Picking the right school for your child can be a complex decision, even at the preschool level. So it’s hardly surprising when moms like Gabrielle B. seek advice. “Should the focus be on education, since the kindergarten experience is so much more competitive than in the past, i.e., ‘the new first grade?’ Or is the play-based environment with a loving caretaker more important in laying a foundation for curiosity and love of learning?” Gabrielle asks about selecting a preschool.
The answer, of course, depends on several factors, including Gabrielle's parenting philosophy. Here, Circle of Moms members offer three tips to help parents decide whether a play-based preschool is compatible with their approach to parenting, and whether it's right for their child.
1. You Value Child's Play
Play-based preschools are founded on the idea that childhood learning should be fun. “Research has shown time and time again that … children learn more through play at [the preschool] age than through structured education,” says Circle of Moms member Sharon S.
Furthermore, new research indicates that teaching kids academic skills at a young age can actually backfire, adds a mom named Michele D. To avoid that outcome, the play-based preschool curriculum strives to strike the optimal balance between learning and play. Play-based preschools are neither unstructured nor un-academic, says Tiffany K.; although there's lots of play going on, the activities are still structured by physical area and time.
By focusing on play, says mom Paula O., play-based preschool cultivate “an amazing love for learning.” Two years ago, her then three-year-old daughter was academically — but not socially — ready for kindergarten. Paula enrolled her daughter in a play-based preschool, and today, her five-year-old talks regularly about various subjects she is interested in, reads chapter books, does her homework herself, and is advanced compared to other students in her kindergarten class.
2. You Want to Nurture Creativity
Moms who set reading and writing milestones for their children to reach will likely be disappointed by a play-based curriculum. That’s because a play-based preschool is similar to the system in Italy, in which children don’t receive formal lessons in reading and numbers until they start elementary school at age 6, Melanie B. says. “Children need to learn through play, not studying … Studies have found that children who are forced to learn to read and write at an early age lose the ability to play, which limits their creativity later,” she says.
Another supporter of play-based preschools, Candace F., says she specifically avoided preschools with an academic “agenda” when enrolling her 3- and 4-year-old children in preschool. “At 3, [children] don't need to learn to read or write (other than writing their name). There are many skills that prepare them for school without the pressure of ‘learning’ skills that are better left until they are ready for elementary school.”
The fact that some academic-focused preschools assign homework is somewhat horrifying to play-based preschool moms. Marie B.’s three-year-old daughter received homework on her first day of school. But forcing a preschooler to complete homework risks instilling a dislike of learning, says Zoe K.: “Preschools should be allowed to just let a child act like a child,” she says.
3. You Want To Focus on Socialization
Many parents send their children to preschool to improve their socialization skills through engaging with other children, and given the need for sharing, negotiation, and group dynamics during play, this is an area in which play-based preschools tend to excel. Robin K. says she chose a play-based preschool for her son so that he could ease into a school environment while making friends.
“Socializing is very important, and preschool provides a way for them to do it,” she says. “Our preschool has craft time, play time, story time, snack time, and play with all other kids his age in a gymnasium setting … it’s all coordinated in such a way [that] he is learning.”
Ultimately, a play-based preschool will be the right choice for your child if you believe “the purpose of preschool is to play, socialize, and introduce your child into the academic setting gradually, through creative play,” says a Circle of Moms member named Sapphire. She initially sought out preschools that would challenge her son academically, but then quickly changed her mind after realizing that her son “simply needs to be a kid now, while he is young."
“There is more to being in a traditional preschool setting than just letter and number recognition,” she says, adding that kids have "plenty of time for the hard-core academics later on.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.