to do preschool.