When I was about three years old, preschool was the center of my life. First Presbyterian Church in Wilson, NC was my home away from home, and many of my first significant life events occurred while I was a preschool student there. But my experience is only one amongst millions of young children in America. What about their experiences? What about yours?
Dr. Chris Curran visited Peabody Hall last week to give a talk on how preschool can provide one solution to early science achievement gaps. He highlighted his own research as well as others’ to make this argument, and also compared such science gaps to those in reading and math. His talk was especially interesting to me because most of the volunteering I currently do revolves around elementary school-aged children, and his findings provided an eye-opening solution to achievement gaps in early childhood education.
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But science isn’t the only area of importance in preschool. While Curran’s talk focused on the preschool’s implications for science achievement gaps, my mind leans more toward the holistic view of preschool’s beneficial qualities for children. According to Kathleen McCartney, who is the dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, children learn how to socialize in preschool. By socialize, Dr. McCartney meant contributing, getting along with other children, and sharing with others. This is what I think of when I hear preschool: learning how to interact with other human beings. It essentially provides the first opportunity for interaction between children and people outside of their families, and it is absolutely necessary for students’ overall educational development.
Despite common misconceptions regarding preschool attendance, a majority of students attend preschool for at least one year, whether that be state-sponsored, Head Start, or some other form. We can all agree that high quality preschool equates to better equipped kindergarteners, as Dr. Curran noted throughout his talk. But Dr. McCartney’s point is what matters most to me. Academic achievement is always the ultimate goal, but students’ coming to kindergarten better prepared for social interactions should still outweigh their being better prepared in science, reading, and math.
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Either way, preschool is imperative. Students who do not attend some form of preschool prior to kindergarten will almost always begin their schooling experiences in disadvantageous positions compared to others who did attend preschool. My preschool experience taught me so many skills, among these being shapes, colors, numbers, etc., but more than anything, it taught me how to work with others to accomplish a goal, how to ask questions, and how to generally interact with others different from myself.
We must ask ourselves, “How important was preschool to me?” The answer will almost certainly be in the affirmative, and if it is, then shouldn’t every student have this experience? I am left pondering potential solutions for students who don’t have as much access to preschool as others. Equal opportunity and equal access are significant topics of discussion in elementary, middle, and high school education circles, but we must turn this discussion into one had in regards to preschool. Dr. Curran opened my eyes to the power of preschool and his arguments about early science achievement gaps are both important and interesting, but I am left looking at the social benefits for individual children in preschool and what we can do to make sure as many students have the opportunity to attend as possible. We must make preschool more of a priority.