How Do You Make the Benefits of Pre-K Education Last?
Early education programs, such as Pre-K, only recently jumped into the national spotlight these past few years. Previously, it was believed that the family unit was inherently responsible for those first five years. Research has shown, however, that the first five years of a child’s life are extremely significant and will set the tone for their development. It has now been argued that sending children to early education programs will give them the necessary developmental guidance and jump-start needed for the rest of their educational career.
The subject has split both parents and educators alike, both sides debating if early education programs are truly necessary. Nevertheless, those who do utilize early education programs struggle with the next step: sustaining the benefits it yields.
Studies in Minneapolis have found that frequency or “amount of time children attend [early education programs]” play a large part in whether or not children will retain what they learned in Pre-K. The most crucial time in an early education program is the first year, with the chances for higher academic achievement only increasing as they continue to attend in the following years. At the same time, there are other variables to consider, such as the number of days a week, how many hours a child spends in school, and what age a child is first enrolled. Taking this and the wide assortment of early education programs, there is no guarantee that a student will be consistently building on their development
Another obstacle to preserving the benefits of Pre-K education is transitioning. Transitioning from kindergarten, and then on to elementary school, is inconsistent. Children will not be able to retain what they have developed in early education programs when there is a gap between it and their next learning environment. Additionally, kindergarten and elementary schools do not always align in their curriculum, assessments, and requirements of students and teachers, conflicting the transition of students from early education programs.
Although still unclear, work has to be done to hone in on what comprises a “quality early education program.” Teacher quality is at the heart of the matter, though the idea of a ”good teacher” is one of the constant debates. Focus should be given to children’s experiences: interactions with other children and with teachers.
Some early educational programs, such as those in New York, are leading the charge in defining quality Pre-K education. These successful early education programs share the following in common:
Strong leadership – A strong administrator is one large factor in ensuring the success of an early education program. These programs were helmed by professionals who were knowledgeable in early education and child development, making them more than qualified to lead their programs.
Professional growth and progress were prioritized – Programs had a clear set of goals and executed tangible procedures to fulfilling those goals. Extra training was offered wherever needed or applicable. Successful programs ensured that support and resources were available to everyone: faculty, staff, administrators, even those with smaller or more transient roles like assistants.
Child-development centered approach – These programs employed successfully proven curriculum backed by child-development theories and literature. This approach also influenced the way programs addressed overall student development and their day to day lives and interactions.
Accountability – Programs took it upon themselves to keep themselves up to date with new developments in early education, consistently gathered data, analyzed it, and applied it to their program. This ensured that their programs were consistently performing and educating students at a higher caliber.
Parents and family life is a big component of whether or not early education programs can be successful. Programs should set up home visits for at-risk families. If families feel supported, they are more likely to become more involved in their child’s education. Moreover, programs should get the community involved, reaching out to libraries and museums. Programs can use these spaces to set up events that could encourage parents to engage with what their children are learning.
Despite the conversations about the necessity of early education programs, parents and educators should consider their potential. It is worth investing in the time and effort to reap the benefits of Pre-K learning. A quality early education program can not only set up a child for academic success but arm them for adulthood as well. Children from this background are more likely to pursue higher education and higher wages when they join the workforce, potentially securing a better life overall.