More than half of all 4 year olds in the United States regularly attend center-based early childhood programs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics .When making the decision whether to send a child to preschool, or not, it is common for a parent to wonder what the long-term benefits are. Studies looking at kids who went to preschool vs. those who didn't have found long range positive effects of these programs, lasting far past the early education years.
Quality Preschool Considerations
Weighing the benefits of preschool vs. not attending one of these early education programs isn't a one-size-fit-all proposition. The simple act of attending any preschool program does not guarantee any immediate or life-long benefits. One of the main considerations that parents must take into account is the quality of the program. Programs that are state, or locally, licensed and have accreditation such as that from the National Association for the Education of Young Children must follow standards that help to ensure quality. For example, the NAEYC accreditation standards include teaching requirements such as using developmentally and culturally appropriate approaches to help young children to learn.
Not Attending Preschool
Not attending preschool is not synonymous with not learning. While preschools are the more traditional route to an early education, staying at home does not always equal days of watching TV or hanging out with mom as she folds laundry. While you might think of homeschooling is something that parents of school-aged kids do, you can also use these methods during the pre-k years. Although your homeschooled preschooler can't reap the benefits of a traditional program, she can still learn and develop through your own self-taught activities and lessons. Some preschool homeschool parents may also choose to supplement their child's learning -- and social development -- with extracurricular classes such as a museum arts workshop.
Later Life Success
While it might not seem that building with blocks and molding with play clay have any connection to later life success, two major studies, the HighScope Perry Preschool Study and the Abecedarian Study, show an actual connection. Both studies looked at children in high quality preschool programs compared to those who were not in preschool. Not only did the studies follow the kids during and after preschool, but also checked in with those, now adult, participants decades later. The Perry Preschool Study interviewed the original preschoolers over time, through age 40 in 2005. The adults who were in the preschool group were more likely to have a job, had higher paying jobs in that 60 percent of the preschool participants made over $20,000 a year at age 40 compared to only 40 percent of the no-preschool group, and they were less likely to commit crimes. A similar project, the Abecedarian Study, found that, as adults, participants who had gone to preschool were more likely to complete a higher degree of education and go to college than those who had not gone to preschool.
Child Development and Learning
Some studies, such as the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort show a definite developmental benefit to attending preschool. Children who had attended early childhood educational programs had academic skills such as mathematics skills, color recognition, and the literacy abilities to identify letters and understand language. Additionally, attending preschool can help the young child build social skills. While kids who don't go to a preschool program can still develop prosocial abilities through interactions with neighborhood children, siblings and even adults, the school environment provides an ideal opportunity to develop these skills within a group setting.