When your little one is reaching preschool age and it's time to pick a local preschool program, one of the big questions on your mind will likely be: should I pick an academic or play-based program? Before you can make this choice, first you must understand the special and unique benefits of each type of preschool.
Play-Based Preschool Programs
Play-based preschool programs focus on building basic social skills through open-ended imaginative play. At play-based preschool programs, children learn academic lessons through play-based activities. However, learning to cooperate and interact with peers is the central focus of the activities--not the academic lesson.
In these programs, children learn emotional regulation and the benefits of working in groups. Children in play-based programs have many opportunities to develop and strengthen their verbal abilities. Play-based programs are great for fostering social skills and are good for children who may otherwise get little or no chance to be around children their own age.
Academic preschools prepare children for the formal, structured academic programs that children encounter when they enter kindergarten. These programs ensure that children enter kindergarten with specific academic skills, like knowledge of letters, colors, shapes and basic math concepts.
In addition to the academic preparations, academic preschool programs prepare children for the structure of kindergarten, where they will be expected to complete assigned tasks after learning a lesson, do seat work, share materials, sit when necessary for class work, line up on cue, and more.
Academic preschools can be particularly beneficial for children who are not getting interaction with letters, numbers and shapes at home.
Picking the Right Program For Your Little One
There is no straightforward formula that can tell a parent what the best program is for their child. The program you pick will depend on your priorities for your child, your child's temperament and any specific needs.
Does your child need structure, or should your child work on cultivating peer relationships? Does he or she already recognize some letters and numbers? Can your child cooperate with other children in group settings? These are some of the questions that you must ask yourself as you make your decision.
The most important part of picking a preschool program is ensuring that the program you select will adequately prepare your child for life at school when he or she enters kindergarten. Answering these questions will tell you whether your child needs a rigorous academic program or a less structured, more social program.