Now that there’s T-K (transitional Kindergarten), pre-K (that parents opt for instead of a final year of preschool) AND preschool itself, which is better? And are the pre-K/T-K kids getting an advantage over preschoolers? Is there anything parents can do to help them catch up? Melissa Lowry, founder of www.melissa-lowry-education-coaching.com and of www.theanswerkeys.com, answered these Breezy Mama questions and more on whether or not to send your child to preschool or pre-K.
Are there advantages to pre-K and/or T-K?
The answer to this question depends on the school environment. Quality preschool programs that promote social/emotional development through experience based learning will prepare children for Kindergarten as well as or better than pre-K programs that focus primarily on academics.
Attendance in a pre-K program should not be considered a requirement before a child enters a Kindergarten program. That said, children mature enough to handle academic concepts would definitely benefit from a more structured environment such as in a pre-K program.
Allow me to make this clear. Children who possess a strong background in 3 main areas…vocabulary, language and literacy will be much better prepared for school than children who have only been exposed to academic concepts (worksheets, technology based learning programs, programs that focus on teaching children under the age of 5 to read, etc.).
Of the four main areas educators assess when looking at school readiness- social, emotional, physical and academic- academic prowess is the LEAST-BEST indicator of future school success. Children who engage in rich experiences that help them develop a strong vocabulary and deep language reserves, and children who are read to on a very consistent basis (30 minutes a day- can be broken down into smaller increments) and develop strong literacy skills will do better in school.
If so, any suggestions on how parents can get kids up to speed?
I will answer this in relationship to the 3 areas I named above:
- Parents need to TALK to their children. Children will only develop a rich and broad vocabulary if they interact and talk to other people.
- Put down the hand held devices during meals. Children need to actively participate in their environment. We’ve all been there, and I’m not here to judge other parents. I have given my own children my phone when I just need a minute’s peace. What I am referring to is when parents replace their own conversations with their children with hand held devices or make the mistake of thinking an online game or app can teach their child better than they can. We ARE our child’s best teachers, and vocabulary development begins at home.
- Parents should not dumb-down their vocabulary usage or use baby talk with young children. Children learn from experience. The broader and deeper their parents’ vocabulary, the more likely they will be to adapt that level of vocabulary (over time).
- Parents need to ask their children open-ended and probing questions that require their child to think for him/herself and formulate an answer. This process promotes vocabulary development.
- The more children hear language used in context, the more likely they will be to comprehend and eventually use that language….and apply it to their daily lives.
- Books, books and more books! NOT ereaders, but actual paper books. Children develop literacy skills by looking at how a book is organized and by exploring what is contained in that book.
- Parents should read to their children everyday! Even if it’s in small bursts or at several different times during the day.
- Parents should read different types of books to their kids (non-fiction, fiction, poetry, etc.) and then talk about the content. A child’s ability to make predictions and inferences about what happens after a book ends is important for school success.
- Parents should not be alarmed if their 3-5 year old wants the same book read to him/her over and over again. This is a good thing! This means the child wants to learn the content of the book and repeated exposure will allow for that.
Parents should NOT overwhelm their child with early reading programs or programs that claim to help children read in a very short period of time. The majority of children will learn to read from Kindergarten-2nd grade. It is not developmentally appropriate to expect children under the age of 5 to read. Some will, of course, but we all also know of that one child who walked at 8 months. Children should not be forced to read at a young age, as it could turn them off from reading later on.
Is it true if your child does well in T-K, they can skip Kindergarten all together and start first grade?
NO! Why would any parent want to speed up his/her child’s school experience? Children are young for such a short period of time. There is no reason to speed up the process. Additionally, the academic expectations of young children have increased in the past 10-15 years. They are under more stress, having to deal with higher expectations, high stakes testing and societal factors that make school more stressful than when many parents were in school.
It is also extremely important that children engage in social/emotional development during school time. If they miss a year of school, they miss critical social development and missing those experiences can lead to behavioral and/or learning issues later in school.
Melissa Lowry holds a Master’s degree in Literacy and Language Arts and currently teaches Middle School Language Arts in Buckhead, GA. She is a former K-8 school principal and has also taught preschool and elementary school. Melissa is the founder of Melissa Lowry Education Coaching, a consulting firm that specializes in helping parents and educators build and maintain strong home-school relationships. Melissa is also the co-author of Answer Keys: Teachers’ Lesson Plans for Successful Parenting, and speaks to parent and civic groups throughout the country. To learn more about Melissa visit: www.melissa-lowry-education-coaching.com or www.theanswerkeys.com.