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Academic Preschool


Q: Our daughter is 3 years and 2 months old. I'd like to know if a preschool program teaching writing letters, recognizing written words, and similar is appropriate for her age. Her current preschool does more play and social skills. Another preschool in our area calls itself an "academic program" and teaches the above. Our daughter seems to enjoy letters and already knows all of them, upper- and lowercase. Should we move her?

A: Most early childhood professionals feel that the most important aspects of the three- to four-year-old year are creative play and social interaction. This is a precious time of life when a child is stepping out away from home and learning about herself in relationship to others and the world. There are so many years of academic schooling ahead for a child that most early childhood experts feel this time should be relaxed and play-based.

Of course, this doesn't mean that your child is not learning! In fact, through creative play, children learn many of the academic skills they need later in schooling. Children can be interested in letters and even learn them at very young ages just by being exposed to great books, creative discussions, and pretend play. You can encourage your daughter's interest without sending her to an academic school program. When you are making your grocery list, invite her to participate. Show her what you are reading in the newspaper and tell her what you are writing when you take a message from a phone call. Read signs together as you go for a walk or ride. Notice the signs that have the same letters as the first letter of her name. She will learn more by seeing how letters are used in real life than on any workbook page.

Interestingly, a study from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that the "people skills" (such as communication, sharing, empathy, and listening) that children learn in the early years are the greatest indicator of later school success — more so than learning their ABCs and 123s. The study noticed that children who had the social skills in place were more able to focus on their work when they started the academics. My vote is to keep your daughter in the school she is attending and encourage her to enjoy the creative play activities that this time of life is all about!

About the Author

Ellen Booth Church is a former professor of early childhood education, an education consultant and author.

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