Understanding the Real Benefits of Preschool

There is an increasing amount of evidence that attending a high-quality preschool has numerous short-term as well as long-term benefits on children.

The brain is rapidly developing between the ages of 2 and 5, so it is important that children are provided with opportunities that facilitate their natural stages of development during this period of time. Preschool programs – although not the only option – offer a structured setting focused on age appropriate development in several areas:

Emotional and social development

One of the most important benefits of preschool is that it teaches kids how to socialize. More specifically, children learn how to show respect – for adults, other children, and their environment. They also learn how to take turns, cooperate and share with others, as well as problem-solve and comprise during stressful situations. At age 2, most children exhibit parallel play, which is the ability to play near each other rather than with each other. By age 5, most children seek and enjoy friendships. Preschool offers a structured environment where children can learn how to play together in a socially appropriate and effective manner, as well as develop social and emotional intelligence.

Preschool also teaches children important lessons in independence. In addition to preparing children for the separation from mom and dad during kindergarten, preschool offers a safe, fun and exploratory space for children to develop their self-confidence and sense of self.

Cognitive development

Between the ages of 2 and 5, children start developing thinking and reasoning skills. They progress from a simple to a more complex understanding of time, letters, counting, and colours and are able to follow increasingly more detailed commands. Preschool strengthens these natural developmental tasks by engaging the child in a variety of new activities and hands-on experiences. A high quality preschool program makes learning fun, fosters creativity, and promotes problem-solving opportunities.

Language development

Language develops rapidly between ages 2 and 5. By age 3, children can speak at least 200 words and can follow two-part directions, such as “wash your face and put your shoes away.” By age 5, expressive vocabulary increases to approximately 2,500 words and most kids are able to carry on a conversation. Playing and interacting with a diverse classroom of peers at preschool as well as participating in a variety of language-driven activities, such as singing and storytelling, can be immensely beneficial to language development for many children.


Long Term Benefits

Because the ages between 2 and 5 represent a critical period of brain development, early enriching experiences, such as those obtained through preschool, can also have enduring outcomes beyond kindergarten readiness. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the benefits of attending a high-quality preschool education can have a significant impact later in life, including in the areas of educational achievement, socioeconomic status and health.

Special Considerations

Despite all the discussed benefits of preschool, not every child is suited for preschool.

Separation Anxiety

The most common problem for very young children is separation anxiety. While it is common for children to exhibit some separation anxiety during the transition into the structured environment at preschool, some children show more significant emotional problems that may indicate that the child is not yet ready to be at preschool and may have or may be at risk of developing a separation anxiety disorder. Normal separation anxiety can be eased by parents staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits.  However, some kids experience separation anxiety that does not go away despite the parents’ and teacher’s best efforts. These children experience a continuation or reoccurrence of intense separation anxiety during their preschool or even elementary school years. Some symptoms of separation anxiety disorder include a phobia of going to school, resistance to going to bed at night, and physical complaints in reaction to actual or anticipated separation from primary caretakers. In the case of separation anxiety disorder, crying, tantrums and resistance to separation is excessive enough to interfere with normal activities of preschool and typically lasts for months rather than days. If a child experiences these symptoms, it is best to address them with a professional without delay.

Developmental Intellectual or Language Disabilities

For some children with special needs, such as developmental intellectual or language disabilities, joining the structural environment of preschool can be beneficial. For example, research indicates that children with delays in language show developmental improvement from modeling peers with strong language skills. Furthermore, whether the child has a global delay, language delay or motor difficulty, preschools usually offer early intervention programs that help children develop their needs in a regular and systematic matter. In addition, preschool teachers can often note differences in a child’s development compared to his/her peers. Early identification of any developmental delays can be very beneficial to getting appropriate support and decreasing symptomatology later on.

Another group of children who are likely to benefit from preschool is children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD thrive off structure and routine, which can also lead to better outcomes in terms of behavior and adaptation later on.


Preschool Assessments

If there are concerns about a child’s development, a preschool psychological assessment is recommended. Although this type of assessment is rare because most psychologists will not evaluate children under the ages of 5, a trained and experienced paediatric neuropsychologist such as Dr. Valentin can offer insight into the child’s developmental strengths and weaknesses. This type of evaluation is comprehensive and includes, but is not limited to, information obtained through structured observation, parental interview and individually administered tests about the child’s capabilities in a variety of functional areas compared to accepted developmental milestones for a child that age. These functional areas include social/emotional and cognitive development, language skills, motor abilities, and adaptive behaviour. Getting help early can have a significant impact on a child’s growth and development. If you are not sure if your child has delays or exceptionalities in their development, you can also complete the free NDDS checklist available here: http://www.ndds.ca/ontario.


[The content for this post was prepared for our friends at OurKids.net as part of a comprehensive Preschool Education Guide that they’re currently developing – we’ll be sharing it here when it’s released, so stay tuned!]