When working with parents, I am often asked: “Is my toddler ‘ready’ for a preschool?” The next question that follows is: “Will it help or hurt my child in any way?” Every child is different, but research into early childhood shows that even a few hours a week in an intentionally prepared environment with age-based peers can help build the skills that children will need to be successful.
What type of play is best for toddlers and preschoolers?
When observing toddlers play during unstructured playtime, The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) looks for the six Cs: collaboration, communication, content, creative innovation, critical thinking, and confidence—the key skills needed to be successful in the 21st century. Guided, open-ended play, with well-trained adults, shows children how to work toward a shared goal, become sensitive to the needs of others, and communicate their needs and ideas.
Some experts would argue the most important of all skills is confidence, which is the ability to take risks and try new things. It is also making connections between choice and consequences in a setting away from home that is safe. Children learn to trust themselves when feeling secure and safe. They can experiment, enter social play, and investigate the laws of nature. As young toddlers, children use trusted adults as a secure base from which to explore and learn, and their confidence grows as they discover all they can do on their own.
Soon after birth, babies learn simply from observing and listening. Toddlers can also learn so much about the world through observation and play, as well as playtime in a school setting. Preschool teachers are able to help children learn control, how to wait and take turns, to resolve conflicts with peers, and share.
Brain development is encouraged in developmentally appropriate, creative projects. Toddlers love all kinds of building, art, large movement, music, and pretend play. The adults guide the child’s attention to what’s happening. Toddlers aren’t ready for direct teaching of literacy, math and other knowledge content, but play-based learning materials in all the play helps children make meaningful connections and more complex understandings of their world: “Here’s the cat. My kitty! Yes, like your kitty. And here are two kitties!” Memory is strengthened through repeated experiences. Asking silly questions will promote curiosity, like “Do I put my sock on my head?” and encourage exploring more!
With early education everyone wins!
Whether you decide you want a nature-based education for your toddler or preschool, or a program that emphasises language immersion, or one that simply gets your child acclimated to a school setting, trust that you will make the right choice for your child and your family.